Rod and the Royals

In “The Liquidator,” Rod Taylor’s character was duped into a mission to bump off the Duke of Edinburgh. In real life, their encounter was a much more civilized affair.

Fifty-five years ago, on June 16, 1965, Rod Taylor attended a gala reopening of the Theatre Royal Windsor, a venerable London-area establishment that had been undergoing much-needed renovations.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, attended the event with his wife, Queen Elizabeth II. Rod Taylor was there with his wife at the time, Mary Hilem.

Rod Taylor and then-wife Mary at a formal event in 1965, quite possibly the Theatre Royal Windsor reopening.

The royal party included 37 people who were the queen’s guests at Windsor Castle for Ascot Week. Among the dignitaries were the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy, and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.

In addition to Mary, Rod’s entourage consisted of his friend, assistant and stunt coordinator, Fred Hakim, and Fred’s wife, Delores.

The queen was patron to the Theatre Royal Windsor Trust, which raised about £75,000 to support the renovations that were unveiled at the event. Rod was a donor to the cause.

In “The Liquidator,” Rod Taylor and Jill St. John went gunning for the Duke of Edinburgh amid a plot of double- and triple-crossing. Trevor Howard, left, stood in for the duke at the crucial moment later in the film.

The Royal Treatment

Movie-making, royal and real worlds collided as Rod was completing work on “The Liquidator.” The schedule for the spy romp had begun on April 5, 1965, with four weeks of filming at locations along the French Riviera and in Monte Carlo.

Production moved to London on May 1 and later, Rod was joined by his wife, Mary, and baby daughter, Felicia, for a three-week visit.

Rod described the royal invitation in a letter to Hedda Hopper, the empress of Hollywood gossip columnists: “Mary and the baby are enjoying London and we are getting very social and kissy next week by being presented to the Queen. Mainly I think because I donated some dough to improve the dressing rooms at the Royal Windsor Theatre, which is under her patronage.”

An article in the October 1965 Rod-Lore fan newsletter reported that the “dough” amounted to $1,000 (about $8,000 in today’s dollars).

Rod discussed the event with another grand dame of the Hollywood gossip scene, Sheila Graham, in an August 1965 column.

“The queen brought her guests from Windsor Castle,” Rod said. “We didn’t actually meet her. But we saw her.”

Graham wrote:

“And the queen saw Rod. She smiled and whispered to Prince Philip who whispered to Princess Margaret and they all smiled in the direction of Rod Taylor.”

Sounds like a scene straight out of “The Crown”!

All the gentlemen in the audience wore black tie, Rod said, but “the people with the queen were in white tie, black tails, with their coats featuring red lapels and red cuffs.”

What Rod was describing is the Windsor uniform, a piece of royal attire introduced by King George III in the 1770s. Early versions featured a bicorne hat with ostrich feathers, and heavy gold braiding on the coat. In more recent times, the Windsor men have sported dinner jacket versions, like the one Prince Philip is wearing in the portrait below.

Prince Philip, in Windsor Castle wearing the Windsor uniform. The painting was done to commemorate his retirement from public duties at the age of 96. By Australian artist Ralph Heimans, 2017.

Renovations and Reopenings

For the reopening festivities, Rod and the royals enjoyed a production of “The Rivals,” a classical comedy of manners by Richard Sheridan that, like the Windsor uniform, dates to the 1770s.

Their surroundings were somewhat more modern. The theater was built in 1910, albeit on classical 18th century lines and rather austere.

The renovations in May 1965, funded by contributions to the Theatre Royal Windsor Trust, added decorations in a color scheme of crimson, white and gold (suggested by the Queen Mother). Work also included installing a crystal chandelier from Paris, improving refreshment service areas, upgrading the air conditioning and wiring, and modernizing the dressing rooms (thank you, Rod).

More Theater Royalty

The Theatre Royal Windsor has undergone ups and downs over the years, but it seems on the upswing right now, with another reopening of sorts. After closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the venue has begun “socially distant” rehearsals for a production of “Hamlet” that will star Sir Ian McKellen as Shakespeare’s moody Danish prince.

More information about the theater and its history can be found at its website.

One thought on “Rod and the Royals

  1. Interesting article, and excellent work, thank you Diane. As a matter of fact I just subtitled The Liquidator in French to watch it with my family this week end, so thanks to you I’ll be able to inform them on the behind the scenes from the French Riviera to Windsor.

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