Australian actor Rod Taylor, 84, has died in Los Angeles. He was born and brought up in Sydney, but built a long career in the US in film and television, working with directors includng Hitchcock and Antonioni, and alongside some of Hollywood's best-known stars. He style was a mixture of the suave and the rugged; in later life he played more tough-guy roles.
Looking back on his career, he told an interviewer that he'd had "a sometimes wild youth. At that age I was going all over the world , working with the most beautiful people in the world and the most talented people in the world. It was just an incredible life". But his focus, he said, was on the future. "I don't revel in the memorabilia at all. I'm interested in what's coming next."
Taylor died at home, after a heart attack, a couple of days short of his 85th birthday.
Taylor was born in Sydney on January 11, 1930. He studied art at East Sydney Technical College, and painted backdrops for Mark Foy's department story; his interest in art never left him, and he continued to paint and draw for the rest of his life. He became interested in drama, and started doing radio work whenever he could. He had a role in the legendary ABC radio serial Blue Hills; he played pilot Douglas Bader in a serial adaptation of Bader's life story, Reach For The Sky, and he was a famous on-air Tarzan
Taylor said that it was seeing Laurence Olivier in Richard III, in an Old Vic touring production, that really cemented his desire to make acting his life.
From radio, he went on to theatre and film. He played an American character in his first feature, King Of The Coral Sea. After he appeared in Long John Silver, an unofficial sequel to Treasure Island that was shot in Australia, its director, Byron Haskin, recommended him to Paramount's Hal B. Wallis. Taylor won a radio talent contest in 1954, and the prize included an airline ticket that enabled him to make his way to Los Angeles. He never really left, although it took a couple of years for him to establish himself.
In 1956 he was put under contract at MGM. He had supporting roles alongside some major Hollywood names, in films such as Edward Dymytryk's Raintree County, with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, and George Stevens' Giant, with James Dean. He was in Delbert Mann's Separate Tables, adapted from Terence Rattigan's play, which starred Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr and Rita Hayworth; two of its cast members, David Niven and Wendy Hiller, won Oscars for their performances.
In the 1960s, Taylor was the lead in George Pal's The Time Machine, playing a version of H.G. Wells who travels thousands of years into the future in a machine he has built. He was the voice of Pongo the dog in Disney's animated version of 101 Dalmatians. And in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, with Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette, he had one of his best-known roles, in a movie that had some uncomfortable moments dealing with avian extras. Taylor was in Michelangelo Antonioni's celebrated American feature, Zabriskie Point (1970) an experience he recalled vividly in a TV interview, calling it a magnificent work.
In Anthony Asquith's The VIPs, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; he made a rare appearance as an Australian character. In 1965, he played an Irishman, a youthful incarnation of the playwright Sean O'Casey,in a movie called Young Cassidy. The film was shot in Ireland, and featured a cast that Taylor made no bones about being intimidated by: he was working alongside Michael Redgrave, Flora Robson, Edith Evans and members of Dublin's Abbey Theatre. Director John Ford fell ill during filming, and Jack Cardiff stepped in in his stead.
Taylor got to know Ford's favourite actor John Wayne, with whom he appeared in Burt Kennedy's Western 1973 The Train Robbers. Wayne made an appearance in a taped segment on the episode of the TV show This Is Your Life that was devoted to Taylor. "I've worked with Rod, and I know him to be a true professional and a fine actor," Wayne said. "But more than that he's a real man and a great human being."
His TV work stretched from series such as Hong Kong, in the early 1960s, in which he played an American foreign correspondent, to the 1980s Falcon Crest, the saga of a family-owned winery. One of his best known roles was in a 1959 episode of The Twilight Zone: And When The Sky Was Opened, in which he played a doomed astronaut.
He returned to Australia from time to time to appear in local movies, and made several attempts to get his own productions off the ground here. For many years he had high hopes of a project called Banjo Creek; he described it as "a sort of African Queen on a truck" and intended that Maggie Smith might star in it. In John Power's The Picture Show Man (1977) he and John Meillon played rival projectionists who travelled around the country, bringing the movies to far-flung places. In Stephan Elliott's 1997 Welcome To Woop Woop, he was the lewd and lurid Daddy-O, and almost stole the movie.
Speaking about making Welcome To Woop on a TV show called Movie Talk, Taylor spoke in typically self-deprecating way about his career, "I wasn't good looking enough to pull off some of the roles I was put into, and so I was a little bit... sometimes insecure playing all that kind of thing. That's why it's so wonderful for me now, being an ugly old dinosaur, to play an ugly old dinosaur like I did just now."
His daughter Felicia Taylor, a former CNN News correspondent, said in a statement: "My dad loved his work. Being an actor was his passion – calling it an honorable art and something he couldn't live without."