For Rod Taylor, with Love
You should never find out that someone you love is gone by scrolling through your Twitter feed. That’s how I found out that Rod Taylor had died today.
I’ve been in love with him since I was a girl. He was the approachable terrific, gorgeous guy. The one you’d have a dizzyingly wonderful time with and be safe with. The one who’d protect you from monsters (The Birds) or your own worst impulses (Sunday in New York) or even himself, if necessary (36 Hours).
And he didn’t even know how fabulous he was. “I was one of the first of the uglies,” he said, recalling his early years in Hollywood. “Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter were very pretty fellows, and that was the trend. I was one of the first of the uglies to get lucky.”
Last spring, after I shamelessly lobbied them for four years running, TCM showed Sunday in New York at its annual Classic Film Festival. (Pity my poor husband, when he discovered, to his horror, not that I was in love with Rod Taylor—which he already knew—but that I had now realized that relentless nagging can work.)
I was first on line the Sunday morning they screened the film, with my friends Kay and Kathy helping to hold me up. (The woman from TCM even gave me the title card they made for the lobby—the way you might give a cold compress to a swooning Victorian relation.) I had hoped Rod would be there to introduce it, but he was in Australia. The small consolation, I guess, was that his absence meant I’d actually be conscious for the movie rather than crumpled in a faint on the floor. I’m usually quiet as a churchmouse during films, but I actually got shushed for sighing during this one. (You can read all about that screening, and other highlights of the Festival, here.)
Rod Taylor’s roles ran the spectrum from romantic to action to sci-fi to adventure to animation (Pongo in 101 Dalmations!) but for me, Mike in Sunday in New York seemed the most like who I imagined he really was. Because basically, Mike was the perfect man. He was kind, funny, strong, patient, and—here’s a throwback word—honorable. He genuinely honored Eileen (Jane Fonda), and you knew—just as sure as you knew they’d end up together—that she’d always be safe with him, but it would never be dull. He was the one who’d always come through, who’d never let you down. It was all right there in his face, in his eyes.
Even the best actor in the world can’t fake that.
After last year’s Festival, Kay sent me this screencap, to commemorate the moment I sighed the loudest.
And just today, she and I were emailing back and forth about that movie, and about him. I don’t have to tell any classic movie fan that after an actor you love is gone, you can still enjoy their movies, but it’s never the same as when you knew they were still out there somewhere.
“I am a poor student sitting at the feet of giants,” Rod Taylor once said, “yearning for their wisdom and begging for lessons that might one day make me a complete artist, so that if all goes well, I may one day sit beside them.” He earned his place among the giants, and he is sitting beside them now. But oh, how I wish with all my heart he were still here.