Roddy McDowall: The "Planet of the Apes" Actor Was Once Investigated By The FBI

Herbie J Pilato

Roddy McDowall, who died from lung cancer in 1998, was also legendary for his classic film collection. But according to, it was because of his affection for legendary cinema that caught the attention of the FBI.

As IMDB reports, "In 1974, the FBI raided his home and seized his collection of films and television series during an investigation of copyright infringement and movie piracy. The collection consisted of 160 16mm prints and over 1,000 videocassettes. The value of the films was conservatively assessed at $5,005,426 by representatives of the movie industry. The actor was not charged and agreed to cooperate with the FBI."

"There was then no aftermarket for films," IMBD notes, " the commercial video recorder had not been marketed, and studios routinely destroyed old negatives and prints of classic films they felt had no worth. Film buffs like McDowall had to purchase 16mm prints of films from the studios, movie prints on the black market, or from other collectors."

McDowall "claimed that he had once had as many as 337 movies in his collection," IMDB continued to chronicle. "But at the time of the investigation, he was not sure how many were still in his possession. He had bought Errol Flynn's movie collection and had acquired other films through purchases or swaps."

As IMDB also notes, "McDowall told the FBI that he had transferred many of his films to videotape in order to conserve space and because tape was longer-lasting than film, and subsequently had sold or traded the prints, plus other prints of movies he had lost interest in, to other collectors. He said that he collected the films due to his love of the cinema and to help protect the movies' heritage.

"McDowall also said that being in possession of prints of his own films allowed him to study his acting and improve his craft. One of the films he had purchased, from American-International Pictures, was Tam Lin (1970), a movie he himself had directed. He explained that he believed that he was not in violation of copyright, as he was not showing the films for profit, nor trying to make a profit when selling his prints as he charged only what he remembered as the price he himself paid."

As concluded, McDowall "believed he had purchased some of the films outright from 20th Century-Fox, but learned subsequently from his lawyer that his agreement with 20th Century-Fox meant the studio retained ownership of the prints, and that he was forbidden to sell, trade or lend them out. McDowall was forthcoming about the individuals he dealt with on the black market, and also named Rock Hudson, Dick Martin, and Mel Tormé as other celebrities with film collections."

To read more about Roddy McDowall, click here.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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