Robert Taylor and the Queen

This is an article from a magazine called Hollywood Then and Now from 1991.  The author seems to be somewhat ambivalent about Robert Taylor.  He says really nice things and then goes on to say something negative.  The spelling and punctuation were awful and I fixed them as well as possible.  I do think it’s interesting though.  1991 was prime Taylor-haters time and this is definitely a mostly positive article.

The photos and captions are original to the article.

Hollywood Then and Now
Robert Taylor and the Queen
by Gene Sheppard, 1991

I am a red-blooded man and I resent people calling me pretty—and for your information—I’ve got hair on my chest!!!!” Robert Taylor, 1936

Robert Taylor, the matinee idol of three generations of movie fans, had a chronic inferiority complex. With lustrous black wavy hair highlighted by a distinctive widow’s peak, his almost flawless face was a magnificently proportioned structure, accentuated by a rosy complexion and gorgeous steel-blue eyes.

He was simply too beautiful to be a man. His good looks displeased and embarrassed Robert Taylor who was modest to the point of being painfully shy. He felt that his male beauty somewhat hindered his effective real performance as an intensely masculine img226red-blooded man, that being too handsome would interfere with his becoming a successful multi-faceted professional actor.

Robert Taylor firmly believed that hard work, self-discipline and a serious attitude were responsible for his development and staying power as a solid actor for 34 years. He was a symbol of honor, honesty, sincerity and responsibility to those he loved and worked with. He was simple, direct and a straight-shooter. Above all else, he was an old-fashioned “nice man.” All in all, Robert Taylor was so dull and predictable that he bored himself.

Born with the exalted and memorable name of Spangler Arlington Brugh (pronounced B-R-E-W) in Filley, Nebraska, on August 5, 1911.  Robert Taylor’s father was a country doctor, his mother a semi-invalid who was not expected to survive marriage, much less childbirth. Young Arly was a pampered child dominated by his mother, Ruth, who made him a show-piece dressed in “Little Lord Fauntleroy” clothes. He became a stutterer who had to run from mocking children.

After the family moved to Beatrice, Nebraska, he overcame his stuttering by riding horses, becoming quite popular and gregarious.

Arly attended Doane College where he majored in music. When he followed his cello professor to Pomona College in California, he enrolled there where he attracted an MGM talent scout.

He failed his first screen test, but undaunted and determined asked for an unheard of second test. MGM Chieftain Louis B. Mayer and his secretary Ida Koverman changed Arly’s dandified given name to Robert Taylor.

His first film was Handy Andy (1934), he attracted his first attention in Society Doctor (1934) and became a full-fledged star with Magnificent Obsession (1935).

Robert Taylor was quickly labeled “Pretty Boy,” and this burdensome tag would stick throughout his career. For the first time since Rudolph Valentino, America had a full-blown idol to worship, a beautiful object of adoration and desire for fans starving for an imaginary lover. His name was now a household word. He was mobbed everywhere he went. Almost every public appearance resulted in traffic jams and his clothes were often literally torn from his body by female fans.

Valentino’s appeal had been dangerous and erotic. Woman wanted him to kidnap them

Barbara was often jealous of Robert's beautiful co-stars like Vivien Leigh.

Barbara was often jealous of Robert’s beautiful co-stars like Vivien Leigh.

and then make violent love to them. Clark Gable, Robert’s strongest rival as the screen’s top romantic star, was rough and rugged, and appealed to the lower side of women’s nature. Robert Taylor was different—he was all-American and pure, a paragon of kindness, loyalty and perfection. Women felt he was above sex,* and they loved him for it.

Robert hated the whole “Glamour Boy” bit. He was trying to be only one thing -a good actor. True talent is seldom recognized in an actor who is too handsome or too beautiful. Robert was told by fans and critics that his talent was beauty and beauty was his talent. The idea that his handsome face was solely responsible for his success frustrated him throughout his career. His private life was largely a mystery. He dated actress Virginia Bruce when they starred in two early films together. Janet Gaynor and Robert were a hot item when they filmed Small Town Girl (1936), but Janet always fell in love with her leading men and discarded them when the film was completed.

Robert was seriously in love with MGM actress Irene Hervey, but, when Mr. Mayer objected to their marriage plans and Robert asked Irene to wait, she married singer Allan Jones. Many feel Robert never got over Irene.

In 1936 Robert Taylor met Barbara Stanwyck, who was known as “The Queen” because of her imperious manner. She was in the process of divorcing comic Frank Fay; he was still carrying a torch for Irene Hervey. They became inseparable and despite objections from Mr. Mayer and Mother Ruth, were married in 1939.

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn, New York on July 16, 1907. Orphaned at an early age, she moved to Manhattan at 16, and worked as a telephone operator, typist and chorus girl. Backed by playwright Willard Mack, she became a Broadway star in Burlesque. Barbara married Frank Fay (Broadway’s Favorite Son) in 1928 and Frank took her to Hollywood where he bought her way into movies and made her a star. In the process he destroyed his own career and became an alcoholic. Their violent, quarrelsome marriage ended in divorce in 1936.

Why did Robert Taylor marry Barbara Stanwyck? She was four years older than him and they had little in common. He was one of the handsomest men in the world. She was attractive in a somewhat masculine, butch way, but no great beauty. He was a top box-office star who lacked genuine deep-seated talent; she had talent oozing from every pore. He was a country boy who never dared to take her to Nebraska; she was a “big city” sophisticate. He was educated; she was not.

He was an inexperienced, naive lover; she had been around the block a few times. He liked women in feminine clothes; she liked tailored outfits custom-made of men’s materials. He liked to treat a woman like a lady; she was liberated and allowed no man to light her cigarette. He drank moderately; she was a heavy drinker and could hold it. He was above vindictiveness; she scratched off anyone who crossed her and got even. He loved to hunt and fish; she abhorred the outdoors.

The Taylors were considered by the public as great companions.

The Taylors were considered by the public as great companions.

He wanted children; she did not* and even disowned and refused to ever speak to her adopted son, Dion Fay, when he fan afoul of the law. Robert Taylor was a kind, sincere, honorable and somewhat soft gentleman; Barbara Stanwyck was a gutsy, hard-boiled, pushy, amoral, jaded and independent woman.

The Taylor-Stanwyck marriage was in trouble by the late 1940s. Initially, Robert felt the need to be mothered, and Barbara told him what to do and how to do it. Eventually, he felt stifled. He already had his overpowering, yet dependent mother underfoot. With Barbara and Mother Ruth continually calling the shots, he realized he had one mother too many. His real mother was at least a lady, no matter how tyrannical and bigoted she was.

At some point in time, Robert ceased having sexual relations with Barbara. He explained that he was having prostate problems and could not be attentive. Barbara did not accept this excuse; she accused him of playing around outside the marriage.

She intimated that the “Pretty Boy” tag might be correct and that he spent too much time with his MGM pilot and friend, Ralph Couser. When Couser would telephone, Barbara would yell, “Hey, Bob, your wife wants to talk to you!”

When Robert went to Rome to film Quo Vadis? (1951), he was at an all-time high in popularity. He played Marcus Vinicius in the most expensive (at that time) spectacle ever filmed. Gossip hinted that he was romancing several women in Rome and one in particular, the publicity seeking Miss Lia Di Leo, a bit player in the film. When Barbara heard the scuttlebutt, she flew to Rome and threatened divorce.

To her surprise, Robert took her up on it. Barbara promised that she would bleed him for the rest of his life. At their three-minute divorce hearing (one of the shortest on record) she was awarded their Hollywood mansion and 15% of his earnings until he died. Although she did not need the money, Barbara Stanwyck collected her alimony and pound of flesh until Robert Taylor’s death.

There were many women in Robert’s life, but he was discreet and there was never any major scandal. At various times he romanced: Virginia Bruce; Janet Gaynor; Irene Hervey (serious); Greta Garbo (one secret date with his Camille (1937) co-star; Lana Turner (his Johnny Eager (1942) co-star); Ava Gardner (when they filmed The Bribe (1949) and afterward); Virginia Grey (secret dates on the rebound from her true love Clark Gable-Barbara told her off); Eleanor Parker (hot, heavy, long-running and very serious, but she was too much like Stanwyck); and numerous others far removed from Glamour Gulch.

Barbara Stanwyck  became Mrs. Robert Taylor in 1939.

Barbara Stanwyck became Mrs. Robert Taylor in 1939.

In 1954 Robert married German actress Ursula Thiess and at last seemed to be a happy, contented man. Ursula was everything he wanted in a wife – a dedicated homemaker, mother (Terry and Tessa), and companion.

The world was deeply saddened when Robert Taylor died at the age of 57 of lung cancer on June 8, 1969. He had been one of the most enduring stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and somehow he had become part of the American psyche and conscience. Certainly he was one of the truly great and most handsome stars in Hollywood history, but he was also a great patriot with a never-wavering love for his country and faith in it.

In World War II, he sought combat as a Navy flier, and, when he was refused, served as a flight instructor with the Navy’s Air Transport, directed 17 Navy training films, and narrated the documentary The Fighting Lady (1944). He voluntarily** testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington in 1947 bravely pointing his finger against Communist activity in Hollywood. He was anti-Communist and pro-American to the core.

In retrospect, Robert Taylor has been mostly underrated and neglected as an actor. The caliber of his acting career has been so high that is staggering in both volume and quality. His films were consistently entertaining, and many are classics today.

Who can ever forget such films as Magnificent Obsession (1935); Camille (1937); The Crowd Roars (1938); Waterloo Bridge (1940); Billy the Kid (1941); Johnny Eager (1942); Bataan (1943); Quo Vadis? (1951); Westward the Women (1952); Knights of the Round Table (1954); The Miracle of the White Stallions (1963)?

The greatest tribute that can be paid to Robert Taylor is that all is films can be watched without embarrassment in the presence of children.*** He was, and always will be, American Royalty.


*Silly remark; Mr. Taylor exuded sex, not in a dangerous way, but sex nonetheless.

**Victoria Wilson, in her book A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940,
Simon & Schuster; 2013, pages 51 and 156, states that Miss Stanwyck suffered a botched abortion as a teenager that left her unable to have children.

***Not voluntarily. Robert Taylor asked to be excused from testifying and only did so under subpoena. (Letter from Robert Taylor to H.A. Smith, House Un-American Activities Committee investigator, September 1947.)

****While this is true of most of the films, I don’t think that High Wall, The Last Hunt, A House Is Not a Home or The Night Walker are especially child-friendly.

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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19 Responses to Robert Taylor and the Queen

  1. b&wmovienut says:

    I think the writer is actually quite charitable toward Mr. Taylor. He does seem to have some sort of grudge against Miss Stanwyck, however. The only nice thing he says about her is that she’s talented. Most of it seems to be accurate, except I’ve never read where she was a heavy drinker; actually, I’ve only ever read the contrary (once she and Bob were out and they both ordered martinis and she was barely able to get up from the table).


    • giraffe44 says:

      I had the feeling the author didn’t know much about either Mr. Taylor or Miss Stanwyck. He seems to have read a bunch of stuff and then quoted somewhat randomly. I’ve read in a lot of places that Miss S. was a heavy drinker, especially after their divorce. Not proof, of course, but widely reported. Thanks for writing.


      • b&wmovienut says:

        Well, I take that back. I did read that she was a heavy drinker later in life but the books where I found that were the Jane Ellen Wayne bio (which is notoriously vitriolic toward Stanwyck) and the Axel Madsen book, which has so many mistakes it barely counts as a biography. Credible sources, to my knowledge, have never said that.


  2. giraffe44 says:

    I think that Jane Ellen Wayne is in love with Robert Taylor. 🙂 She is hard on Ms.Stanwyck. I haven’t read the Madsen bio but I haven’t heard anything good about it. It’ll be interesting to see what Victoria Wilson has to say in volume 2 of her bio. I really like volume 1, partly because she is fair to Mr. Taylor.


    • b&wmovienut says:

      I don’t think she’s in love with him, I KNOW she is, haha! Actually, I would say she’s borderline obsessed with him…which makes me wonder why she would want to write a biography about Stanwyck, someone she obviously hates. And I am very eager for volume 2 of Wilson’s bio as well. She demonstrated a very even hand dealing with everyone in Stanwyck’s life in volume 1, even Frank Fay (who arguably least deserved a fair treatment). Volume 1 is up for a bunch of major literary awards this year, and rightly so. 🙂


  3. giraffe44 says:

    I am very glad to hear that the Wilson book is up for some awards. It certainly deserves them. It was the first book that give me any sense of who Frank Fay was. . BTW I suspect that Ms.Wayne wrote the Stanwyck book because someone offered her money to do it. She’d already done research for the Taylor book, so why not? Thanks for a good discussion.


  4. dianne345 says:

    Today is Barbara Stanwyck’s birthday & TCM is showing 5 of her movies plus a biographical hour which promises “uncanny reflections of her offscreen life.” I believe this is the one narrated by Sally Field. But not to worry! Ms. Stanwyck will once again be featured as a star of the day during TCM’s annual “Summer Under the Stars.” And guess what day they have chosen to honor her again? August 5, what else! On that day in 2011, TCM honored John Garfield, one of their “darlings,” as I recall, after saluting Lucille Ball on her 100th birthday the day before. Not that Lucy didn’t deserve the honor. I’m just pointing out some irony here.


  5. giraffe44 says:

    I’m beginning to worry about TCM. Last year they celebrated his birthday in June, rather than August–in fact it was 3 days before the anniversary of his death. I think Robert Osborne is a big Taylor fan but he’s sort of semi-retired now. I do think honoring Ms. Stanwyck on Mr. Taylor’s birthday is insulting. The Stanwyck documentary was done by Richard Schickel, a huge Taylor hater. Sally Field is mocking about Mr. Taylor, using a fake midwestern accent when she quotes him. I’ve never seen the whole documentary but I recorded it so maybe I will. Maybe we should lobby them.


  6. dianne345 says:

    I’ve seen the documentary a couple of times, but not recently. I don’t recall Sally Field’s fake midwestern accent & didn’t retain the fact that dear Mr. Schickel produced it.

    The Taylor Star of the Month in April 2010 came about after I wrote 3 letters to various people at TCM, over a period of several years, about their failure to honor him on Summer Under the Stars. I like to think that others complained too.


  7. giraffe44 says:

    This is good to know–that eventually they do listen. We’ll have to think of something specific to ask for this time. Thanks, Diane.


  8. dianne345 says:

    I wrote 2 letters to Osborne, with no results, then a letter to Mankiewicz with a cc to Charles Tabesh, Senior VP of Programming. Mr. Tabesh responded to me almost immediately by email, promising a Star of the Month for RT the next year (2010) as their programming is done far in advance. Mr. Tabesh said something to the effect that RT certainly deserved to be recognized. In May 2010 I wrote thank-you letters to both Tabesh & Osborne. I ended the Tabesh letter by saying, “I don want to sound ‘greedy’ or ungrateful, but it woud be very nice if you could squeeze Bob Taylor in on August 5, 2011, on what would have been his 100th birthday, on your annual ‘Summer Under the Stars.’ In any case, thanks again for April 2010.” Perhaps I left them off the hook. RT had been a Star of the Month in September 2001, before I could get my cable station to carry TCM & I was unaware of that. But who was watching movies in September 2001, that nightmarish month which brought us 9/11?

    In the August issue of Now Playing, Robert Osborne apologizes for never featuring William Powell on “Summer” even though he also was twice a Star of the Month & explains that this “omission” is being rectified next month. Maybe more Powell fans are letter writers.


  9. Reblogged this on fanwritings and commented:
    Too good-looking, it’s true.


  10. I dunno. I think he kind of did exude sex in a dangerous way, or at least in a way that makes me feel like a dangerous woman. Excellent, by the way, as usual.


  11. Merrilyn says:

    A very handsome man, nonetheless!


  12. Thanks Judith, thank goodness your blog keeps its history. It is such a delight to come across such gems as this from your past posts. I think 2014 was before I found and became an avid reader of your blog. Keep on keeping on you good thing. Cheers, June


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