[Excerpts from TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR by Dick Moore, 1984].
childhood was totally isolated, really suffocating. As a child, I was always
lied to about myself and about the world. My mother waited until I was seven before
telling me there wasn't a Santa Claus. I was so guileless, such a Dopey
I asked about Virginia [his sister].
RODDY: "Mother used to dress us the same
way. She wanted to make dolls of both of us. Not that we weren't allowed to
play. She was wonderful about joining in, about making a childhood. But
always within a vacuum.
"My parents kept Virginia under a
tremendous psychological hold always. I don't think it was a malevolent
drive. Mother was much brighter than her behavior. She spoiled the living
bejesus out of us. Virginia had so many dresses and so many toys, which
wasn't what Virginia was looking for. And so much love. We were drowning in
"And there weren't any friends. There's
only eleven months age difference between Virginia and myself. Mother was
desperately afraid that we two children would be split. That's why she forced
20th Century-Fox to let Virginia go to school on the lot, which
was a vicious thing to do because Virginia had no reason to be there. She
spent all her school years on the lot, feeling totally excluded, and so shy
"Mother was full of delusions of
grandeur. She was not a pretty woman, so she romanced you intellectually.
She'd bring pies to the studio and cook people into insanity. She'd gift them
into adulation. But she never caused any trouble on the set.
"What she did was to make all the
decisions concerning our lives and pretend that my sister and I were making
them. She had complete control over us. Ultimately, I was in despair over the
hypocrisy in family behavior. For instance, she suddenly appeared to faint or
die of apoplexy. But if the phone rang, she recovered and answered normally:
'Oh, hello. How are you? I'm fine.'
"She was very clever, an entertaining
woman. And she had a remarkable gift. She sensed instantly when people saw
through her. She'd never go near them again.
"My father was second officer in the
British marines. His ship docked in Los Angeles from time to time. He had
strong feelings about propriety and one's position in the community. He was
one of those Englishmen who, on entering a room, always tells three
DICK MOORE: Reliance on our income became the
central economic reality in our homes. No one watched the calendar. But
careers withered as years passed.
Most parents were not really aware that they
and the studios might be exploiting us. "Why, why did you put me in
pictures when I was three years old?" Darryl Hickman confronted his
mother when in his teens.
"But, dear, it's what you always wanted
to do," Mrs. Hickman answered.
Most of us were told that our working would
enable us to "afford an education." But formal study on any level
was discouraged. Only a handful of us ever got to college.
What qualities did the Janes, Jackies,
Mickeys, Peggys, and Stymies have in common?
Early intelligence, sharp memories. A shared
fear that we would not be valued if we didn't earn a salary. A desperate need
to win approval.
Natalie Wood described herself as
"energetic," another common quality. But, said Natalie, "in my
childhood I felt guilty and very isolated, very shy. There was no grownup I
could in any way confide in." Another common theme.
Most of us have grappled with pervasive fears
of loneliness and a feeling of responsibility for everyone around us. Walking
into a room occupied by silent people, we start a conversation.
Most married at an early age, with no prior
sexual experience. Almost invariably those marriages failed.
"Is there a single common denominator,
Rod?" I asked at the conclusion of an interview.
"Yes, there is," Roddy McDowall
said, "and that is a thing I do not wish to face."
"Why not? What is it?"
"It is that they were wrong. They were
wrong to take us children and do that with our lives, to twist our
environment in that way and then leave it for us to sort out."
DICK MOORE: Many of us shared Natalie [Wood's]
inordinate sense of responsibility, not just for ourselves but for the
pictures we were in. When we saw ourselves on screen, we thought we could
have improved our performances. "I had a sense of wanting to do better,
but I didn't know what better was," Roddy McDowall remembers.
DICK MOORE: Most of us felt different, shy.
Rare attempts to socialize with children outside the business, when
permitted, were usually unsuccessful. Roddy McDowall knows exacty when he
started feeling different. It was right after HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY was
Before that, he never thought that being in
films made him special as a kid. "But when I went out into the street
after the film came out, the kids on the block wouldn't play with me."
More than forty years later, Roddy still seemed bewildered. "They
wouldn't even talk to me. They were afraid of me. Double jeopardy because I
was English and I talked funny, and also because I didn't go to school."
DICK MOORE: Jane Powell, too was shy. And
lonely. She met Roddy McDowall during her third picture, HOLIDAY IN MEXICO, and
he began inviting her over to his house on Sunday afternoons. That's the only
place she ever went, Jane says.
JANE POWELL: "For the first two years in
Hollywood, I was really miserable. If it hadn't been for the Sundays at
Roddy's, I don't know what I'd have done. I think he saw the loneliness in
me. I wanted to go to a public school so bad, because at least there I could
meet people. But I never met anybody. I was always in between. Elizabeth
[Taylor] was younger than I was and of course she was very sophisticated. She
never went anyplace either, but she had her horses. I sang, so I was always
taking lessons when I wasn't going to school or working. That's all I knew.
There was no place for me to meet people. I tried going to church, but then
when events came up I would be working and I'd miss the hayride or whatever.
"And then letters would come from Portland telling me about the
wonderful times they were having, the proms and parties, which I never
DICK MOORE: Roddy McDowall didn't go to
college. He seemed surprised when I asked. "How could I go to college?
There wasn't enough money. Who was going to do the work? The problem was very
painfully explained to me. 'Of course, dear, you can do anything you want,
BUT. . . .' " So Roddy didn't go to college.
But he did leave home. As a young adult, Roddy
went to New York to learn to act and live an independent life. Jane Powell,
his close friend, urged him to go, still convinced that if he hadn't, he
would eventually have had a nervous breakdown. Like Jane, Roddy left
everything with his parents, who, after his departure, rattled around in the
big house in Cheviot Hills, ignoring the unused swimming pool.
RODDY: "When I moved to New York, I gave
my parents everything. Mother sat for years playing canasta. Eventually, I
told them they had to sell the house. I could no longer make a living in New
York and support the system in Los Angeles.
"After I left home, I never really had much money until I did the
movie CLEOPATRA, and by that time I had a lawyer in New York to take over the
parental role of managing my finances. I had given him power of attorney,
which he held for ten years. But still I had no money, although I'd made over
a hundred thousand a year.
"Eventually, I decided that I needed to
learn about dealing with money. I knew nothing, partly because my mother
never wanted me to know. My father knew, but he couldn't get at the money. If
he hadn't been so mesmerized by my mother, if they'd done what HE wanted, I would
have had every dime I ever made. My father was scrupulously honest. And he
was not a gambler. But she had such control over him that he was
DICK MOORE: At seventeen, Roddy McDowall was loaned
by Fox to MGM, where Lillian Burns, the studio drama coach, told him:
"Until you're twenty-seven, nothing is going to happen to you
again." It didn't make sense to Roddy that he was through
professionally. "I talked to people about it. But Wynn Rocamora, my
agent at the time, told me I would never work again, because I'd grown
DICK MOORE: Natalie Wood was in analysis for
eight years, until age thirty, when she became pregnant with her first child.
NATALIE: "A common thread for all of us
is that we played many parts and had many different sets of parents. We were
always charming and nice, we knew how to behave socially better than other
little kids; but I, for one, really didn't know what I should be saying 'yes'
or 'no' to. "What analysis did
for me was to help me clarify what I wanted to do, and when I started
figuring out what I wanted, it didn't make me more self-centered, it made me
"What analysis did for me was to put
painful childhood memories in the past. Now, when I look back, I can still
recall them, but they don't have the power to make me crazy."
Roddy McDowall never told his mother he was in
analysis. "It wasn't out of fear," Rod emphasized, "it was out
of common sense. I knew I'd have to go through all that moaning about 'Where
did we go wrong?' "
Encouraged by his friend Jane Powell (who
loved his mother but felt she was destroying him), Roddy went to New York,
where he met Montgomery Clift. That friendship changed Rod's life. Before
that, he had starred in summer stock, where he gave good performances but
couldn't repeat them. He'd never learned the craft of acting because "I
had been taught that I was a movie star and had nothing to learn."
"Fuckin' rubbish," Clift told him.
"You've got to LEARN to act." He introduced Rod to Mira Rostova,
Clift's acting coach and confidante.
For six months, Roddy sat in class, not
knowing what the group was talking about. "I said absolutely nothing. I
had no idea what this foreign language was all about. Then it began to click,
and I began to respond. I worked very hard," Roddy recalls. "I was
terribly angry, which I didn't yet realize; but my anger didn't show up in
hostility, it showed up in productivity."
With three plays in 1955, the breakthrough
came: THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA at New York's Phoenix Theatre; THE TEMPEST at the
Stratford, Connecticut, Shakespeare Festival; NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS on
LIFE magazine took note. In 1960 [*Date is
wrong*], Rod co-starred with Dean Stockwell on Broadway in COMPULSION, played
in CAMELOT with Richard Burton; and in 1961, the movie CLEOPATRA, with Burton
and Roddy's friend Elizabeth Taylor. No longer thought of as an ex-child
star, Roddy had become an actor.
DICK MOORE: I found that most of us tried unconsciously
to stay the way we were, because that's what people wanted us to do.
Most of us never completely outgrew the unique, highly public childhood
that we shared.
"Take Roddy," Darryl [Hickman] went
on. "He's still trying to be the dutiful son to a lot of famous
people who are images of what he tries to live up to. Yet he is way
beyond most of them.
"The problem is that all of us played roles.
Dean Stockwell, for instance, didn't do what was natural to him. He
did what he thought he was supposed to do."