Robert Taylor Could Have Been a Writer

This is Robert Taylor at his funniest and most charming. Mr. Purvis was someone with whom Mr. Taylor could relax completely and it shows.  Mr. Taylor was an enthusiastic letter writer and could have written professionally if he wanted to.

This letter is quoted in Jane Ellen Wayne. Robert Taylor: The Man With the Perfect Face, NY, St Martins Press, 1973, 1989, pages 202-204. Used by permission.

January 13, 1959 Letter to Tom Purvis*

Dear Couz–By Golly, I’ve been plumb careless about my letter-writin’ lately – but, again, you’ll just hafta forgive and forget. I’ve been real busy.

xnew (69)Sometimes, like durin’ the past coupla weeks, I honestly get to thinkin’ I must be livin’ right. As you know I stuck my neck out a yard plunkin’ down the money necessary to buy that ranch down in the Canyon—and still havin’ it on my hands.

Well sir—the first couple who came to look at it, after we put ‘er on the market, went for it big. I had been askin’ $137,500, but I knew damned good’n well that I’d go for a lot less. They offered me $125,000 cost at close of Escrow and they jest by God bought themselves a house. They also want to buy several pieces of furniture and appliances which we will not need in the new place—round dining room table and chairs, kitchen stove and ice-box—washer and dryer, etc. etc. All in all I think we were damn lucky. We won’t make any money on the deal, but we’ll sure as hell break even and will have lived here very comfortably for four years.** [The house referred to here is probably the one a 1709 San Remo Drive, Pacific Palisades. CA. I wonder what it would be worth today?]

.The second reason I think I’m livin’ right is that Ursuleeeeee went down to the “Doc” a few days ago and confirmed our suspicions! She’s got another one “in the oven” and right about now, what with morning sickness and all, I guess she kinda feels like sluggin’ me. However, we’re really very happy about it. We wanted one more and waiting too much longer wouldn’t have been good for either of us.

Robert Taylor With His Wife

Mr. and Mrs. Taylor at their home in Mandeville Canyon,1963.

Ursula’s comin’ up on 35 year now and I don’t think it’d be good for her to have kids after that. And that is assuming that I’d be able to hold up my end of the function! Which is one helluva’n assumption!

In addition to the two pictures I’ll be making in Europe*** another deal has come up which looks good to me and I think I’ll go for it.

Four Star Productions, Dick Powell’s and David Niven’s outfit, have come up with a TV Series which they want me to headline. It’s a pretty fair idea and will be done by the best producer-director-writer team in television. I’ll do six shows in the series and appear briefly in the other 26 out of the 32-show series.

For the ones in which I appear full time I will draw $7,500 for three days work. For the RT8357ones which I simply “host” and appear in briefly I’ll draw $4,500—i.e. For the one-year series of 32 shows I’ll draw $150,000 in salary. I’ll also own and this is the big money gimmick—50% of the entire series! This percentage, in the event that we have a hit show and continue the series for three years, could be worth a coupla million dollars, part of which would be Capital Gain.

The office is now setting up my own corporation—Robert Taylor Productions—and everything I do from now on, either as a motion picture or in TV, will be done thru the corporation. I’ll be under contract to my own corporation and will be paid for it.


Possibly the dog in the letter.

Last week I went down to Missouri and came home a helluva new Pointer-dog for pheasant and quail. He is really a dandy, but I took him out to my Vet to be thoroughly checked over and they discovered that he had just about every type of worm known to the canine world. They’ve just wormed him and the poor bastard is so “pooped” out that I wouldn’t run him on pheasant if I never shot again. We plan on building a six-dog kennel at the new place.

Sorry that ya went and “split your girdle” Curley—but I have a hunch it was fun getting’ thataway. I have to stay away from that kind of silage or I’d never get a job. Get me up agin’ those nuts and I’m a gonner—no willpower at all!

Love to Vi and the deductions.

As ever,



Tom Purvis and Robert Taylor fishing,1941.

*Lawrence Kenneth “Tom” Purvis (1908-1999) met Robert Taylor during World War II when they were both Navy flight instructors. They became good friends for life. Mr. Purvis owned a car dealership in Mattoon, Illinois and was active in civic affairs. A column in the local newspaper on Oct. 24, 1947 said: “Film Actor Robert Taylor left the Mattoon airport in his private plane this morning after spending the night in Mattoon. He arrived here late Thursday afternoon after two days in Washington, D.C. testifying before a House committee on un-American activities. He was visting Tom Purvis and his brother James Purvis.” (Van Gundy Family Tree website)

Mr. Purvis tried to trick Mr. Taylor out of a bad mood one day when they were flying together in 1944 or 1945.  He turned the plane on its side so that Mr. Taylor couldn’t see the ground and


Lt. Taylor and a Navy training plane,1944.

“I could tell he had lost his bearings completely.  Being a perfectionist, he got very upset.  In his silent confusion I watched him getting entangled in the shambles had already created, so I called him Dilly, the name for a “goof” in the Navy.

“He threw up his hands and managed a smile, but the name stuck and he always called himself Dilly on the phone or in letters long after we had left the Navy.”  (Tom Purvis, quoted by Wayne, p. 118)

**There’s an amusing anecdote about another real estate transaction in which Robert Taylor was involved.  After his divorce from Barbara Stanwyck, Mr. Taylor was looking for a small place to buy for himself. He was interested in a ranch and wanted to verify the house’s dimensions for himself.  So one day he was on hands and knees measuring when a young couple, also potential buyers, walked in.  They ignored the man kneeling on the floor facing the wall.

“God damn! I had to stay in that position.  I was afraid they would recognize me.  Then my pants split.  I could feel it happening slowly and I tried to ease up a little without showing my face.  Then it happened–the whole damn seam went.

Robert Taylor with his wife Ursula Thiess

The Taylors, 1963

“I sat up, face to the wall, and told them I was busy–to come back later.  The woman was laughing and she said she would gladly sew my pants up.

“All I could think of was her finding out who I was and telling everyone what color undershorts Robert Taylor wore.  I finally got rid of them when I said the floors weren’t level and I was bustin’ my pants trying to figure out how to rectify the situation.

“Never did buy the place, but I also decided I had a big ass! Told my tailor not to put in any more back pockets.”  (Letter quoted in Wayne, page 170).

***Killers of Kilimanjaro (1960) and House of the Seven Hawks (1959)RT6079707572278_o

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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4 Responses to Robert Taylor Could Have Been a Writer

  1. SusanaG. says:

    This is a very informative letter—notice he quickly jumps from one subject to another and all of them seem to be very pleasurable for him. He even sounds quite enthusiastic about The Detectives, go figure! And the way he tells about Ursula’s pregnancy, for instance, is so funny. I thought the expression “in the oven”, in that particular context, was a local one only, but I learned that Robert Taylor, no less, also used it!
    Now I always had trouble trying to “decode” what exactly he refers to in the last paragraph. Do you have any ideas?
    The anecdote with the couple in that ranch is awfully hilarious!! I remember I laughed out loud when I read it for the first time, and even now, many years later, still do. His embarrassment was perfectly understandable, but the way he dealt with the whole situation is simply amazing!


  2. giraffe44 says:

    The only thing I can think of about the last paragraph is that Mr. Taylor and Mr. Purvis liked the same kind of nuts. Most nuts are very fattening so Mr. P. gained a bit of weight and Mr. T. regrets that he can’t if he wants to work. Of it, as you say, could have been some kind of code for something else.


  3. Clem says:

    Just an FYI, Mr. Purvis had the car dealership and lived in Mattoon, Illinois. I believe he may have had a home in Florida at some point, but he lived in Illinois. Mr. Taylor made at least one well-publicized trip to Mattoon, IL to visit the Purvis family.


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