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.
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