Almost everybody in America went to the movies in 1936. The average attendance at movie theaters in 1936 was 88 million.(1) This was out of a US population of 128.05 million(2) meaning that an average of 78% of Americans saw a movie every week. Of course, the tickets cost an average of 25 cents. Movie stars were hugely popular, dozens of movie magazines sold thousands of copies. Today it’s different—only 26.5 million go to a movie theater each week(3), 8% of a population of 314.69 million(4). Tickets cost an average of $8.12(5) There are few movie stars in the traditional sense and movie magazines have been replaced by People, Us and others.
With 78% of the population going to the movies every week, there was tremendous interest in new movies and movie stars. People turned out by the thousands to movie premieres to watch their favorites walk the red carpet. Searchlights lit up the evening sky. Celebrities were interviewed on live radio broadcasts. The stars showed up in order to be seen on newsreels and heard on the radio.
Camille opened on December 12, 1936 in Palm Springs, California and also in New York. In Palm Springs the film opened the historic Plaza Theater
“The historic Plaza Theater opened its doors on December 12, 1936 for the world premiere of the now-classic motion picture Camille The premiere was an exciting event for Palm Springs. Not only were the film’s co-star Robert Taylor and other Hollywood luminaries in attendance, but local media reported seeing a woman in dark glasses sneaking into the balcony as the lights dimmed. They said she bore a suspicious resemblance to the picture’s star, Greta Garbo.(6)
“A rumor was that at Louis B. Mayer’s insistence, Greta Garbo reluctantly agreed to attend the Hollywood premiere of Camille on December 12, 1936 at the Plaza Theater in Palm Springs. She wore pajamas under a fur coat, walked through the front door, and out the back without bothering to watch the film.(7)
“Robert Taylor was considered an asset to Camille not just because of his good looks and earnest portrayal of Marguerite’s suitor Armand, but also because of his youthful age of 25. “According to George Cukor, ‘Armand was a notoriously bad part for an actor, and it’s often played by men in their forties and doesn’t make sense. But because Taylor was young, it came alive.’ Taylor had initially received much attention in Hollywood for his looks, but his talent evolved as he continuously worked hard to do justice to his roles.(8)
“As for her co-star, Robert Taylor was castigated as being too callow for the role. In fact, most critics today realize he was exactly what Dumas intended: young, impressionable–and certainly irresistibly gorgeous in his dewy youth. That beauty often caused the young Taylor undeserved venom from the critics. He was a very capable actor and probably set the standard for the contemporary romantic leading man we see even today. Rumors that Garbo dismissed him as unimportant are not true.(9)
Cukor on Taylor
‘Historically, it (Armand) is a bad part because it’s usually played by old actors, and you don’t forgive an old man for being so foolish ….Robert Taylor was a wonderful looking young man, and he was touching and passionate…..A lot of actors…cannot play scenes with women and Taylor really did it. You believed that he loved her, and he was young enough to make them chemically a very nice couple.’”(10)
Taylor on Cukor
From a letter from Mr.Taylor to George Cukor:
“Bob enjoyed working with Cukor as well….At one point [Taylor] sent some rare books to along with a note which said, ‘They are not as elaborate as my personal feelings of gratitude to you, but if you enjoy them only partially as much as I have enjoyed working for you then I shall have been fortunate in my choice.’”(11)
Garbo on Taylor
Garbo talks to Swedish journalist Sven Broman:
“What was Robert Taylor like as your co-star?”
“Well, I didn’t really know him.”
“It’s been said that he dropped you while filming Camille.”
“Well, he didn’t. He was a very well brought up young man, a bit shy perhaps. He did everything to make me feel better. I was often actually rather ill during the filming. He used to have a gramophone with him that he would play because he knew I liked music. It helped distract me. A film studio is pretty much like a factory, you know….and you are supposed to be soulful in the middle of all the din.
“Robert Taylor was from Nebraska, and he told me that his best friend during his youth in Nebraska had been a Swede.I have never liked sitting in the sun. I have a delicate skin and have to be careful not to get sunburned. But Robert Taylor was the opposite. He worshiped the sun. And then he was forced to abstain from the outdoor life for the weeks we were filming since we both had to be equally pale.
“Robert Taylor was actually a kind and well-bred man. I really appreciated what he did when he visited Stockholm for the premiere of Camille, which was to send flowers to my mother, twelve gorgeous orchids.
“……Robert Taylor didn’t live to be all that old, you know. I never saw him again once the filming was over. But I know he smoked too much, just like me, and he got lung cancer. He wasn’t quite sixty when he died. I read that Ronald Reagan, who knew him, gave a very good speech at his funeral. This was when Reagan was Governor of California.(12)
Taylor on Garbo
From Jane Ellen Wayne’s biography of Robert Taylor:
“Years later, Robert Taylor recalled that he was scared to death at the thought of appearing with Garbo. He said she was a fantastic human being and that she loved acting and the people she worked with.(13)“But one of the best kept secrets during the filming of Camille was Robert Taylor’s date with Miss Garbo. It was not for publicity and Bob did not mention it until many years later—which was typical of him. He frustrated his friends by confiding something, yet never giving details and often not finishing what he had started out to tell.
“One evening when her name was brought up he casually said to a close buddy, ‘Yeah, I will always remember the one and only date I had with Greta Garbo. When I arrived at her house, there she sat, her long full skirt surrounding her as if she were posing for a picture. When I walked in she made no attempt get up and though she was aware I was there because her eyes acknowledged my presence, she remained in that position until she had finished meditating. “But you could get nothing more out of Taylor about that evening.
“Twenty years later he saw here in the MGM commissary and when someone asked why he didn’t go over and say ‘Hello,’ he replied, ‘I respect her privacy and would never approach her. Besides. She probably wouldn’t remember me anyway.”(14)
Quote from Robert Taylor, 1956
“Greta Garbo, alone, personifies the ages-old mystery of the eternal female—will o’ the wisp—tantalizing. Her performances had the smoldering quality, the flow and warmth, of banked fires. Whenever you thought you’d caught the secret of her art, she was off again, leaving you with a handful of shadow. You could never feel you knew Garbo. You did know you had been touched by greatness.(15)
The Taylors at other Premieres
1 An Economic History of Film,ed. Michael Pokorney and John Sedgwick, p. 92
2 US Census Bureau
3 The Numbers.com
4 US Census Bureau
5 Hollywood Reporter
6 Follies Online.
7 Garbo Forever
8 TCM.com by Andea Foshee
10 Charles Tranberg, Robert Taylor, Albany Georgia, Bear Media, p. 78
11 Robert Taylor to George Cukor, undated, Margaret Herrick Library, AMPAS, quoted in Tranberg,ibid.
12 Sven Broman, Conversations with Greta Garbo, NY, Penguin Books, 1991, p. 148.
13 Garbo Forever
14 Jane Ellen Wayne, Robert Taylor: the Man with the Perfect Face, NY, St. Martin’s Press, 1973, 1987, pp.55-56.
15 Robert Taylor, “Actresses I Can’t Forget,”Chicago Daily Tribune,Nov. 24, 1956