It is with a great personal sadness I learned of the death, last Wednesday (7th January 2014), of Australian born actor Mr Rodney Sturt “Rod” Taylor. Mr Taylor reportedly died aged 84, at his home in Los Angeles, surrounded by loved ones, including his wife Carol Kikumura and his daughter Felicia.
Mr Taylor had appeared in over 50 films and TV series throughout his long career, but was most famous for his role as Mitch Brenner, the love interest of Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film ‘The Birds’.
His first leading role in a feature film was in the 1960’s adaptation of H. G. Well’s novel ‘The Time Machine’ and much later he went on to star as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’, for which he won a ‘Screen Actors Guild Award’ in 2010. In between he starred alongside Jane Fonda in ‘Sunday in New York,’ John Wayne in ‘The Train Robbers’ and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in ‘The V.I.P.s’. He was also the voice of ‘Pongo’ in Walt Disney’s animated ‘101 Dalmations’, as well as appearing on TV dramas such ‘The Oregan Trail’, ‘Falcon Crest’, ‘Murder, She Wrote’ and ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’.
Rod Taylor Visits Thurles
I first met Mr Taylor when I was cast as his “Stand-In” for the making of the Irish based film ‘Cry of the Innocent‘, whose cast also included Ms Joanna Pettet, Nigel Davenport, the late great Cyril Cusack, Walter Gotell, Alexander Knox and Dublin born Tony, Olivier and Jacob’s awards winner Jim Norton, latter who played the roles of ‘Bishop Brennan’ in the sitcom ‘Father Ted,’ and earlier as Chris Cawsey in ‘Straw Dogs’ with Dustin Hoffman, together with ‘Herr Lizst’ in the 2008 popular holocaust film ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’.
Filmed here in Ireland in counties Wicklow, Kildare, Dublin and Kerry, ‘Cry of the Innocent,’ (Originally entitled ‘An Eye for an Eye’) was written by Frederick Forsyth (Screenplay by Sidney Michaels) and was directed by the late Irish born Michael O’Herlihy, who also directed ‘Star Trek’ (1965), ‘Hawaii Five-O’ (1968), ‘M*A*S*H’ (1972) and ‘The A-Team’ (1983). Incidentally, Michael O’Herlihy once confirmed to me that his wife was a member of the Ryan family, which same family once were the owners of the Brewery Stores here in Cathedral Street, Thurles, Co Tipperary.
In this film Rod Taylor played the character of an American insurance executive who finds himself on a grim mission to track down those responsible for the killing of his wife and two children, following a private plane which crashed and exploded into his holiday home. Also on board this plane was a scientist who was the initial target of the criminals who had engineered this accidental tragedy. The “maguffin” in this script is a secret formula worth untold millions, and aiding Mr Taylor (Playing the character of Steve Donegin) in bringing the murderers to eventual justice, is the investigative journalist Joanna Pettet, (Playing the character of Candia Leighton) who bears a close resemblance to Taylor’s ex-wife Cynthia Donegin; and no wonder, since Joanna Pettet plays both roles in the film. Produced by NBC Film, Tara Films & Tara Productions, this made-for-TV espionage saga premièred on June 19th, 1980.
Prior to the film’s launch Rod Taylor visited Thurles, where we met-up in Hayes Hotel. Mr Taylor’s visit to Thurles had been arranged by the now retired former Tipperary Fianna Fáil Senator Mr Des Hanafin. At this time Senator Hanafin was extremely conscious of the fact that Ireland badly needed to promote its national tourism industry and prospective visitors from abroad needed to be made more aware of Ireland’s picturesque natural landscapes in an era then devoid of today’s easy internet video access. He, then as chairperson of the Tara Production Team, latter which included RTE’s Morgan O’Sullivan, director Michael O’Herlihy and writer Frederick Forsyth, had invited Mr Taylor to visit Thurles; not just to promote Ireland through this new film, but also to attract attention in his support for a local Mentally Handicapped charity fund-raiser, to which the Senator was then offering a much needed supporting shoulder.
On arrival to Thurles we met privately in the Commercial Room of Hayes Hotel. It was here I was to discover that for several days Mr Taylor had been suffering from a severe and persistent toothache. Despite it being Sunday, I made a quick phone call to the home of then Thurles Dentist, the late Mr Noel Treacy. Some minutes later Mr Treacy arrived and twenty minutes later Mr Taylor’s tooth problem was solved with Mr Treacy refusing to accept any payment for his work. Mr Taylor later confirmed to me that he had spent several thousand dollars with an American dentist, prior to his trip to Ireland. He was later to leave Thurles admitting he was embarrassed that Noel had refused point blank to accept any payment for what the actor regarded as ‘magnificent dental surgery.‘
In both professional and social settings, Mr Taylor was always a most charming and humorous individual, displaying a truly rare and amazing acting ability.
Mr Taylor is survived by his wife Carol Kikumura and his daughter Felicia Taylor, latter a former CNN correspondent and only child of the actor.
From the many people of Thurles who chatted with him, in I believe 1978, go sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.