People who instantly recognize the names Clark Gable, Cary Grant, John Wayne or Greta Garbo often haven’t heard of Robert Taylor. The reason for this is a subject for investigation.
His outstanding looks worked against Robert Taylor. People often believe that very good looking people are stupid or lightweight. Hedy Lamarr, for instance was considered just another beautiful face until her co-invention, together with composer George Antheil, of an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, which paved the way for today’s wireless communications. (Wikipedia)
Doctoral candidate Gillian Kelly of Glasgow University has presented several papers about Robert Taylor. In her summary of one, she said: “Despite being a key central figure during the Classical Era of Hollywood, actor Robert Taylor (1911-1969) can now be regarded as a ‘lost’ or forgotten star of cinema, an interesting paradox when we consider his longevity and continued success throughout his career.” (Gillian Kelly, A Taylor Made Star: Robert Taylor, MGM and the Hollywood Studio System.)
Ms. Kelly has been kind enough to let me read her essay and has told me in an e-mail that she consciously decided on specific areas for her dissertation, excluding any reference to Mr. Taylor’s political or private life.
I do think, however, that the primary reason Mr.Taylor is missing almost completely from film history books and articles is political. Mr. Taylor’s reputation and his legacy have been systematically attacked by leftists for the last forty years. If you repeat something often enough, people start to believe it. Robert Taylor has been left out of books, articles and even lists in which he should have been included. He has been attacked in biographies of Barbara Stanwyck and in “histories” of the Hollywood blacklist. The hatred was so virulent that the name Robert Taylor was removed from a building at MGM named to honor the late star.
MGM Moles Dig Themselves a Hole
William F. Buckley, Jr.
January 30, 1990
A few weeks ago, Hollywood residents discovered that there was no longer a building called the Robert Taylor Building. Disappeared, gone with the wind. Not the building itself, understand. It was still there, with its new owner Lorimar Productions (“Dallas” etc.). It was now the George Cukor building. Was this an attempt to say nothing about the late Robert Taylor, the glamorous movie idol who died in 1969 after making almost 50 [actually more than 50] movies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer?
Well, yes it was. What happened is that when Lorimar moved in, a petition circulated by writer Stan Zimmerman was deposited on the desk of Lorimar executives, asking that Robert Taylor’s name be expunged on the grounds that he had been a “cooperative” witness when testifying before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 and had committed that grave sin in the moral bible of anti-anti-communism. He had “named names.” Manifestly, he was unfit to adorn a building in which screenwriters continued to work. Accordingly, 43 years after his testimony, 21 after his death, Robert Taylor was vaporized.
Now in 1947 there was much turmoil in Hollywood over the communist question. There were Communists in the Screen Writers Guild—indeed there were communists just about everywhere, and why not? We had just finished a very bloody war in partnership with Josef Stalin, and Stalin was the leader of that great dream which, to be sure, failed but which gripped a great many prominent Americans during the period of its hypnotic trance over minds given to making ideological commitments, and declining to examine evidence that accumulated, undermining the reasons for making that commitment.
In those days, communists did exactly what one would expect conscientiously organized revolutionaries to do. They worked to extend their influences and to diminish the influence of those they opposed. During the war, Warner Studios has produced “Mission to Moscow,”a film about the Soviet Union that might have been written by the KGB, but after all, we were partners of Moscow during that time. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced “Song of Russia.”
Zimmerman did say that it was true that Robert Taylor had objected to playing in the film, but that such was the enthusiasm of the U.S. Government to see it produced, a deferment was given to Taylor who went from completing “Song of Russia” to service in the Navy as a fighter pilot.
When Robert Taylor’s turn came to testify, what he said was that communists were very active in Hollywood and that they used many techniques of disruption in order to further their enterprises. Asked to name them by name, he gave out only three. Beyond that, Taylor simply expressed his disgust with the communist enterprise and said he would not willingly act alongside a communist actor, so strongly did he object to communist practices abroad.
It is the thesis of the objection by the Zimmerman group that merely to have named names was a morally disqualifying act. Leaving aside the question whether this is so, one wonders if the same protestors are prepared to boycott the distribution of any film produced by Jack Warner (he testified endlessly about specific communists in Hollywood), Louis B. Mayer (who did the same thing); or films in which Gary Cooper appeared, or Ronald Reagan, Robert Montgomery, George Murphy; a film directed by Leo McCarey, or written by Morrie Ryskind. John Charles Moffit, film critic critic for Esquire magazine, testified that 44 plays out of 100 produced on Broadway during the 1936-44 seasons used “material to further the communist line.” It was a big fight, and the communists used every weapon to distract from what we now know as the truth—weapons used by their counterparts in the Soviet Union and in East Europe.
And now, in a gesture of retroactive vindictiveness, the statue of Robert Taylor has been removed from the public square and replaced by director George Cukor, who not long before his death in 1983, made a reference to his predecessor: “Robert Taylor was my favorite actor. He was a gentleman. That’s rare in Hollywood.”
Robert Taylor’s 40 years in the wilderness seem to be over. There have been two recent biographies, Linda Alexander’s Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism (2008) and Charles Tranberg’s Robert Taylor: a Biography (2011). Mr. Taylor has been star of the month on Turner Classic Movies twice. TCM also celebrates his birthday with a number of his films. Warner Archive has made most of the Robert Taylor movies available on disc. More and more people now have access to the work of this remarkable man and he’s taking his place in the pantheon of top movie stars of the Golden Age.
William Frank Buckley, Jr. (November 24, 1925 – February 27, 2008) was an American conservative author and commentator. He founded the political magazine National Review in 1955, which had a major impact in stimulating the conservative movement. He hosted 1,429 episodes of the television show Firing Line from 1966 until 1999,
where he became known for his transatlantic accent and wide vocabulary. He also wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column, and wrote numerous spy novels.
George H. Nash, a historian of the modern American Conservative movement, states that Buckley was “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century… For an entire generation, he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure.” Buckley’s primary contribution to politics was a fusion of traditional American political conservatism with laissez-faire economic theory and anti-communism, laying groundwork for the new American conservatism of U.S. presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan.
Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale (1951) and over 50 other books on writing, speaking, history, politics and sailing, including a series of novels featuring CIA agent Blackford Oakes. Buckley referred to himself as either a libertarian or conservative. He resided in New York City and Stamford, Connecticut. He was a practicing Catholic, regularly attending the traditional Latin Mass in Connecticut.
Removal of Robert Taylor’s Name From a Studio Building
January 6, 1990, Los Angeles Times
Concerning the removal of Robert Taylor’s name from a Lorimar Studios building in Culver City (“4 Decades Later, Blacklist Furor Is Rekindled” by Shawn Pogatchnik, Dec. 1):
There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the behavior of the “witch hunters” on either side. Intolerance is intolerance.
Taylor was following his beliefs when he testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The fact that he was misguided about what was a danger to the country doesn’t negate his contribution to the movie industry.
It appears that while Lorimar doesn’t agree with Joe McCarthy’s politics, it’s willing to adopt his tactics.
BILL SERANTONI, Thousand Oaks
According to Linda Alexander’s book, I believe he said “I don’t know whether they are Communists or not.” He did name names of several people who were disruptive in Screen Actors Guild meetings, which supposedly was a Communist tactic. Also, he said the script of “Song of Russia” was pro-Soviet. It certainly was! I’ve seen that movie several times on TV & even have it on VHS tape (recorded by me). There is a scene in it where an actor portrays Stalin making a radio speech to the people, talking about needing to be free from Hitler. Well, they certainly did need to be free from Hitler, but they also needed to be free from Stalin (& his successors up to the time of Gorbachev). Once again, however, the Russian people are being led by an aggressive power-seeker who let some of his people die needlessly in a submarine & who is seeking to annex areas of other countries where there are “ethnic Russians,” much as Hitler did with Czechoslovakia for the sake of “ethnic Germans.” One of our local newspapers (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) recently compared Putin with Hitler, although there are no concentration camps (at least that we know of) at this time. Putin has admitted that he regrets the breakup of the old Soviet Union & seems to be trying to re-establish it if he can. Of course, he waited for the Winter Olympics to be over before making his first moves.
If you’re interested, the entire transcript of the Taylor testimony is available online. It’s pretty interesting.
This whole business of Putin and Ukraine is filled with echoes of the past. No one seems to understand that when you give an aggressor what he wants he gets more aggressive. I believe the Soviet Union had gulags or concentration camps (no gas chambers that I know of).but whether they do now or not, I don’t know. We could at least help the Ukranians defend themselves. Thanx (R.Taylor word) again for writing.
Great post, and excellent comment by dianne. And while all of this is true, another reason Robert Taylor has been somewhat overlooked is that as good as many of his movies were, he didn’t star in “Gone with the Wind” or “Robin Hood” or “The Wizard of Oz” or one of just a few other movies from the ’30s or ’40s that today’s public seems to recognize. And, his early death means that few people, myself included, really remember him when he was alive (at 54, I have vague recollections of “Death Valley Days.”). I’m glad he is getting his due now, and I hope this continues. Had he lived, he might have done some good things in the 1970s, including maybe another TV series or more movies.
He did star in Quo Vadis and Ivanhoe, both blockbusters and his movies were in the top ten frequently in the thirties. But I take your meaning. There is no one thing that people think of–Gable in GWTS, Flynn in “Robin Hood,” as you point out. Sometimes I think that versatility is a problem because the public doesn’t have a settled image of you. Eleanor Parker is a parallel case. I do wish he had put down the ******* cigarettes and lived much longer. He had a lot more to offer. Thanks for your comment.
I remember him vividly from when he was alive, seeing his 1950s movies in theatres when I was a pre-teen & teenager & later again on TV, “The Detectives ” from 1959 to 1961, a few movies he made in the 1960s, & “Death Valley Days” in the late ’60s, shortly before his sad, untimely death from, as you say, those ******* cigarettes. I first saw RT’s ’30s & ’40s movies on TV, but like his 1950s films (particularly the costume flicks) best. He was still a very big, big-screen star when he went into TV in 1959. As I recall, he & Alan Ladd (another “forgotten” star who had an even earlier & sadder death, which appeared to be intentional), were tied as the world’s most popular actors in 1953 or 1954, as I recall. When Ted Turner bought the MGM library most Taylor films could only be seen on TBS & TNT & were removed from the local broadcast stations which had shown them prior to the Turner purchase, so people who did not have cable had no way to watch them. Then when TCM was started 20 years ago, the MGM films were removed from TNT & TBS & I couldn’t get my cable station to carry TCM for almost 9 years, in spite of frequent telephone requests. But eventually there were a number of Taylor films on VHS & now a lot on DVD.
But I’m a senior citizen now & we get fewer all the time. Glad to see some younger people becoming fans of my all-time favorite star.
After being introduced to Robert Taylor by my mother (an earlier fan) on the Detectives, I watched as many of his movies as possible on late-night TV. Now I’ve got close to 70 on disc. I’m a senior citizen (I prefer my father’s usage, “old fart.”) as well and I’m so glad the books and the DVD’s and all will be there to introduce Mr. Taylor to younger people. On some forum someone wrote that she was 14 and in love with Robert Taylor. Was that weird? She was assured that it was perfectly normal. Thanx again for writing. 🙂
That was on Linda Alexander’s wetpaint site, “Robert Taylor Movie star.” There was a 14-year-old girl from England who hasn’t appeared on this blog who called herself “Fueled by Forties.” I certainly was in love with him when I was 14, seeing “Ivanhoe” for a second time, then “Ride Vaquero” (which I didn’t like because he died in the end), “All the Brothers Were Valiant” (which I adored & still do), & during the Christmas holidays, with my mother (who was also a fan), “Knights of the Round Table,” which was the most “magical” experience I ever had in a movie theatre. I had read a King Arthur book a few years earlier & my favorite character was Lancelot, because he was almost perfect but fell in love with the wrong woman. Now here was my favorite fictional character being played by my favorite movie hero. The “magic” lessened as I saw “Knights” several times more in theatres (including reissues) & many times more on TV, but I still love this movie & bought it on VHS & later on DVD. It is on TCM frequently, so I guess I’m not alone in liking it.
Do you like “Quo Vadis?” It’s one of my all-time favorites. I just watched “Quentin Durward” again and liked it a lot. I’m an Arthurian and Lancelot fan, too. The movie started me looking up stuff about the time and the people. I read that Lancelot ended up in a monastery, just like Guinevere went to a convent. It’s an interesting parallel. I know what you mean about “Ride Vaquero.” I like most of it but hate the ending. Rio was just becoming a reformed character and he got killed. I think the motion picture code insisted that all bad boys had to pay the price. “All the Brothers Were Valiant” has this big middle section without Mr. Taylor, so I usually just fast forward through it. It is fun to see a recreation of New Bedford, MA, a place with which I’m very familiar.
I love “Quo Vadis” – one of my favorite movies of all time too & the one that made me an almost life-long Robert Taylor fan. (Since I was 12!) I first saw it with my mother in a downtown Pittsburgh movie “palace” called Loew’s Penn, which got all the big MGM pictures when the studios were still allowed to own movie chains. I first saw “Ivanhoe” & Knights of the Round Table” there too, & a number of other films including “Ben Hur” (which I don’t like nearly as much as “Quo Vadis”) “Cleopatra,” & a couple of reissues of “Gone With the Wind,” my all-time favorite movie.
The theatre eventually closed sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s when cineplexes took the place of downtown city “palaces”. This particular theatre was renovated by Pittsburgh’s Heinz family, is now called “Heinz Hall” & is the home venue for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, touring Broadway shows & other entertainment events. It still looks a lot like the old Loew’s Penn but the auditorium is white & gold, reminding me of Schoenbrun (spelling?) Palace in Austria.
I like “Quentin Durward” a lot too, although it wasn’t the big hit with the general public that RT’s other costume films were. Were people tired of seeing him in armor? Did the reviewers & the public fail to appreciate the “tongue-in-cheek” aspect – “when knighthood was a drooping blossom”? Of was it the lack of a big-name leading lady like Deborah Kerr, Elizabeth Taylor or Ava Gardner? Kay Kendall was delightful but wasn’t well-known, & sadly, died not long after making this picture. If the producers could have waited until Terry Taylor was born they might have cast Ursula Thiess, as they originally planned (according to her autobiography). Seeing Bob & Ursula together on the big screen in CinemaScope & color would have been fabulous for their fans & delightful to watch on TCM or DVD even now.
There used to be a theater in Boston that showed second run movies. It was one of the huge old Rococo theaters and my best friend and I developed a scheme to go there. We would get on the bus in Quincy, where we lived and just not get off at the high school. The bus continued on to the subway and it went right near the Mayflower theater. I spent many happy hours there during my senior year. We would leave in time for it to look like we had gone to school. I saw “Ivanhoe,” “Knights of the Round Table” and many more that way. Unfortunately, my mother finally caught us. I think “Quentin Durward” is great but I do think that Ursula would have been wonderful in the part of the countess. Kay Kendall was fine but she and Mr. Taylor didn’t have a lot of chemistry. In “The Detectives” his face just lit up when he looked at Ursula. I,too, would have loved seeing the Taylors on the big screen together.I also think the time for epics was over. Too many of them were made and some were just awful. There was a movie called “Atlantis” (I think) that borrowed a fair amount of “Quo Vadis.” A viewer was asked as she left the movie, “What did you like best?” and she answered, “The part where Robert Taylor rescues Deborah Kerr.”
I was a “goody-two-shoes” in high school (grade school too) & only missed school when I was sick. I cut some classes in college but not to go to the movies. During my working years (more than 46 with several different employers) my attendance was excellent & I often went to work with bad colds (something that is very discouraged today). Anyway, back about 1967 (I think) I read in TV Guide or a newspaper guide that Robert Taylor was going to be Mike Douglas’ guest host for the week. As I recall, I learned this on a Monday. I called in “sick” with “24-hour flu” & watched the show the next day. What I remember most is that Douglas asked RT who the most beautiful woman he ever met was. RT said there were 3 – Elizabeth Taylor, Hedy Lamarr & his wife (Ursula, of course). I didn’t have the nerve to call in sick on any other day to watch more of the Mike Douglas Show but on my lunch hours for the rest of the week I went to the electronics department of the department store across from my office building & watched what I could of the show. Others were looking at the TVs, too, tuned to the same channel. I no doubt frustrated the salesman by saying “I’m just looking.” The bad old days before VCRs! I bought my first one in 1979.
I have tried so hard to find those shows online. No luck so far. My high school escapades resulted from the fact that they couldn’t call your home if you were a senior and that I had already been accepted to college in November of my senior year. High school seemed awfully pointless after this (excuses, excuses). I was well behaved in later life–in lecturing and teaching you show up no matter what and I did, even though I had to get up at 5:45 to be at work by 8:30. I remember pre-VCR very well. I loved my videotapes. Now I have DVD’s. I’m not sure about streaming video. It’s nice to have something solid like a disc that won’t disappear. When you feel old: I called a hair salon to ask about a permanent. The girl didn’t know what I was talking about. She didn’t know what perm stands for. I should have asked for a permanent wave. 🙂
Obviously skipping school occasionally as a high school senior didn’t hurt your career. I’m curious but don’t want you to to reveal anything you want to keep private. What did you teach & where? If you don’t want to post that on here my other email is email@example.com.