Now Playing, September 2001
There’s a spunky 1943 film we have in our TCM library called The Youngest Profession in which, at one point, the young heroine of the story has to compose a poem for a high school class. What she comes up with is: “Napoleon conquered Josephine, so he must have had his charms but personally I’d much rather be in Robert Taylor’s arms.” Nothing there to give pause to Edna St. Vincent Millay but it’s a sentiment that was shared by many a breathless female during Mr. Taylor’s long reign as a movie hero. (And for the record, few movie heroes reigned longer than our Star of the Month for September. His above-the-title career lasted over 30 years, a remarkable feat in a profession known for turning a cold shoulder to most actors after seven to ten years, tops.) Early on, Taylor had difficulty getting men to accept his work as enthusiastically as their girlfriends did, probably because his image was too Adonis-like, too good looking. Nor did it help that all those girls were swooning over him so rapturously; he was, in two words, unfair competition. But even the males finally came around, reluctantly but in force, because envy notwithstanding, Robert Taylor was almost impossible not to like. Give him a chance and one knew, instinctively, under that golden exterior he was a good egg, a rock-solid fellow, the kind of gent you’d be lucky to have for a brother, a pal or a fishing partner. Around MGM, he was always known as a “regular Joe,” the down-to-earth star who never put on airs or pretenses. A good illustration is what happened one day in the MGM commissary when he spotted Greta Garbo visiting for lunch, years after she and Taylor had costarred in the classic Camille. Friends urged him to go over and say hello but he didn’t. “She was a woman whose privacy you always respected,” he said. “Besides, I thought, why would she remember me?” Always a company player, Taylor never complained about the roles he was assigned, he never went on suspension, and didn’t make waves. Conflict was not his style. He also had he distinction of remaining under contract to a single studio (MGM) longer than all other above-the-title stars in Hollywood (24 years, from 1934-58). Only twice did he ever jolt his basic good ol’ boy image: once was in the late 1940s when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a so-called “friendly witness” during an investigation into possible Communist messages being injected into film content; another time, a couple of years later, he was divorced by a reluctant Barbara Stanwyck after stories began to surface about extracurricular dalliances Taylor had with costars such as Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Eleanor Parker. Still a good guy, the image basically remained intact and still does, thanks to his Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward, Roy in Waterloo Bridge, Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis, Armand in Camille, Bob Merrick in Magnificent Obsession and even his less-than-virtuous Billy the Kid and Johnny Eager. As his friend Ronald Reagan said in the eulogy he delivered at Taylor’s funeral in 1969, “Each one of us has his own different memory of Bob but somehow they all add up to ‘nice man.” Well said. And I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy spending time with this ‘nice man’ throughout the month here on TCM.
Star of the Month
36 Movies; Mondays and Wednesdays
“The Man with the Perfect Profile ” as Robert Taylor was billed, was second only to Clark Gable as MGM’s top romantic hero. Considered more beautiful in his youth than some of his leading ladies, Taylor (1911-1969) shed ins glamorous image in later yeas to emerge as the rugged star of period epics, Westerns and other action films. Born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, Nebraska, he was spotted by MGM scouts while still in college. Taylor’s first starring role at the studio came in the drama Times Square Lady (1935). After such lightweight fare as Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) and Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), he provided solid romantic support to a series of luminous female stars: Joan Crawford in The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Greta Garbo in Camille (1937) and Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge (1940). Taylor, who served in the Navy during World War II, emerged as a tougher kind of hero in the war adventure Bataan (1943) and lent suave menace to Katharine Hepburn in Undercurrent (1946). He came into his own in the 1950s as the star of such costume epics as Quo Vadis (1951), Ivanhoe (1952) and Knights of the Round Table (1953), along with Westerns including Ride, Vaquero! (1953). He solidified his tough-guy image in the grimly realistic Western The Last Hunt (1956), giving one of his best performances as a ruthless buffalo hunter. Taylor was married to actresses Barbara Stanwyck (from 1939-1951) and Ursula Thiess (from 1954 until his death at age 57).
September 3: A Wicked Woman, Times Square Lady, Broadway Melody of 1936, Broadway Melody of 1938, West Point of the Air.
September 5: Camille, Waterloo Bridge, Small Town Girl, Valley of the Kings.
September 10: The Last Hunt, The Law and Jake Wade, Ride, Vaquero, Westward the Women, Ambush.
September 12: A Yank at Oxford, Personal Property, When Ladies Meet, Many Rivers to Cross, Remember?,
September 17: Undercurrent, High Wall, Johnny Eager, The Bribe.
September 19: All the Brothers Were Valiant, Knights of the Round Table, Quentin Durward, Ivanhoe, Quo Vadis.
September 24: Bataan, Above and Beyond, Song of Russia, Stand By for Action.
September 26: Three Comrades, the Gorgeous Hussy, The Power and the Prize, Society Doctor.
September, 2001 was, of course, the month of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. How many people actually watched these movies, we’ll never know, but perhaps they provided distraction from the horrors of that dreadful time.
Like almost everyone, I watched endless hours of 9/11 coverage, both at home & at work, where our conference room TV was constantly on. I probably would have watched some of the Taylor movies as a respite from the horror, but at that time my cable company did not carry TCM, in spite of repeated telephone requests from me. I finally got TCM in late 2003, unaware that RT had been Star of the Month in September 2001. I was keenly aware that they never gave him a day on Summer Under the Stars & wrote to Robert Osborne twice & Ben Mankiewicz once over a period of several years, requesting that he be honored on “Summer” or better still, be made a Star of the Month. I cc’d Charles Tabesh, Senior VP of Programming for TCM & got a quick email response promising to honor RT in 2010, as their programming is done far in advance. April 2010 brought 54 Taylor movies & because I was retired by then, I watched many of them “live,” recording others on my VCR (I still don’t have a DVR but plan to get one soon). I wrote thank-you letters to Mr. Tabesh & Mr. Osborne & was participating in Linda J. Alexander’s “Robert Taylor Movie Star” blog (or whatever that was) at the time.
I think Mr. Osborne was wrong about what eventually triggered the Taylor-Stanwyck divorce. Although he apparently wanted a divorce to marry Lana Turner, according to Jane Ellen Wayne, Barbara made what looked like a suicide attempt & he abandoned that idea. Lana did not admit the affair but Ava Gardner did (during the fiilming of “The Bribe”) in her autobiography. He did not publicly acknowledge either affair because a gentleman (which most people thought he was & still think so) does not “kiss & tell.” The short-term fling with Italian starlet Lia DeLeo during the filming of “Quo Vadis” in 1950 brought about the divorce, according to what I have read. She was using him for publicity to promote her own career & he was using her to get Barbara to ask for a divorce, which he surprisingly agreed to (& paid dearly for it financially for the rest of his life). RT & Ava made 2 more movies together in 1953 – “Ride Vaquero,” a not-so-great western in which Anthony Quinn stole the show from the 3 stars billed above him, & “Knights of the Round Table,” where they were the most appealing (to me) of all the Lancelots & Quineveres. By then he was with Ursula (although not yet married to her) & Ava was with Frank. I believe his relationship with Eleanor Parker (in 2 of their 3 movies together) began after he was divorced but I don’t know exactly when “Above & Beyond” was actually filmed; it was released in 1952. By their 3rd film together, RT & Ursula were married & honeymooned at the film’s location.
Like everyone who was an adult then, I remember where I was and who I was with on 9/11. The rest of the month is a bit of a blur. I know I didn’t watch any Taylor movies because I hadn’t rediscovered him yet. What a lost opportunity. I have written to TCM about including Mr. Taylor in Summer Under the Stars but never got any reply. Maybe they will show a bunch of Taylor movies on his birthday. They did a couple of years ago but got the date wrong,
I think that Robert Taylor came back from World War II with a changed frame of mind and possibly a greater understanding of how precious life is and that it shouldn’t be wasted. He felt trapped in his marriage and wanted to be free. I think Lia de Leo was a means to an end–she probably didn’t mean any more than his other dalliances. I agree that the Taylor-Gardner connection was real and steamy. He also had great chemistry with Eleanor Parker. Linda Alexander mentioned in her book that Robert Taylor liked women for more than sex–he enjoyed their company. I do rather like “Ride, Vaquero.” I thought the flamboyant Quinn and the reserved Taylor were a great combination. It’s good to hear from you again.
RT’s real birthday, as you know, is August 5, 1911. August is the month of Summer Under the Stars, so in order for him to be honored on his actual birthday, TCM will have to finally include him in Summer Under the Stars (if they ever do).
Oh, good thought. Let’s hope it works out. 🙂
Perhaps they think his being Star of the Month twice (2nd time in April 2010 with 54 movies shown) that is enough for all time. I hope not, but it’s possible.
I hope not, too. Based on what he wrote, I think Robert Osborne really liked Robert Taylor. So we’ll just have to hope for the best. Judith