“Rod Taylor, the Australian-born actor who starred in George Pal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine  and in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds , then decades later made a memorable swan-song appearance as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds , died Wednesday of a heart attack in Los Angeles,” reports Variety‘s Carmel Dagan. “He was 84.”
In the Guardian, Ronald Bergan suggests that Taylor “was rarely able to demonstrate his flair for playing light comedy, having been too frequently called upon to be stolid and macho—traits that nevertheless made him an ideal action hero in war films and westerns.” Nonetheless, Taylor’s resume includes Sunday in New York (1963), “in which the tables are turned when [Jane] Fonda tries to get him into bed; and two lightweight [Doris] Day vehicles, Do Not Disturb (1965), in which she pretends to make her husband (Taylor) jealous because she thinks he’s having an affair, and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), a spy spoof with Taylor as a research scientist who literally hooks Day while she’s swimming in a mermaid suit. By then Taylor had established himself as a reliable tough-guy leading man in films such as A Gathering of Eagles (1963) and Fate is the Hunter (1964), in both of which he played pilots…. However, his role as George Wells, a Victorian inventor, in George Pal’s The Time Machine was among his most memorable and a personal favorite.”
And of course, in The Birds, “Taylor is the Bodega Bay lawyer who becomes involved with a woman, played by Tippi Hedren, just as a series of strange attacks by birds begins,” as Mark Olsen reminds us in a collection of notes on five memorable performances in the Los Angeles Times.
“His entirely honorable and memorable career in cinema had one of its oddest highlights when he played John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee in Darker Than Amber, the same year as [Antonioni‘s] Zabriskie Point,” notes Glenn Kenny. And that would be 1970. “Directed by future Enter the Dragon man Robert Clouse, it features one of the most insane fight scenes ever committed to celluloid.”
“The Sydney native made an early mark when he starred on the ABC 1960-61 series Hong Kong,” writes Mike Barnes in the Hollywood Reporter. “At $3,750 per episode, he was said to be the highest-paid actor in a one-hour show.” Before that jackpot, though, he “landed supporting roles opposite top-flight casts in [George Stevens’s] Giant (1956) and [Delbert Mann’s] Separate Tables (1958)… ‘To a large degree, those early lean days were self-imposed,’ he told Screenland magazine in 1961. ‘I would only do the good things. I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t consider prestige. I’d much rather turn down a starring role in a bad picture and do a small role in a very good picture.'”
Andre Soares has more at the Alt Film Guide.
Update, 1/10: “Eery actor has stories about the big roles that got away,” writes Keith Phipps at the Dissolve. Taylor “had at least two of them. When James Dean died, he was up for the role of boxer Rocky Graziano in the 1956 film Someone Up There Likes Me, a part that eventually went to Paul Newman. Then in the late ’60s, he almost won the lead role in Planet of the Apes, but lost out to Charlton Heston. Neither loss got in the way of Taylor having a memorable career, however.”
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