Robert Taylor enjoyed writing letters. There are numerous pictures of him on various movie sets, typing on his portable typewriter. His daughter Tessa remembers her father spending afternoons on his correspondence, holding her in his lap. (Linda J. Alexander, “The Family Legacy of Robert Taylor, Film Legend…& Father,” posted 9/22/2002). To those of you who don’t remember manual typewriters, there was no enter, no delete, no commands at all. If you made a mistake you picked up your typewriter eraser and scrubbed away, usually making a hole in the paper. Correction fluid, or white-out, came as a great relief.
Here is a letter, undated, to Earl M. Marvin, publisher of the Beatrice, Nebraska, Sun.
Mr. Taylor subscribed to the Sun by regular mail as he didn’t want to pay for air mail. This letter is quoted in Jane Ellen Wayne, Robert Taylor: the Man with the Perfect Face,
NY, St. Martin’s Press, 1975, 1989, page 34. Used by permission. Robert Taylor’s original name was Spangler Arlington Brugh.
You touched upon a subject which has always been kind of a “touchy” one in my career.
At the time when my name was changed I must confess that I wasn’t in much of a position to argue with anyone. Jobs were scarce and I considered myself pretty lucky to be offered one even at the rather meager salary of $35 per week. I held out for the name of Stanhope as long as I could, but it was largely a matter of being out-voted. They had the job I needed…and they coulda called me Uncle Fud if they wanted and I’da accepted it! Nonetheless, I agree with you. Stanhope was a nice-sounding name and I wish I could have used it. At least I tried.
Mr. Taylor used a sort of “folksy” style in many of his letters, with colloquialisms and deliberate misspellings. I think this was to avoid any kind of movie star pretentiousness. Stanhope was his mother’s maiden name and also the name of the leading character in the play Journey’s End. By most accounts, Robert Taylor was acting in a Pomona college production of this play when he was spotted by an MGM talent scout. After giving up on Stanhope, Mr. Taylor tried to get the name Ramsey Taylor.
The following was originally published in Motion Picture Magazine, April 1941. It is quoted in Wayne, page 105. Used by permission. The recipient is Jim Reid, editor of the magazine.
March 14, 1941
Thank you for the opportunity of replying to the rumor which seems to have been circulating around recently. Unfortunately it is an opportunity which is too seldom granted people in this business.
Barbara and I were married two years ago for reasons which are common, I believe, to any two people who decide to take that step, namely love, mutual interests and a pretty good understanding of each other. So far as we are concerned these elements still exist.
The rumor, though unfortunate, did not come as a surprise to either Barbara or myself. Actually we have been expecting it. It seems inevitable that when pictures people have been married over a year, rumors of this sort arise. Why, I do not know but the fact still remains…May I assure you and hope that you will assure your readers, in turn, that all such rumors are entirely unfounded and untrue.
Thanks again for Barbara and Myself…
The tone here is more serious and businesslike, as befits the subject. 1941 is the year Mr. Taylor filmed Johnny Eager with the young Lana Turner. He was attracted to the beautiful starlet and said: “Any girl would have to go to some length to be more beautiful than Lana Turner, Ava Gardner or Liz Taylor..” Alexander, page 163.
From Linda J. Alexander, Reluctant Witness, Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism (Tease Publishing, 2008), page 164-165.
“Bob was determined, though. Whether he thought he was really in love, or the lust factor overtook all logical thought, Bob was
ready to leave Barbara for Lana Turner. Believing they hadn’t slept together was difficult for gossipmongers in the face in the face of their blatant and very physical public flirting, and stories ran wild……Common belief, from those who saw them together every day, indicated that they did have a hot-and-heavy physical relationship, the sort of which to that point in his life Bob had never experienced.”
At this time Barbara Stanwyck suffered a cut wrist which she blamed on a broken window. Skeptics saw it as self-administered to bring home to Bob Taylor how hurt she was. MGM orchestrated a campaign to counter the bad publicity including having both Mr. Taylor and Ms. Stanwyck imprinting their hands and feet in a single block of cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in June, 1941. Many years later, Ms. Stanwyck was asked to imprint a
new block since the old one was crumbling badly. To her credit, she refused because it wouldn’t include Robert Taylor. The old block has since been restored. (See “Taylor and Stanwyck at Grauman’s Chinese Theater” on this blog.)
To add to the couple’s problems, after making Flight Command in 1940, Mr. Taylor fell in love with flying and spent almost every minute he wasn’t working in the air. Barbara Stanwyck was terrified of flying and almost never flew.
Despite all this, Robert Taylor was serious about his marriage and stayed with Barbara.
Almost Makes Me Like Myself
I find this little note fascinating. It could be in response to a photograph. Mr. Taylor was critical of his photos, not liking many of them. The last line is a reflection of his serious lack of self-confidence and what we now call self-esteem. This psychological quirk runs through Robert Taylor’s entire career and explains a lot about him but it’s too complex to go into further here.
Probably the handwritten note was sent to Helen Ferguson. I wonder what he was referring to (perhaps a photo, as you say) but it sounds so intriguing that he found something about himself that was appealing to him.
Isn’t it? Mr. T was fussy about photos, as he needed to be. He didn’t like smiling pictures because he thought they looked phoney. In another, he says that some photos of Barbara Stanwyck made her look like a cheerleader. There’s one taken in the fifties, in color, of him lean ng back looking thoughtful that he apparently liked. I guess actors have to smile on cue but most people can’t without looking silly. Someday I’m going to write an essay about his lack of self-confidence and why I think it was.