Rod Taylor Dead: 'The Time Machine'

Rod Taylor, the Australian-born actor who starred in George Pal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” and in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” then decades later made a memorable swan-song appearance as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” died Wednesday of a heart attack in Los Angeles. He was 84.

His daughter Felicia, a former CNN correspondent, confirmed the news Thursday.

Taylor made his feature starring debut in 1960 sci-fier “The Time Machine,” portraying a fictionalized Wells, who invents a time machine in Victorian England and travels to the distant future. He also starred in a brief ABC adventure series, “Hong Kong.”

The next year he voiced the lead canine, Pongo, in Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.” Even after an impressive performance in Hitchcock’s well-received 1963 “The Birds” (in photo above), the actor never quite made it into the first rank of Hollywood actors.

He was part of the starry ensemble of Liz Taylor-Richard Burton starrer “The V.I.P.s” and was second lead in “A Gathering of Eagles,” “Fate Is the Hunter” and “36 Hours.”

In 1965 he starred in “Young Cassidy,” about the early life of the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, leading a cast that included Julie Christie, Maggie Smith, Michael Redgrave and Edith Evans.

Taylor starred in a couple of late-career vehicles for Doris Day, “Do Not Disturb” and “The Glass Bottom Boat,” then led the ensemble in “Hotel.” The actor starred opposite his “Time Machine” co-star Yvette Mimieux in the well-regarded actioner “Dark of the Sun” and had a supporting role in Antonioni’s 1970 drama “Zabriskie Point.”

He had another go at TV with the short-lived CBS series “Bearcats” in 1971 and NBC Western “The Oregon Trail” in 1976. But Taylor’s film career sputtered by the 1970s. He was second lead to John Wayne in “The Train Robbers”; starred in 1977 Australian effort “The Picture Show Man,” about the early film business in the country; and starred alongside Rex Harrison in bland Mario Puzo adaptation “A Time to Die” in 1982.

By the 1980s he was primarily a TV actor. Taylor played star Jaclyn Smith’s father in ABC telepic “Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy” and appeared in “Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story.” The actor starred in a pair of short-lived series, ABC’s “Masquerade” in 1983 and CBS’ “Outlaws” in 1986-87, and recurred on “Falcon Crest” as Frank Agretti.

Taylor was born in Sydney and went to art school, East Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College. He did commercial illustration for newspapers and a bit of boxing; he was interested in acting, but seeing Laurence Olivier in a touring production of “Richard III” sparked him to pursue a career in it.

During the 1950s he appeared in supporting roles in a number of prominent films, including George Stevens’ “Giant,” Civil War pic “Raintree County” and Delbert Mann’s “Separate Tables,” sometimes credited as Rodney Taylor.

Taylor worked only occasionally after the mid-1990s, appearing in a prominent role in Australian director Stephan Elliott’s “Welcome to Woop Woop” and recurring on TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger.” After an absence of seven years, he returned in 2007 for the Sci Fi Channel film “Kaw,” essentially an update of “The Birds,” but more prominently, he cameo’d as Winston Churchill in a key scene in Tarantino’s 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds.”

In 2010 the cast of “Inglourious Basterds,” including Taylor, won the SAG Award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.

In addition to daughter Felicia Taylor, from his second marriage, the actor is survived by third wife Carol Kikumura, to whom he was married since 1980.

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