Rod Taylor: King of B’s (as in beefcake, brawler, boozer)

by Glenn Lovell

Sad to say another face from our misspent youth at the movies has passed.


Taylor in “Dark of the Sun”

Sydney’s own Rodney Sturt Taylor — who went from beefcake hero to legendary boozer to, in his later years, wonderfully crusty character actor — died at age 84 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

You know him as the mama’s boy who sustains some nasty pecks in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and as the Victorian-era scientist with his eye on the future in George Pal’s Oscar-winning “The Time Machine.”

These titles, plus a couple of lame romantic comedies with Doris Day (they had zero chemistry), were mentioned in the obits. Mostly overlooked: Taylor’s mercenary in the brawny, Congo-set “Dark of the Sun” and his desperately overextended Aussie businessman in “The V.I.P.’s,” which co-starred Maggie Smith, a favorite among his leading ladies.

Well before he was hired by Hitchcock, John Ford (“Young Cassidy”), Michelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point,” which he later decided was “viciously anti-American”), and Quentin Tarantino (as a jowly Winston Churchill in “Inglourious Basterds”), Taylor had walk-ons opposite James Dean (“Giant”) and Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor (“Raintree County”).

Cast more for his physique than his acting chops — think of him as the Down Under Rock Hudson — Taylor found himself playing second fiddle to the leading man in films like “A Gathering of Eagles” (starring Hudson), “Fate Is the Hunter” (Glenn Ford), and “36 Hours” (as a German officer determined to break James Garner).

Later typed as an “active leading man” in Westerns and war pictures, Taylor said he felt like a phony. “(That) kind of embarrassed me sometimes because I really wasn’t big enough to be a really tough guy,” he recalled in a TCM interview. “I could fight in a way, I guess, (but) I really wasn’t good-looking enough to pull some of the roles that I was put into. So I was a little bit, I don’t know, insecure …”

When he did muscle his way to the front it was all too often in low-budget, testosterone-fueled imports, such as Italy’s title-tells-all “Colossus and the Amazon Queen.”

All in all, the sandy-haired calendar boy who apprenticed in radio (as Tarzan, no less) enjoyed a good-to-middling career, plowing the path for a later wave of Aussies, which would include Russell Crowe and Huge Jackman.

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4 Responses to “Rod Taylor: King of B’s (as in beefcake, brawler, boozer)”

  1. jacknyblom Says:

    I always liked Rod Taylor as a kid, especially in Time Machine (which in those days I probably saw a half dozen times) and then later in The Birds and 36 Hours. I had forgotten about Dark of the Sun! Another film that I enjoyed in my “misspent youth” as you say. Thanks for reminding us.


    PS It was a shock seeing him in Inglorious Bastards


    • Glenn Lovell Says:

      Yes, brawny, ultra-violent (for its day) “Dark of the Sun” remains an overlooked gem. Great job of directing by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who started in the Congo but, due to political unrest, had to finish up in Jamaica. I’m sure Tarantino is a huge fan. Predates that other great, balls-to-wall mercenary film “Dogs of War” with Christopher Walken.


  2. Mrs. Walker Says:

    I was away when this happened so hadn’t heard the news till today.

    Just LOVED this guy as a young girl and still watch The Time Machine with joy. Like it so much better than the wimpy multicultural one starring Guy Pearce (who looks like he couldn’t travel through the aisles of a Whole Foods or invent/use a pointed stick, never mind a machine that travels time).

    I have never forgotten the facial expressions Taylor showed in this movie, particularly the ones of joy, awe, curiosity, and fear as his Victorian sled powered its way through time.

    I found it sad how someone of his potential was wasted in the era where filmmaking went from a mythic celebration of the best in males to constructing an anti-male, anti-American, and anti-other-things-perhaps-best-not-mentioned media culture. I have always wondered whether hunks like Mr. Taylor and, say, Chad Everett, didn’t take to drink in part because men like them were discarded by filmmakers in favor of untermensch and uberfrau worship.


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