Friday, January 9, 2015

The Late Great Rod Taylor

Legendary leading man Rod Taylor died 7 January 2015 at the age of 84. The cause was a heart attack. He would have turned 85 on 11 January 2015.

Rod Taylor was born on 11 January 1930 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. His father was William Taylor, a draughtsman and a steel-construction contractor. His mother Martha Taylor (née Stewart) was the author of several children's books. Rod Taylor grew up in Lidcombe, a suburb west of Sydney. Young Mr. Taylor initially planned to become an artist and studied at the East Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College. He became interested in acting after seeing Lord Laurence Olivier in Richard III on an Old Vic tour of Australia. Rod Taylor then studied acting at Sydney's Independent Theatre School.

Rod Taylor made his professional debut in a local production of George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance in 1947. Early in his career he appeared on several different Australian radio shows, including the action/adventure serial Tarzan in 1954. In 1951 he made his film debut in the Australian short "Inland with Sturt". His feature film debut was in the Australian movie King of the Coral Sea in 1953. He appeared in the 1954 film Long John Silver.  It was Mr. Taylor's winning of the 1954 Rola Show Australian Radio Actor of the Year Award which led to his move to Hollywood. Part of the prize was a trip to London. Flying from Sydney to London, Rod Taylor stopped in Los Angeles and never left.

Once in Hollywood Rod Taylor made appearances on such television shows as Studio 57, Lux Video Theatre, and Cheyenne. He had a small, uncredited role in The Virgin Queen (1955). Over the next few years he would appear in small roles in such films as Hell on Frisco Bay (1955), Top Gun (1955), The Catered Affair (1956), and Raintree County (1957). He also appeared on such TV shows as Schlitz Playhouse, Studio One, and Playhouse 90. In 1958 he had a substantial role in Step Down to Terror (1958). It would be followed by a substantial role in Ask Any Girl (1959) and guest appearances on such shows as The Twilight Zone, Zane Grey Theatre, Alcoa Theatre, Goodyear Theatre, General Electric Theatre, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. It was the year 1960 that brought Rod Taylor his first starring role, in the George Pal classic The Time Machine. It was followed that same year by a starring role in La regina delle Amazzoni (known in English as Colossus and the Amazon Queen).

The Sixties would see Rod Taylor play the male lead role in such films as The Birds (1963), Sunday in New York (1963), Young Cassidy (1965), The Liquidator (1965), Do Not Disturb (1965), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), Hotel (1966), The Mercenaries (1968), Nobody Runs Forever (1968), The Hell with Heroes (1968), Darker Than Amber (1970), and The Man Who Had Power Over Women (1970). He also appeared in such films as The V.I.P.s (1963), A Gathering of Eagles (1963), Fate Is the Hunter (1964), and 36 Hours (1964).  He provided the voice of Pongo in Disney's 101 Dalmations (1961). On television he starred on the short lived series Hong Kong and guest starred on the shows Bus Stop, The DuPont Show of the Week, and ITV Television Playhouse.

In the Seventies Rod Taylor played the lead roles in the TV shows Bearcats! and The Oregon Trail. He guest starred on Tales of the Unexpected. He appeared in such films as The Train Robbers (1973), Trader Horn (1973), Blondy (1976), The Picture Show Man (1977), and The Treasure Seekers (1979). In the Eighties Mr. Taylor starred in the short lived shows Masquerade and Outlaws. He had a regular role on Falcon Crest. He appeared in such TV movies as Cry of the Innocent and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. He appeared in the films A Time to Die (1982), On the Run (1983), Marbella, un golpe de cinco estrellas (1985), and Mask of Murder (1988).

From the Nineties to the Naughts Rod Taylor guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote and Walker, Texas Ranger. He appeared in the TV movies Palomino and Grass Roots. He appeared in the feature films The Point of Betrayal (1995), Open Season (1995), Welcome to Woop Woop (1997), and Welcome to Woop Woop (1997). His last appearance was as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarentino's Inglourious Basterds in 2009.

When it came to acting Rod Taylor was a true professional. No matter how small his part in a film might be or how low budget a film might be, he always gave a good performance. It did not matter if he was acting in a Hitchcock classic such as The Birds or a low budget knockoff like Kaw, Mr. Taylor always gave everything he had when playing a role. What is more, Rod Taylor appeared in a wide variety of films in different genres. He appeared in science fiction movies (The Time Machine), Sixties sex comedies (Do Not Disturb and The Glass Bottom Boat), spy movies (The Liquidator), mystery movies (Darker Than Amber), Westerns (Chuka), and so on.

Rod Taylor also played a wide variety of roles. He played John D. MacDonald's "salvage consultant" Travis McGee as well as John Gardner's superspy Boysie Oakes. His two roles opposite Doris Day were both very different, playing an employee of a wool textile company in Do Not Disturb and a NASA research scientist in The Glass Bottom Boat. While Rod Taylor rarely played villains, he was perfectly capable of doing so, as demonstrated by his role in The Deadly Trackers as homicidal bank robber Frank Brand. In the Australian comedy Welcome to Woop Woop Rod Taylor played a role quite unlike most of the roles he had played as a leading man; he plays Daddy-O, the offbeat and slightly bawdy patriarch of an Australian town in the middle of nowhere. Although Rod Taylor definitely fit the rugged, handsome, leading man mould, he played many roles that departed dramatically from that mould. If Rod Taylor was so prolific in his career, it was perhaps because he was equally at home in both dramas and comedies, and capable of playing nearly any genre of film. What is more, he almost never gave a bad performance.

1 comment:

ClassicBecky said...

Wonderful tribute to a favorite actor....