Recently I watched a 1949 film “The Barkleys of Broadway” with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. During the film the Barkleys host a photo shoot for Look Magazine at their home. The Barkleys were at loggerheads at this point and argued constantly. In one sequence, they break off their bickering at the breakfast table to smile sweetly for the photographer.
In the same way, another famous couple, Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, did several photo shoots at their home around 1943. Mr. Taylor looks extremely young with his slim body and short military haircut. In a series of somewhat frumpy dresses, Ms. Stanwyck looks almost old enough to be his mother.
Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck were having their problems in the early 1940’s. First there was Mr. Taylor’s dalliance with Lana Turner. Then there was the war. Mr. Taylor was determined to enlist in the Navy. She believed that he could do as much for the war effort by touring the country for war bond rallies and making morale boosting movies. Likewise, MGM wanted him to stay home and star in “Song of Russia.” Although Mr. Taylor enlisted in February 1943, he didn’t actually report for duty until close to the end of the year. In the interim, he made, under protest, the movie “Song of Russia.” On January 11, 1944 Robert Taylor (or Spangler Arlington Brugh) officially became a Naval Aviator.
Ms.Stanwyck looks great in her blue blouse and with her hair down.
“Taylor did not like to answer the telephone for fear he would get involved in a conversation or have to give an answer to a party invitation. If he were sitting by the phone and Barbara was in another part of the house, he would yell for her to pick it up. His excuse was that she was a better liar than he was.” (Wayne, page 106)
In a filmed interview with journalist Hy Gardner in 1960 Robert Taylor said that he had done three things to prepare to report to the Navy: shave his mustache; get a “real butch” haircut; buy an old car. He wanted to fit in and leave the movie star behind.
Despite the fact that Barbara Stanwyck had not wanted her husband to enlist, she supported him when he was in the Navy. They visited with each other as often as possible and corresponded regularly. She bought him expensive presents like a gold cigarette lighter he managed to drop into the Mississippi River during a training flight. (Jane Ellen Wayne, The Man with the Perfect Face, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1987, pages 114-115).
Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck were true professionals. They were both able to put aside any problems in their private lives to project the image MGM wanted. Whether setting a clock, looking at phonograph records, packing a suitcase, playing with a dog or standing in their doorway, they created a sense of the warmth and affection that sustained them for eleven years of marriage.