Nov 2, 2014

Roddy McDowall: Hiding in Plain Sight

Gay male actors born before Stonewall pretended to be heterosexual as a matter of survival.  They had "Hollywood marriages."  They brought heterosexual dates to events, and gave interviews about the type of woman they preferred.  Some, like George Takei and Richard Chamberlain, came out in old age, when their careers were over or almost over.  Some, like Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde, had such a fey stage presence that they figured it was obvious, no  need to come out. And some like Liberace, denied the "allegations" to their dying breath.

Roddy McDowall never denied anything, but he never said anything, either.  He "hid in plain sight," taking advantage of the homophobic myth that gay men don't exist, or if they do they're mincing, lisping pieces of fluff.

So, in this photo shoot, Roddy and fellow gay actor Tab Hunter cook weiners and cake in their underwear, and apparently no one in the 1960s had any idea.

Born in 1928, Roddy got his start as a child star, bringing wartime angst to the screen with boy-and-dog or boy-and-horse vehicles.  In his teens, he played Malcolm in Macbeth and David Balfour in an adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. 

He made the transition from child star to young adult seamlessly, playing prissy gay-vague characters, usually costarring with a more macho muscleman: Stuart Whitman in Shock Treatment (1964), Robert Redford in Inside Daisy Clover (1965), Dave Draper in Lord Love a Duck (1966).

His friends were usually muscular, too, such as Scotty Beckett and fellow gay actor Farley Granger. (There was originally a girl between them, but she's been photoshopped out).

During the 1970s, Roddy started making movies again, mostly playing fey, easily-ruffled characters, sometimes comic relief, sometimes villains. Sci-fi, horror, adventure, black comedy: The Poseidon Adventure, The Legend of Hell House, Arnold, Embryo, The Flood!, The Cat from Outer Space, Double Trouble, The Evil Inside Me....  Sadly, he may be best remembered for the gay-vague Galen in the Planet of the Apes franchise.

Occasionally guest spots on tv series, but only two starring roles, on The Fantastic Journey and Tales of the Gold Monkey, which I remember fondly because I dated one of the cast members.

Most of his characters in 261 movie and tv roles were gay-coded, but none were gay.

That's something gay actors of the closet generation would never do.

The key was to not say anything, and occasionally pose for a photo shoot entitled "Calling All Girls."

He died in 1998.

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