Robert Taylor lived life to the fullest. He was an outdoors man who enjoyed camping, hiking, shooting, fishing, hunting, tennis and flying. His marriage to Ursula Thiess and his family brought him a joy that had eluded him earlier. Although his health was not the best, Robert Taylor couldn’t resist an opportunity that came his way in 1967.
The following are excerpts from Ursula Thiess, “…but I have promises to keep.” My Life Before, With and After Robert Taylor, XLibris Corp., 2007, pages 169-170.
“[In 1967 Bob] received an invitation from Winchester Guns to act as honorary director of their Worldwide Clay Bird Tournament. ‘I hope, honey, you realize that we are only window dressing in this affair,’ he said, ‘but I sure would like to meet some of those sharpshooters abroad. Besides, how often do we get a free ride halfway around the world, without any obligation than being on the spot with a smile and the know how to carry a gun?
“I was fair game because neither of us had been to Australia nor the Far East, destinations this trip would take us…..We met the U.S. winning team in the Bahamas to get acquainted, since they were going to be our family for a tightly scheduled two weeks of travel. His Serene Highness, Prince Rainier of Monaco, also joined the party for the weekend, participating in the warm-up for the tournament, with Sports Illustrated and other press covering the event.
“The actual tournament began in Honolulu and followed through to Australia, with stopovers in Sydney and Melbourne. The Aussies, even though coming in second in the competition, good naturedly showered their opponents with parties and favors and then put them on the plane to Bangkok.
“In the sudden changeover to the hot, humid climate, I noticed Bob’s weariness more than ever. He avoided most of the touring trips, such as a visit to the floating gardens and the old, incredibly ornate palace grounds. But the previously scheduled events of tournaments, dinners and especially the meeting with the handsome young king of Thailand, found him present and at his showmanship best.
“[Because of problems at home] Bob sent me home after we made our two day stop in Rome. He was concerned that the last tournament, in Frankfurt, would really bring he press down on me.”
The following two articles are from the Australian stage of the tour. Mr. Taylor was immensely loved in Australia as the articles demonstrate.
The Sydney Morning Herald Feb. 11, 1968
Letters Robert Taylor Ignored by Jock Veitch
People come to Australia for the oddest reasons. In film star Robert Taylor’s case it was a few lumps of clay; the sort you call clay pigeons and shoot to pieces. And, sad to relate, dead-eye Mr. Taylor didn’t get a chance to exercise his trigger finger here. He was firstly too tired, and then too busy.
The object of his four-day visit here was simply to have a holiday and do a little mild drum beating for the Winchester rifle people. Their guns helped win the West, but their aims are more peaceful now. Mr. Taylor is host to a team of sharpshooters who are having a world trip for winning championships. .But although he hoped he and his German actress wife, Ursula Thiess, would simply have time to amble around Sydney, he found Australia remembered him with a vengeance and hardly gave him a moment’s peace.
The celebrity-starved Press, TV and radio wanted him and he seemed to spend most of his days confronted by microphone, camera or notebook. And there were curious crowds of fans who gathered to watch him. Mr. Taylor was the greatest film heart throb after Valentino, star of about 80 movies and in the 1930s and 1940s he was every young girl’s dream of love. He was the star men envied and women fought over, a man whose every move was watched and documented. Even so, Mr. Taylor—he’s 56 now—confessed he was rather surprised by the warmth of his welcome here. But not put out; he never has been.
We spoke just before he stepped onto the plane taking him to Bangkok. He was wearing slacks and an open neck shirt and sipping orange juice with ice.
He received, he understands, some fan letters when he was here.
But he doesn’t know how many, for he has never really cared about fan mail. Even back in the 1930s when they would arrive at his studio by the truckload, he never read them or counted them. “The fan letters used to come in and the studio was delighted. I never wanted to see any of them and I never did. I suppose everybody would have been a little concerned about my career if they had stopped coming. I understand they still come in.”
He is not so callous with the Press, though. But you get the impression he talks to you out of affable politeness rather than a burning desire for publicity. What did he think of the heavy demand for interviews here? “I never really mind talking to people,” he said. “I just like to have a little time in between interviews to myself.”
The only time he reportedly lost any of his affability in Sydney was at a barbecue in Lane Cove National Park on Tuesday night. It was ruined initially by a thunderstorm. But, the rumors ran among the guests herded into the small shelter area, Mr. Taylor was furious. He had expected a simple out-doorsy Australia barbecue but he arrived to find the whole deal was to be televised and he was expected to do long interviews. Mr. Taylor wouldn’t comment afterwards. He just pulled a noncommittal face and changed the subject when I asked him.
This trip was to be a break, he said. He is still an active worker, making an average of two films a year and hosts a TV show called “Death Valley Days.” It is a western
series and he plays about four roles in it each year as well as introducing each episode. He finished making The Detectives TV series about five years ago.
Westerns suit him because he is an outdoors type. He and his wife live on an 113 acre ranch near Los Angeles where they raise horses. Both their pleasures are hunting, shooting, fishing, riding and boating. They have a boat which they use for trout and bass fishing in the Colorado river. Is he a good clay pigeon shooter? “No, I’m not,” he said. But Mrs. Taylor added quickly, “Don’t take any notice of him. He’s just being modest. He’s great.”
Does he miss the Hollywood of the old days? “I suppose I do,” he said. “My life’s certainly less complicated now, not so hectic. I never took much notice of all the carry-on. I had a job to do and I did it.” He paused and confessed, “I’ve never regarded myself as a great actor, of course. I wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to Sir Laurence Olivier, for instance. I’ve been a dedicated, conscientious worker, but I’ve been a personality, not a great thespian. I’ve worked hard, had a certain of success, had a lot of fun and I’m satisfied with that.”
Despite his acres of publicity the public has never really known much about his private life. Probably, he admits, it’s because he’s an uncomplicated man with an uncomplicated life. “People can find out about me if they want to,” he said. “My life’s an open book. You just have to ask.” Scandal has never touched him. A civilized divorce from actress Barbara Stanwyck years ago is about his only brush with notoriety.
He married Miss Thiess in 1954 and they’ve been inseparable ever since. They travel to his work together wherever possible. They explored King’s Cross together on Wednesday, their only free day here. They forsook a trip to Dubbo to do it because they needed the rest. They discovered John Dory and liked it so much they had it for lunch and dinner. “it’s absolutely delicious,” said Miss Thiess.
Mr. Taylor wants to keep on working. And at 56 he’s still in remarkably fine shape. “I’m just lucky about that,” he said. “I don’t do anything special to keep my appearance, but I suppose the things I like to do help. I like to get out in the open air and do physical things.” “Don’t worry about him,” Miss Thiess added with some satisfaction. He gets looked after pretty well at home. I see to that.”
The Australian Women’s Weekly, Wed. Feb. 21, 1968, p. 19
Robert Taylor, sportsman, film and TV star, and former heart-throb to millions of women around the world…He likes being an ex-matinee idol
by Nan Musgrove
Famous American movie and TV star Robert Taylor must surely have embraced more world-famous beauties and caused more heart-throbbing and tremulous sighs than most other actors. His recent visit to Australia for the Winchester Claybird Tournament certainly stirred up old and not-so-old embers among his Sydney fans. After he appeared in TCN’s “Tonight Show” with Mike Walsh, I found I was an object of interest and envy because I had met him. More women spoke to me about Robert Taylor than anyone else I have ever interviewed. Many were grandmothers and middle-aged mothers,
but I was surprised at his tremendous popularity with young marrieds and the early twenties age group.
His young fans are all ardent televiewers and may be divided into two sections; those who sigh over him as their mothers do because they have seen him on TV in old films (especially “Waterloo Bridge.”) and those who prefer him as Captain Holbrook of “The Detectives.” “I like him best as Captain Holbrook” a young fan told me. “His face is ravaged, interesting, full of character, better than when he was so good looking. But old and young, all asked “What is he like?”
To be honest, I must say Robert Taylor is very definitely an ex-matinee idol, an ex-heartthrob. At 57 [actually 56], which he says he is, he is beginning to thicken in the figure, thin in the hair, and the outline of the finely chiseled features is starting to blur. Five years have passed since he made “The Detectives,” and in that time I think Taylor has picked close to two stone in weight. He is still a fine, upstanding man, 6ft. Tall, broad-shouldered, with the most beautiful deep sky-blue eyes; his hairline with its widow’s peak is still well defined.
Taylor came to Australia as “tour manager” of a group of American target shooters who won a world trip as the grand prize in the 1967 Winchester International Claybird Shooting Contest. Taylor said he thought he and his wife would most correctly be described as the team’s “window-dressing.” He is right, I’m sure, but who cares? He certainly doesn’t. I laughed when he said it and remarked that he has no illusions about himself, and he shrugged and raised his eyebrow in hat famous quirk. Just briefly I felt envious again of Vivien Leigh and “Waterloo Bridge,” which he told me is absolutely his favorite film—the one, he remembers, he enjoyed making and thinks is his best.
The beautiful women he has acted with made little impression on him. There was, for instance, back in the ‘thirties, Norma Shearer, then Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young, Diana Wynyard, Elizabeth Taylor. I asked him who among them was the most beautiful, the best actress. Even if I could decide, I wouldn’t say,” he said. It wouldn’t be tactful. But you’ve left some out. Lana Turner was really beautiful and still is a very good-looking woman. And what about Ava Gardner?” I said I thought she’d got rather coarse looking and her legs were always bad, and he was horrified. He regards her still as a very beautiful woman.
Mrs. Taylor, who was with us, said we hadn’t mentioned one of the most beautiful actresses Robert had starred with—Eleanor Parker.
I asked her whether she had ever been jealous of her husband. She has been, but not any more. “After 14 years of marriage we know each other pretty well,” she said, looking at her husband lovingly. The Taylors are obviously a happy pair. Mrs. Taylor, who at one stage was headlined as “the most beautiful woman in the world,’ is that old-fashioned female, a pretty woman. Her prettiness is the sort that is admired always and would be in any century. It is not like a vogue or fashion look, like the ugly-prettiness of the 1960s. She has a heart shaped face with wide, high cheek-bones, hazel eyes, fine olive skin and pretty, softly waving brown hair. waving brown hair.
Ursula Taylor is German and had been married and divorced before she met Taylor. She had two children by her first husband, a son, Michael, and daughter, Manuela, who is now 24. Both of her children had bad emotional problems, especially Manuela, who ran away from home at 12, married at 16, took to alcohol and had trouble with the police for her drinking. The Taylors have two children of their own, son Terry, 13, and daughter, Tessa, 8. I wondered how they felt about the young and today’s teenagers with their background of problems with Ursula’s children and with their son, Terry, on the edge of the troubled years. “Don’t ask me about today’s teenagers,” Robert said, “ask Ursula. She is much more tolerant, has more heart for them than I have. I just get angry.”
“I don’t think today’s teenagers have changed,” Ursula said. “I thinks times have changed, parents have changed—and the world, too—and we have confused them. It is so hard for teenagers to keep up with the changes. From an early age they are supposed to be grown-up and yet they are young and inexperienced. I feel sorry for the youth of today. I would not want to be a teenager now. Our Manuela had great troubles based on emotional problems but as she got older she overcame her problems and now she is adjusted and everything for her is just beautiful.
She recently finished her first picture, in which she stars as Manuela Thiess. She had to work her own problem out for herself; she built up to its solution slowly herself, in private. When a teenager behaves like Manuela did there is not much a parent can do, the teenager has to make it by herself.” herself.
Said Robert: “I think Ursula is right. The teenagers I consider a bit nutty are hippies—I would like to drown them! They represent only about five percent of the teenagers of he world and I do believe they will make it yet, eventually grow up.” Taylor said they wanted Terry and Tessa to do what they do best and whatever made them happiest. “We have no idea yet what that might be,” he said, “except that Tessa has announced to be the mother of 14 children.” (Both children are blonde with Dad’s blue eyes. He thinks their good looks are like Ursula’s, she thinks they are like Robert’s.)
I couldn’t get used to the idea of Robert Taylor, sportsman, ex-aviator, and ex-matinee idol. “I like it much better this way,” he said. “It is nice to think I have fans here, and they remember some of my good pictures, but I enjoy my life much more now than ever before.” He hunts birds with Terry and Ursula, hunts elk and antelope on his own. He’s mad about fishing and riding, loathes TV, will never make another series, never watches TV except for football and news. Until three years ago he piloted his own Beechcraft aircraft, has 6200 flying hours to his credit.
I don’t know how we got round to it, but Robert Taylor and I ended up talking about his real name—Spangler Arlington Brugh—which to me is incredible as his transformation from movie heart-throb to real-life human. The final touch came when he told me I mispronounced “Brugh.” I had said “Bruff.” ‘Oh, no” he said, “it’s “Broo,” as in brew.”I left just after that saying to myself, “Goodbye Robert Taylor,” and bowing in the direction of my new hunting, shooting and fishing acquaintance, Spangler Brugh.
Footnote: I asked whether Ursula Taylor whether she had enjoyed her role as the girl reporter in “The Detectives.” Looking me in the eye she said, “I was never comfortable in that role, I am not inquisitive enough.”
Note: All the color pictures were taken in Freeport, the Bahamas, for the Miami Herald, October 31, 1967.
Judith, what a lovely article with photos that I had never seen before!! It’s so nice to remember him in his, probably, last overseas trip that brought him for the first time–and alas, the last one–to the Southern half of the globe. A very interesting, yet sad, reading. Thank you for posting!
I’m so glad you like it, Su. I thought a lot before publishing it because I didn’t want to be negative. Then I thought that it could be done from a positive viewpoint. I don’t think RT is smoking in any of those pictures, very unusual.
So well done Judith. What a wonderful informative narrative about Robert and Ursula visiting my country. You write with such perception and warmth sharing thoughts about a man so many love and admire even years after his passing. You asked my opinion on writing about this topic and you have surpassed my thoughts on it. Sad yes, but a tribute to his global popularity despite his declining screen presence. Loved it.
June, I thought long and hard about your reservations before going forward with this. While not ignoring the health issue, I think it is less important here than RT’s zest for life. I’m so glad you liked it.
What a great article — thank you. I really enjoyed the photos and the Australian newspaper stories. I had been curious about this trip ever since I read about it in Ursula’s book. Photos from this period late in RT’s life are rare and these are real treasures. Yes, he is showing his age and especially the effects of smoking so heavily, but he still has that star quality. What a pity he didn’t live longer.
I’m glad you like it. Your comment about “star quality” is right on. Robert Taylor never lost his.
I have only just discovered this wonderful site and am enjoying it so much, Being an Aussie( I live in Sydney, NSW) I especially appreciated this particular piece covering as it does the Taylor’s visit to Australia! I intend to become a regular visitor to this site. Thank you so much!
Thanks so much. I’m glad you could visit.