From Now Playing, April 2010
There was a time In Hollywood’s past when the single most essential asset one needed to be a genuine movie star was a near-perfect profile. People primarily went to the movies, it was believed, not to see faces which mirrored those found at the corner gas station or behind the counter at the local Five & Dime but idealized gods and goddesses. As Joan Crawford once verbalized it, “If people want to see the boy or the girl next door, they can go next door–that’s not why they go to the movies.” But even in that bygone era when Hollywood was filed with people who looked as if they had been born on Mt. Olympus, two males stood out: 29th Century Fox’s handsome heartthrob Tyrone Power and MGM’s favorite Adonis–our Star of the Month for April–Robert Taylor. “Illegally handsome,” someone once called the two of them, and indeed they were.
Someday we hope to give you a healthy sampling of Power at his peak, but this month we guarantee you no less than 54 chances to see the work of Mr. Taylor–a man whose face made him famous, and because of it (sometimes in spite of it) he stayed a major leaguer for over four decades. But there were other factors at work in Taylor’s long reign as a movie favorite. For one thing, he never seemed aware of how good-looking he was. He never flaunted that profile or used it as his sole calling card. What did count was his Cornhusker State likeability (he was born in Filley, Nebraska, in 1911), his earnestness, his appeal to both males and females and, no small factor, the unending support he received from MGM, which kept him under contract for 25 years.
Through the years he also grew enormously as an actor; compare Taylor in 1934’s A Wicked Woman, showing on April 6, with his Party Girl made 24 years later and screening April 28. However, his career didn’t flow without some glitches en route. In the late 1930s, for instance, female fans panted so enthusiastically over Taylor’s good looks and persona, it irritated their boyfriends and husbands to the extent there was a huge male backlash against him at the box office, something MGM managed to counteract by temporarily changing Taylor’s on-screen image from that of a romantic ladies man to a rough and tough prizefighter (1938’s The Crowd Roars), a muscled athlete (A Yank at Oxford, also 1938) and a two-fisted Southerner (1939’s Stand Up and Fight).
My own favorite Taylor movies: 1942’s Johnny Eager, in which he was very good as a very bad boy; 1940’s Waterloo Bridge, which he said was his own favorite Robert Taylor film; 1952’s Ivanhoe, which helped seal his reputation as the 50s king of the movie epics; 1951’s Westward the Women, one of the great under-appreciated Westerns. You can see them all and many others this month on TCM, not only during prime-time hours buy in 24 hour batches every Tuesday beginning April 6 at 6:30 p.m., ET. One RT film to particularly check out that day is the TCM premiere of Taylor ‘s 1935 version of Magnificent Obsession with Irene Dunne. It’s the film that first made him a bona fide star. It won’t take you more than a look to understand why.