I Was Wrong about Robert Taylor
by Maureen O’Sullivan
September 7, 1938
[Maureen O’Sullivan] confesses in this revealing article that she is sorry now that she was so curt with reporters who asked if she was thrilled to be cast opposite Bob Taylor in the film [A Yank at Oxford]. Here his co-star throws new light on Taylor and introduces you to the man rather than the matinee idol.
When Maureen O’Sullivan landed in Southampton one day last autumn, reporters demanded to know whether she wasn’t thrilled to tears to be playing opposite Robert Taylor. “No,” said Maureen. “Why should I be?” She confesses now that she did Taylor an injustice in replying so abruptly, but the question annoyed the Irish in her. Teamed now with Taylor for the second time in The Crowd Roars, she wishes to amplify that former statement.
It seemed to be taken for granted,” she remarks, “that working opposite Bob Taylor was the one thing for which I’d been waiting and praying for all my life, which was ridiculous. Why I scarcely knew him, and apart from the fact that I was thrilled at the idea of making A Yank at Oxford among my own countrymen, and in a locale that was very familiar to me, it was just another job.
Naturally it was very gratifying to be selected for the part, but so many people seemed to think that I must have some sort of a ‘crush’ on Bob. Well, I resented that, and being Irish, I was a little blunt about it. If I’d only known Bob better at the time, I would have been more careful about phrasing my answer. Now I’d like to come right out and tell just what I think about Bob Taylor.
The amazing thing to me is that most people don’t have any idea what a really competent, workmanlike, inspiring actor Bob is. Certainly he’s good looking. But that fact has been played up so much that his ability is so often lost sight of. I would rather work opposite him than almost anyone I know, because he ‘gives’ you so much in scenes with him.
There are lots of actors with big names who are excellent performers, but who don’t have the knack and the interest to help the others who are before the camera at the same time. Now, for instance, when there is a close-up of me, shot over Bob’s shoulder, and not showing his face, he gives me all the facial expression, all the intonation of the lines, all the all the meaning and feeling he can put into his role, although he knows that his face will never be seen.
Taylor and O’Sullivan in A Yank at Oxford (row 3: Lionel Barrymore, Griffith Jones, Vivien Leigh):
How many others, with their backs to the camera, would do more than go through the motions? Furthermore, because Bob always knows his lines, always has his business down pat, always is so thoroughly conscientious and hard-working in everything he does, you know you can lean on him when you’re having any difficulty yourself.
He inspires confidence because he is so competent, but more than that, he lifts up the morale of the whole company.” Fifty percent of the success of A Yank at Oxford, according to Miss O’Sullivan, can be based directly on the fact that Taylor always upheld the morale of the entire troupe with his unflagging willingness to work harder and longer than the other fellow.
Now that I know him so much better,” she went on, “I’d be happy to be teamed with him as many times as MGM may see fit. It’s fun working with Bob. He has such a grand sense of humor, but better still, he can sense the mood of those around him and keys himself to it. He never kids around if he knows you’re feeling a little off-color, or are busy, or want to study lines.
He’ll jump up and take part in a ball game with the crew or sit around and discuss the latest magazine article which has caught someone’s attention, with equal enthusiasm. He’s entirely unassuming, never demands that things be run his way, is always willing to work and play the way others want to.”
Admitting the fact of the Taylor good looks, Maureen still thinks that they constitute his least important attribute. “If he weren’t so genuine, so conscientious and so much fun, his looks wouldn’t mean a thing,” she insists. “Furthermore, you notice several of the scenes in The Crowd Roars, where he shows some of the marks of the prize-fight profession, where he has a nasty cut across one eye, for example. It certainly doesn’t make him any the less attractive.
I still think I was right when I told interviewers that I didn’t feel like a fluttery debutante at the prospect of working with him for the first time. But I’m proud of the fact that we’re together again for a second effort.”
If Maureen O’Sullivan had to start her career all over again she would do it differently. Not that she is dissatisfied with her present lot. Far from it.
Taylor and O’Sullivan in The Crowd Roars (2nd row: Frank Morgan, Edward Arnold):