Rod Taylor (11 January 1930 – 7 January 2015) was an Australian actor of film and television. He appeared in over 50 films, including leading roles in The Time Machine, Seven Seas to Calais, The Birds, Sunday in New York, Young Cassidy, Dark of the Sun, The Liquidator, and The Train Robbers.
Taylor was born on 11 January 1930 in Lidcombe, a suburb of Sydney, the only child of William Sturt Taylor, a steel construction contractor and commercial artist, and Mona Taylor (née Thompson), a writer of more than a hundred short stories and children’s books. His middle name comes from his great-great grand uncle, Captain Charles Sturt, a British explorer of the Australian Outback in the 19th century.
Taylor attended Parramatta High School and later studied at the East Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College. For a time he worked as a commercial artist, but decided to become an actor after seeing Laurence Olivier in an Old Vic touring production of Richard III.
Taylor acquired extensive radio and stage experience in Australia, where his radio work included a period on Blue Hills and a role as Tarzan. Earlier in his career he had to support himself by working at Sydney’s Mark Foy’s department store designing and painting window and other displays during the day. In 1951 he took part in a re-enactment of Charles Sturt’s voyage down the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers, playing Sturt’s offsider, George Macleay. A short documentary, Inland with Sturt (1951), was based on it. Taylor also appeared in a number of theater productions for Australia’s Mercury Theatre.
Taylor made his feature film debut in the Australian Lee Robinson film King of the Coral Sea (1954), playing an American. He later played Israel Hands in a Hollywood-financed film shot in Sydney, Long John Silver (1954), an unofficial sequel to Treasure Island. Following these two films, Taylor was awarded the 1954 Rola Show Australian Radio Actor of the Year Award, which included a ticket to London via Los Angeles, but Taylor did not continue on to London.
Taylor soon landed roles in television shows such as Studio 57 and the films Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) and Giant (1956). In 1955 he guest-starred in the third episode (“The Argonauts”) of the first hour-long western television series, Cheyenne, an ABC program starring Clint Walker. Taylor and Edward Andrews played gold seekers Clancy and Duncan, respectively, who are best friends until they strike it rich, only to see native Americans release their gold dust to the wind. The episode was a remake of the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Taylor was considered for one of the leads in Warner Bros. Television’s Maverick.
Toward the end of 1955, Taylor unsuccessfully screen tested to play boxer Rocky Graziano in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Somebody Up There Likes Me after James Dean’s death, but his use of a Brooklyn accent and physical prowess in the test impressed the studio enough to gain him a long-term contract. At MGM he played a series of support roles in The Catered Affair (1956), Raintree County (1957), and Ask Any Girl (1959). He had a significant role in Separate Tables (1958), which won Oscars for two of its stars, David Niven and Wendy Hiller. He also made a strong impression guest-starring in an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “And When the Sky Was Opened” (1959).
Taylor’s first leading role in a feature film was in The Time Machine (1960), George Pal’s adaptation of the science-fiction classic by H. G. Wells with Taylor as the time traveler who, thousands of years in the future, falls for a woman played by Yvette Mimieux. Taylor played a character not unlike that of his Twilight Zone episode of a year earlier.
In the 1960–1961 television season, Taylor starred as foreign correspondent Glenn Evans in the ABC dramatic series Hong Kong. His principal co-star was Lloyd Bochner; Jack Kruschen played the bartender, Tully. The program faced stiff competition on Wednesday evenings from NBC’s Wagon Train and hence lasted for only one season. He voiced Pongo (a Dalmatian dog) in Disney’s animated feature One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) and also guest-starred on Marilyn Maxwell’s short-lived ABC series Bus Stop around the same time. In 1962 he starred in an episode of NBC’s The DuPont Show of the Week (“The Ordeal of Dr. Shannon”), an adaptation of A. J. Cronin’s novel Shannon’s Way.
Taylor starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror/thriller The Birds (1963), along with Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, and Jessica Tandy, playing a man whose town and home come under attack by menacing birds. Taylor then starred with Jane Fonda in the romantic comedy Sunday in New York (also 1963).
During the mid-1960s, Taylor worked mostly for MGM. His credits included The V.I.P.s (1963) with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Maggie Smith; Fate Is the Hunter (for 20th Century Fox, 1964) with Suzanne Pleshette; 36 Hours (1964) with James Garner; Young Cassidy (1965) with Julie Christie and Maggie Smith; The Liquidator (1965) with Jill St. John; and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) with Doris Day.
He began to change his image toward the end of the decade to more tough-guy roles, such as Chuka (1967), which he also produced, and starred in Dark of the Sun (a.k.a. The Mercenaries, 1968) again with Yvette Mimieux; Nobody Runs Forever (1968) where he played Scobie Malone, Taylor’s first feature film role as an Australian; and Darker than Amber (1970) as Travis McGee.
He was also reportedly up for the role of martial artist Roper in the Bruce Lee vehicle Enter the Dragon (1973). The film was directed by Robert Clouse; who had also directed Taylor in the film Darker than Amber (1970). Taylor was supposedly deemed too tall for the part, and the role instead went to John Saxon.
In the 1970s, Taylor turned again to television. He starred in Bearcats! (1971) on CBS and in The Oregon Trail (1976) on NBC. He had a regular role in the short-lived spy drama series Masquerade (1983), and played one of the leads in the equally short-lived series Outlaws (1986). From 1988 to 1990, Taylor appeared in the CBS drama series Falcon Crest as Frank Agretti, playing opposite Jane Wyman. In the mid 1990s, he appeared in several episodes of Murder, She Wrote and Walker, Texas Ranger.
In 1993 he hosted the documentary Time Machine: The Journey Back. At the end of the special came a mini-sequel, written by David Duncan, the screenwriter of the George Pal film. Taylor recreated his role as George, reuniting him with Filby (Alan Young).
Taylor returned to Australia several times over the years to make films, playing a 1920s traveling showman in The Picture Show Man (1977), and a paid killer in On the Run (1983). In the black comedy Welcome to Woop Woop (1997) he played the foul-mouthed redneck Daddy-O.
By the late 1990s he had moved into semi-retirement. He appeared in the horror telemovie KAW in 2007, which revisits the idea of marauding birds turning on their human tormentors. In this version, however, the cause of the disturbance was discovered by Taylor, who plays the town doctor. He appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in 2009, portraying Winston Churchill in a cameo.
Taylor married his third wife, Carol Kikumura, on 15 October 1980. He is the father of CNN financial reporter Felicia Taylor (born 1964), from his second marriage to model Mary Hilem (1 June 1963–18 September 1969). His first wife was model Peggy Williams (1951–1954).
Here’s a fascinating interview with Taylor…