Born To Be an Idol

The Milwaukee Journal, October 13, 1935
Born To Be an Idol

Robert Taylor with his mother Ruth Stanhope Brugh at roughly 3-6 months.

Robert Taylor Needs Neither Brains Nor Skill to Start Toward Stardom on Screen but He Uses Them Anyway

Did you ever play the lead in an amateur show? Or has that unparalleled thrill been denied you? If you have ever had the chance to give your all in the big scene just before the curtain, you will remember how you pretended there was an Impresario in the audience. He would rush up afterward and beseech you to let him show your divine talent to the world–for a price! Sure. Every drama daffy youngun’ has dreamed that beautiful dream.

But it never happens that way. Never? Well, once it did.

Young Robert Taylor played the role of Capt. Stanhope in a Pomona college dramatic club production of “Journey’s End.” An executive from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios happened to see the performance and Bob was invited to take a screen test. Sounds like fiction, but it’s true.

At the start of his career.

“He told me my acting as observed in the war classic had the flavor of pure pork. In fact he said it smelled,” Bob says.

Even so, the executive saw a potential star behind the mugging. No doubt screen history will record that he was right.

It is really very simple. When a chap is born with so-called sex appeal and accumulates profound knowledge of psychology so that he knows what makes us tick emotionally, he just naturally becomes a menace to feminine peace of mind. If, in addition, he stands six handsome feet tall, has eyes unbelievably blue to go with such dark brown hair and gets snapped up by the movies, why there’s nothing to it. He is in a position to thumb his nose at the reputation of that ancient Greek, Thespis.

The law of cause and effect swung into operation and women started adoring Robert Taylor with his first picture. They’ll keep right on in increasing numbers until by the time he gets into the full stride of what promises to be a remarkable career, they’ll be eating out of his hand by the millions. He won’t be able to help himself.

Because the Taylor lad is the stuff matinee idols are made of, just as he stands. He wouldn’t need brains. The fact that he has them is beside the point. He doesn’t have to be a great actor. If he becomes one, that will be another reason why Mr. Gable will have to move over to make more room up there on top.

So far the few pictures Robert Taylor has been in have provided mere grooming. He was very young when M.G.M. put him under contract and he had never had a day’s professional experience. He had a lot to learn. But now things are about to happen.

In the Jack Benny extravaganza “Broadway Melody of 1936,” Taylor sings and dances so well that the pre-view audiences were generous with their cheers. And perhaps the big break looms on the horizon now. It might well, for Bob is playing the lead opposition Irene Dunne, who is starred, in “The Magnificent Obsession.” John Stahl is directing the picture for Universal. The book upon which the picture is based has been in the best seller class for five years. The picture has a good chance to be one of the best.

Broadway Melody of 1936, with June Knight. The dance didn’t appear in the finished film.

Lunching with Bob Taylor is pleasant.

“No, I didn’t always plan to be an actor,” he said. “I actually never thought of being one professionally until I was invited to take a screen test.” That strains the credulity but perhaps it’s true.

“Let’s see. As I remember it, my first burning desire was to be a rancher, a cattle rancher. I was born in Filley, Neb., which is about as close to the soil as you can get. But I guess I wasn’t cut out for permanent association with cows and barns. Anyway life hasn’t turned out that way.

“Next I planned to be a doctor like my father. My first year of college chemistry cured that. I went to college at Doane Neb. for the first two years and finished at Pomona, after the family came to California.

“After the hankering to be a doctor had passed I got the notion of being a big shot business executive. Probably every kid goes through the stage wherein he visions himself as a captain of industry, Well I took economics and other courses to that end, but accounting was too much for me. I can’t even add with an adding machine.

“Then I sort of gave up and decided to finish my general education and let nature take its course. Psychology fascinated me more than anything else and I took all I could of it, figuring that however I wound up the more I knew about the human mind the better.”

Knowing about the workings of the mind should certainly be an asset to an actor. Bob is a thorough student of the subject and this is not his press agent talking. He has collected a large library of books on psychology.

As extra-curricular activities at Pomona college, Bob played tennis and joined the drama club. The latter move decided his fate.

“There is a legend told hereabouts that you had to be coaxed a little to play ball with the movies, since the offer came before you had finished your college course.” Doubt prompted the statement.

“Oh, yes” he laughed. “They had a frightful time persuading me. I only broke a leg tearing out to Culver City to make that test.

“The true story goes this way. The studio was not anxious to sign me right away, but suggested I go into training under the Metro dramatic coach, Oliver Hinsdell. You can’t blame them. Heaven knows I needed training.

“So for a while I tried to make the long journey in from Pomona for several weeks to work with Hinsdell, unlearning all I had thought I knew about acting. At the same time I was attempting to keep up in my courses at school.

“It didn’t work. I couldn’t do justice to both and since no contract was immediately forthcoming, I decided to concentrate on completing my year at Pomona. I asked the studio to give me another chance after I graduated.”

Which it did. That was a year and a half ago, roughly, and much water has gone under many bridges since then. The first picture in which they cast the budding artist was a short. It was all about how crime doesn’t pay, as proved by insurance company statistics. You may have seen it. If not, have no regrets. It was not very good.

“Buried Loot,” the first short film in MGM’s Crime Does Not Pay Series.

Then came parts in “A Wicked Woman,” “Society Doctor,” “West Point of the Air,” “Times Square Lady” and “Murder in the Fleet.” Bob got better and better. In “Broadway Melody of 1936” he scores such a hit that writers have commenced to comment on the “sensational” and “meteoric” rise of Robert Taylor.

The local Winchells are also trying to marry him off. He goes places constantly with Irene Hervey and rumors fly concerning their imminent marriage. All jealous fears may be calmed down because Bob says “some day I mean to marry. But it won’t be for years. I’ve got too precarious a footing now. Everything depends on selfishly concentrating all my attention and energy on climbing while I can.

“Don’t you think I know what an uncertain business this is? There have been enough horrible examples that the faster anything goes up, the faster it comes down. Before every picture I shudder slightly and think to myself, with this one I may take an awful flop.

“What a fellow needs from a girl at this point is sympathy and encouragement, a constant bolstering up. But you can’t expect a girl who has her own career at stake to spend all her time yearning over yours.”

So much for romance. Would you be interested in a few not very important observations about the young gentleman?

He can play the piano and once while at Doane college he accompanied his own songs on a cello doing a job of radio broadcasting. He is devoted with a collie dog with the most original name of Sport, who howls under his window every morning and wakes him up.

He likes horseback riding, tennis and surf bathing. And he has a passion for sweaters. He simply can’t restrain himself where sweaters are concerned. There are about 50 in his collection, all types and colors!

Sweater boy, mid 1930s. At one time Mr. Taylor was deluged with sweaters knitted by women all over the country after they learned of his fondness for them, possibly from this article.

For all his delving into psychology he doesn’t care to have black cats cross his path and he goes right on following hunches that never turn out successfully.

It seems to Bob Taylor now that in 10 years he would like to bow gracefully out of pictures and try his hand at something else. There are so many interesting things to do. He wants to travel far and furiously. He has never even been to New York.

“But I know in my heart I’ll never give up pictures until pictures give me up,” said Bob, proving all that study of psychology wasn’t wasted.

“Ten years from now, if I’m lucky enough to be on the Hollywood scene I still won’t be willing to do any bowing out. I love what I’m doing. And I know I’ll keep right on doing it just as long as the dear public will let me.”

With that he unfolded all the grand six feet of him and took his blue eyes and dark brown hair and beautiful bicuspids back to the set, wondering how on earth he could “make faces” for four hours in close-ups under lights that would raise the broiling point of our “unusual” southern California weather up to a dandy inferno.

About giraffe44

I became a Robert Taylor fan at the age of 15 when his TV show, "The Detectives" premiered. My mother wanted to watch it because she remembered Mr. Taylor from the thirties. I took one look and that was it. I spent the rest of my high school career watching Robert Taylor movies on late night TV, buying photos of him, making scrapbooks and being a typical teenager. College, marriage and career intervened. I remember being sad when Mr. Taylor died. I mailed two huge scrapbooks to Ursula Thiess. I hope she got them. Time passed, retirement, moving to Florida. Then in 2012 my husband Fred pointed that there were two Robert Taylor movies that evening on Turner Classic Movies--"Ivanhoe" and "Quentin Durward." I watched both and it happened all over again. I started this blog both for fans and for people who didn't know about Robert Taylor. As the blog passes 200,000 views I'm delighted that so many people have come by and hope it will help preserve the legacy of this fine actor and equally good man.
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