Robert Taylor and Ursula Thiess liked to live a quiet country life at their Mandeville Canyon home with their children and animals. Yet they were able to turn on the glamor when the occasion demanded it. The following is an interview with Mr. Taylor by columnist Sheilah Graham in 1960. Ms. Graham’s scorn for Ursula as a housewife may be feminist wrath or something more complicated. A possible explanation follows the article. The accompanying pictures show the Taylors at home and on the town.
Star Doesn’t Take His Acting Seriously
by Sheila Graham
Hollywood (NANA)–There was one time when Robert Taylor was very worried: When he was trying whether to make up his mind to reconcile with first wife Barbara Stanwyck or to marry German actress Ursula Thiess. He loved Ursula, but Barbara was unhappy. Fortunately for the three of them, Robert married Ursula who prefers to be the adoring type of wife with the great big strong man making all the decisions.
In the old days –25 years ago—Bob was unsure of himself; Barbara wasn’t. Nothing bothers him today.
Mr. and Mrs. Taylor at a parties in the 1950s. Both of them look extremely elegant.
“Have you ever taken yourself seriously as an actor?” I asked the still very handsome Mr. Taylor.
“No, I don’t believe in taking any part of this business too seriously,” Bob replied. “It’s just another job, a darn good job. But this present tendency to ‘get into the part,’ to ‘live your part’–if you have to be out of breath, to get out of breath, and all that, is a lot of nonsense to me. Some of the “Method” boys I’ve worked with have done that, and I’ve had to guard to keep from laughing right in their faces.”
The two of them made glamor seem effortless.
Studio biggies will tell you that during Robert’s 25 years of stardom, he never caused anyone a single headache (Miss Stanwyck excepted, of course). “I don’t believe in temperament,” said Bob. “I don’t think that being good at your job entitles you to bad behavior. Sometimes nervous strain makes a sensitive actor jumpy and then he forgets himself.
Original caption for the right hand photo: 16 Feb 1955, London, England, UK — Original caption: London: Robert Taylor To Make Film Here. Hollywood film actor Robert Taylor with his wife, German born actress Ursula Thiess, dine at a West End restaurant. They arrived in London on Saturday; and Mr. Taylor is to make a film in this country.
“But most actors are spoiled early in their career. Too much adulation, too many things done for them, publicity people telling them what to say or saying it for them. In the earlier days, when I started, actors were little white gods as far as the studios were concerned. Many actors were spoiled by this; they seemed to think it was a license to treat people badly, to order them around. It stemmed from insecurity, too.”
Mr. and Mrs. Taylor at their Mandeville Canyon Home, 1963.
Nowadays, stars are under contract to themselves, in most cases where they are big at the box office or in television. Robert owns a big piece of his TV show and gets a percentage of his movies. He wasn’t surprised when “The Detectives” was picked up for the next season. Nothing surprises him.
“Ursula and I lead a quiet life in our home in Mandeville Canyon. We get the feeling on our 113 acres that we’re miles from nowhere. Actually we’re 15 minutes from the heart of Beverly Hills. Ursula is a good rider and we can cover 16 miles of bridle trail without leaving our property.”
From Left: Dining with Nancy Reagan; examining a party favor; the photo on the right shows Mr. Taylor, Ursula Thiess, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Nancy Reagan, Rosanno Brazzi and Ronald Reagan at an Ambassador Hotel reception.
They own cattle, horses, hunting dogs, cats and chickens. One hired hand runs the great outdoors, and Mrs. Taylor has a woman to help her around the house, but–”if she had the time she’d do it all herself,” says her husband.
From Left: Robert Taylor sampling his wife’s cooking. She made an effort to get him to eat vegetables and salads; the couple sharing his love for hunting; the family at home at their cabin in Wyoming.
In good housewifely fashion, Ursula does the marketing herself. Robert hates to waste money and this delights him. His wife also participates in the neighborhood car pool on kindergarten days. They have a son, now going on 5, and a blonde blue-eyed 10 month old daughter. Also living with them are Ursula’s two daughters [actually a daughter and a son] by her previous marriage. Ursula had a fairly good career under way when she married Taylor. I doubt that she will act again, except maybe a bit here and there in Bob’s TV series.
It has long been rumored that Robert Taylor and Sheilah Graham were lovers. She was eight years older than he, but Mr. Taylor didn’t mind older women. Sheilah Graham may have harbored resentment against Ms.Thiess because she had married the man for whom Ms. Graham still had feelings. Perhaps she had gotten her hopes up when Mr. Taylor and Ms. Stanwyck divorced in 1951. Ms. Graham does sound like a woman scorned dripping bile on her successful rival. None of this can be proved at this point but it is intriguing.
Robert T. Westbrook (born 1945) is an American writer. He was born to columnist Sheilah
Graham Westbrook five years after the death of her lover F. Scott Fitzgerald. There is some question as to Robert’s biological father, who Graham claimed was Trevor Westbrook, a British businessman she divorced in 1946. However, after Graham’s death in 1988, the British philosopher A.J. Ayer came forward to say he was the father of Robert’s older half-sister Wendy and that Robert’s biological father was most likely the Hollywood actor Robert Taylor. (Wikipedia)
To me, it seems out of character for Mr. Taylor to father a child and never acknowledge him. Even Robert Westbrook admitted that he wasn’t sure whether his father was Robert Taylor or Victor Mature. There is no resemblance between Mr. Taylor and Mr. Westbrook.
And a flashback to a glamorous Hollywood party around 1950.
From left: Robert Taylor greets Robert Stack. Barbara Stanwyck and gossip columnist Louella Parsons are seated; Mr. Taylor and Mr. Stack look bored out of their minds. Barbara Stanwyck seems animated and Louella Parsons serious.
OMG Judith, where do you get your information? You continue to add such interesting posts about our Mr Taylor with content and photos of which I have previously been aware of. I recall “a hundred years ago” sending a fan letter addressed to Robert Taylor, Mandeville Canyon Ranch, Los Angeles after an article appeared in our TV Week [post The Detectives] about his life on the ranch. He [his publicity dept] sent me an autographed photo, which regrettably got lost in the upheaval following my divorce. I cannot believe the claims about him being the father of Sheila Graham’s son, his honest character would not have allowed him to remain silent. It is lovely to see such happy photos of he and Ursula together, and you are so right, they do make such a handsome couple. Thank you again, such good reading.
Did you ever find out anything about the DC documentary? I reckon if anyone can find anything it would be you !.
Hi, June. I’m glad you liked the post. I had one of those photos too. It disappeared but a while back there was one on ebay and I bought it. The DC documentary was part of a series. It’s been on ebay as a movie (large reels) but I can’t play that. It was a two part episode of the series. I do keep an eye out for it. If I could find a VHS tape it could be transferred to DVD but I haven’t seen any. I’ll e-mail you a poster I found. Also I don’t believe the business about the child either although I can’t imagine why Ayer said it. Fred says he was a respectable philosopher. In his will, Mr. Taylor says quite specifically on the first page that his children are Terence Taylor and Tessa Taylor. Period. I’ve wondered if he thought there might be some bogus claimants. The blog is about to hit 100,000 views! Great to hear from you.
Ms. Graham’s article is rather snarky but I think the overall point she was getting at is somewhat true. Mrs. Taylor (Ursula) was willing to sacrifice her own identity to be the dutiful wife and that apparently was what Mr. Taylor wanted. Both Miss Stanwyck and Ms. Graham had personalities that were too strong to do that.
I had never heard about Mr. Taylor possibly fathering another child, interesting stuff! It seems unlikely but considering he was prone to extramarital affairs I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility.
Ursula Thiess wanted to be a wife and mother. She was, of course, already a mother when she married Mr. Taylor. Given her horrendous early life in Germany she was probably also looking for stability. Robert Taylor wanted to repeat his parents’ marriage in which, ironically, his doctor father waited on his mother hand and foot because she was “delicate.” Nonetheless, many of these photos show them looking at each other with tremendous affection. Mr. Taylor hated confrontation and Ms. Thiess went out of her way to avoid it. She also went on most of his locations in part, I think, to keep an eye on him as he had had lots of “location romances” earlier. I don’t believe it about the child though I can’t imagine why Ayer said it. Thanks for writing.
Several years ago I read a posting online somewhere from a man who claimed to be Robert Taylor’s grandson. He said his grandmother made a deathbed confession about having an affair with 20-year-old RT, who would then have been a college student & using his birth name. Anyway, the grandmother said she became pregnant, went out of state to have the baby (a boy) & kept this secret from her family for years. The grandson said RT never knew about his child. If he had known, he would probably have done the “right thing” at the time, married the girl & settled into another profession, & none of us would ever have seen or heard of Robert Taylor. The writer said his son, which would have been RT’s great grandson, “looks just like RT, but with slightly lighter coloring.” Who knows? It sounds like a bit of fantasizing to me.
In her autobiography, Ursula indicated that Bob wanted her to accompany him on his location trips. She said the average movie shoot lasted about 6 weeks & she tried to be with him for the middle 2. She wanted to be with him but did not want to spend too much time away from her children. I don’t think that she really had to keep an eye on him & that he was faithful to her once he married her. They seemed to be totally devoted to each other.
I’ve read that claim about the grandson too. I didn’t find it very credible. People want to be connected to celebrities. In those days any father whose unmarried daughter became pregnant would have been there with the shotgun.
I was being a bit tongue in cheek about Ursula keeping an eye on Mr. Taylor. Nonetheless, I think she was smart. I agree that they were devoted to one another but a man surrounded by beautiful women can be tempted. They don’t see sex the way we do, even the best of them. But you are probably right.
what is the name of the actress RT had an affair with that ended his marriage to BS
While in Rome filming “Quo Vadis,” Mr. Taylor had a rather public affair with an extra called Lia de Leo. Most people think he was tying to annoy Ms. Stanwyck so she would agree to a divorce. Mr. Taylor never saw Ms. de Leo again after leaving Italy.
Since Sheila Graham had a long-standing, doomed relationship and shack up with a married alcoholic, (F.Scott Fitzgerald) she was probably just exhibiting sour grapes. She probably couldn’t stand to see others happy, but she was in no position to be throwing stones. Ursula wanted her marriage to work and knew how to do it. She loved her husband, decided his/ her children were more important then her career, and stayed home and raised them. The nerve!!!