Tribute: Rod Taylor

Posted on January 9, 2015 at 9:02 am

Copyright 1960 Rod Taylor
Copyright 1960 Rod Taylor

Today we mourn the loss of the Australian actor Rod Taylor, star of classic films including The Time Machine and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  He was an affable leading man with the confident physicality of an athlete, comfortable in light comedy, drama, and military settings.

In an interview with TV Guide, Taylor described his early years:

My first big fight was with my mother when I was a kid back in Sydney. She was a writer and wanted me to be an artist. My father began as a rigger on a crane and finally ran his own construction crew. … Anyway, when I was a kid, I dutifully went to the Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College. Then I worked at commercial illustration for newspapers, and my mother was happy. But I did a lot of boxing and I was captain of an Australian surf club. I met a lot of actors there, and I got the bug. I gave up art and became an actor myself, in Australian radio. Mom put up quite a struggle over that — but lost.

He was hired for an American movie filming in Australia, “Long John Silver,” and decided to give Hollywood a try. He told TV Guide:

I did well as an actor in Australia, and then Paramount invited me over … to have a look at me. Hal Wallis took that look, and maybe he was expecting Gregory Peck or something, because he said, “Who is this bum with the broken nose?” … So I told him to stuff it and lived on the beach for a while, catching fish for my food.

After small parts in some films, including “Giant” and “Separate Tables,” and an appearance on “The Twilight Zone” as an astronaut, he had his first movie lead role in the George Pal version of the H.G. Wells classic about time travel, The Time Machine.

After “The Birds,” he appeared in frothy romantic comedies like “Sunday in New York” (with Jane Fonda) and “Do Not Disturb” (with Doris Day).

He was the voice of Pongo, the daddy dog, in “101 Dalmatians.”

He also appeared in one of my favorite guilty pleasure films, the soapy stuck-in-an-airport saga The VIPs, with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Orson Welles. Taylor plays an executive who will lose his business if he cannot get to a crucial meeting, when his flight is cancelled. His devoted secretary is played by Maggie Smith, who also co-starred with him in “Young Cassidy.”

Copyright MBM 1968
Copyright MBM 1968

He continued to work on television and in film, including Quentin Tarantino’s WWII epic, Inglourious Basterds.

May his memory be a blessing.

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