It’s no secret that Los Angeles has always exercised a fascination on people through the Hollywood film industry and its stars. The L.A. Office of Tourism at its best nurtures this fascination by promoting the maps to stars’ homes, tourist traps which give visitors a remote taste of what life in Hollywood might have once been. Most of the screen legends who shaped up Hollywood’s reputation are now dead anyway. Actor Roddy McDowall’s silent home movies, now available for viewing on Youtube, represent a unique testimony of what life in Los Angeles was for these movie stars by showing them under a natural light, away from the glitz and media frenzy.
The precious footage, shot during the summer of 1965 by McDowall himself, is a fascinating record of the star-filled week-ends the former child star was hosting at his Malibu beach retreat. Here are some of the names on his guest list: Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas, Ben Gazzara, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson, Sal Mineo, George Segal, Jane Fonda and even Judy Garland! No less. In swim suits, candidly sun bathing, drinking beer, mingling with each other, clowning without inhibitions before McDowall’s lens.
A strange feeling of proximity invades the viewer when watching those old reels. Proximity to those people. Like watching home movies on a Sunday afternoon surrounded by family members who reminisce old memories, it makes us feel close to those stars. A strange feeling considering that most of them passed away (including McDowall), some of them in tragic circumstances: Sal Mineo was stabbed to death in front of his West Hollywood home in 1976, Natalie Wood drowned off shore Catalina island in 1981, Rock Hudson died of Aids in Beverly Hills in 1985. The candid Super 8 footage demystifies the classic image of movie stars, who, when away from the projectors, appear before our eyes as simple human beings having fun on a sunny day at the beach.
Roddy McDowall, renown for his kind hearted and compassionate personality and for being everyone’s friend in Hollywood, was not only a great character actor (he appeared in hundreds of TV shows and films), but also an accomplished celebrity photographer who published 5 books with his photography. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, for which he was a member of the Board, honored McDowall by naming its photo archive after him, following his death in 1998. Located at the Margaret Herrick Library at 333 S. La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, the Roddy McDowall Photograph Collection includes several million negatives and stills.
The Margaret Herrick Library is opened to the public on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8am to 6pm (until 8pm on Tuesdays).