Rod Taylor: The Aussie Actor Who Hit It Big in ‘The Birds’

Rod Taylor

You might remember Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner, the handsome, stolid lawyer who, despite being something of a mama’s boy, summons up the courage and presence of mind to repeatedly rescue young socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) from flocks of inexplicably murderous avians in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror-suspense classic, The Birds.

Taylor, who died Jan. 7 at age 84 in Los Angeles, was one of the first Australian-born actors to make it big in Hollywood, following in the footsteps of Errol Flynn and paving the way for a succession of stars from Down Under — a list that includes Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Chris Hemsworth. In a career that stretched from the 1950s to the 2000s, he had more than 90 movie and television roles, ranging from a fictionalized version of author H.G. Wells in 1960’s The Time Machine to the mysterious Frank Agretti in  the 1980s prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest.

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Here are some facts about Taylor and his life and career:

  • After working as a hospital janitor to support himself while training as an actor, Taylor landed his first professional performance in the George Bernard Shaw play Misalliance and went on to become a popular performer on Australian radio dramas.
  • Taylor’s first big break was being cast in an American movie made in Australia, Long John Silver (1954), an experience that encouraged him to give Hollywood a try.
  • Taylor lived for a while in a single room near Malibu beach, where he caught fish to feed himself.
  • His first Hollywood role was in A Catered Affair (1956), in which he played Debbie Reynolds’ fiancé.
  • Taylor scored his first starring role in 1960 in The Time Machine and the following year voiced the leading canine, Pongo, in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians.
  • While he appeared in numerous action pictures, the versatile Taylor also was deft at romantic comedies. He starred opposite Doris Day in 1966’s The Glass Bottom Boat.
  • His last performance was a small but memorable turn as Winston Churchill in director Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglourious Basterds.

 

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Here’s a clip from The Birds.

 

Photo: Associated Press

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