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Rod Taylor Biography:
From Sydney to Hollywood

RODNEY STURT TAYLOR was born Jan. 11, 1930, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and died Jan. 7, 2015, in Beverly Hills, California, USA. For a bit of information in between, read on...

Rod Taylor was the only child of William Sturt Taylor, a steel construction contractor, and Mona Thompson (also known as Mona Stewart Taylor), a writer of short stories, novels and poems. The Sturt name comes from Capt. Charles Sturt, a renowned explorer of the Australian continent and Rod's great-great-grand uncle.

Rod seemed destined for a career as an artist. During the 1930s, Rod's father picked up extra work as a draftsman, and Rod would sketch alongside him for hours.

The family settled in the Sydney suburb of Lidcombe, and Rod attended Parramatta High School. Upon graduation in 1944, he went to East Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College. "I've been pretty much on my own since was 14, staying with different friends while going to art school," he told Motion Picture magazine (November 1963). "At 15, I had my own place."

Rod has had this to say about his parents and his start as an actor:

My first big fight was with my mother when I was a kid back in Sydney. She was a writer and wanted me to be an artist. My father began as a rigger on a crane and finally ran his own construction crew. ... Anyway, when I was a kid, I dutifully went to the Sydney Technical and Fine Arts College. Then I worked at commercial illustration for newspapers, and my mother was happy. But I did a lot of boxing and I was captain of an Australian surf club. I met a lot of actors there, and I got the bug. I gave up art and became an actor myself, in Australian radio. Mom put up quite a struggle over that -- but lost.

-- TV Guide, Oct. 23, 1971

Having been bitten by the acting bug, he took a chance in amateur theatricals, supporting himself with a variety of menial jobs:

When I said I no longer wanted to be a painter, that I wanted to be an actor, the first thing I did was get a stinking job in an insurance building. There were two floors of a workers' compensation hospital. I used to go from 9:30 at night until 3:30 in the morning, swabbing up the blood swabs and cleaning up this blankety-blank hospital just so I could walk around during the day and be a legitimate actor ready for work. ... I chopped wood. I did all sorts of things. And I could always fall back on my art. I even made my art pottery for a while. I had decorated and baked the clay and molded the shapes and painted it and glazed it and sold it. There was an artsy-craftsy market for this.

-- Screenland magazine, March 1961

Rod was wavering between art and acting, and it was seeing Sir Laurence Olivier in a performance of "Richard III" that made the wavering stop.

I suppose I owe everything to Sir Laurence Olivier, because without having seen him in an Old Vic touring production in Australia, I might have gone on to qualify in engineering, in which I already had some technical awards as a student. But Sir Larry's performance that night clinched the deal. After seeing him, I knew I would never be anything but an actor.

-- Film Review magazine, April 1971

But ... I didn't know anything about acting. I had to earn some money to pay for tuition at the Independent Theatre, where I planned to study. So I faked my age [he was 17] and got a job with Mark Foy's department store, designing and painting backdrops for window displays and fashion shows. ... I worked at Mark Foy's during the day and studied drama at night.

-- People magazine (Australia), Jan. 25, 1967

Taylor studied for a year at Sydney's Independent Theatre School, where he was discovered by the producers of the Mercury Theatre and cast in his first professional performance, George Bernard Shaw's "Misalliance." His interest in acting also led him to a radio audition. When he read with the grand Australian actress Queenie Ashton, she said later, "I new immediately that we had found magic."

A sample of Rod's art
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First filmed role, 1951
"The Sturt Expedition"

By 1953, Taylor was on dozens of radio programs and won the Rola Award for radio acting as well as an award for his work in the theater. The Rola Award carried some prize money, and Rod was planning to use it to go to England to expand his career. But he delayed his departure after landing a part in an American movie filming in Australia -- "Long John Silver." Many involved in the film pushed him to give Hollywood a try, so when Rod finally set off for England, he stopped in Los Angeles, where he was met by representatives of a powerful Hollywood agency, MCA.

Here's a couple of tales from Rod on his arrival on the scene:

I guess they were expecting a cross between Marlon Brando and Rock Hudson. Then I stepped off the plane in my tight Australian suit and their faces fell, visibly. I thought, "OK, you don't like me. I'll stay!"

-- TV Radio Mirror magazine, January 1961

I did well as an actor in Australia, and then Paramount invited me over ... to have a look at me. [Producer] Hal Wallis took that look, and maybe he was expecting Gregory Peck or something, because he said, "Who is this bum with the broken nose?" ... So I told him to stuff it and lived on the beach for a while, catching fish for my food.

-- TV Guide magazine, Oct. 23, 1971

Next: Rod's Hollywood Story >>




Robert Taylor?

A few movie reference materials incorrectly state that Rod Taylor had to change his name from Robert Taylor when he arrived in Hollywood. Not so. Here's what Rod had to say on the name-change subject in a 1986 interview:

Being under contract to MGM was an immense opportunity for me [in the late 1950s], but I wasn't completely overwhelmed. I was still brat enough to stick up for my rights. Dore Schary was then head of the studio and he wanted to change my name. He said: "We've already got Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor under contract. You can't be Rod Taylor." I told him: "OK, in that case, I'll be Rod Schary."

Also dispelling the notion that Rod Taylor changed his name from "Robert Taylor," here's a tidbit from the pressbook for "The Glass Bottom Boat":

While Rodney is his official appellation, and a good sound name in Australia where he hails from, Taylor finds it formal and a bit fancy, two qualities he can do without. "I went by my complete name when I first arrived in Hollywood," he says, "but shortened it after a couple of years. Now it annoys me a little when people ask me what my real name is. I guess 'Rod' sounds like something I picked out of The Guaranteed Guidebook of Names That Lead to Hollywood Success."

Radio star