On the 46th anniversary of Robert Taylor’s death, here is an article that nicely sums up the kind of man he was.
Rarely can you talk to a movie star who could honestly be called a well-adjusted person. Something about Hollywood draws the turbulent type. Behind the glamor there is usually a personality impelled to plunge into hectic episodes. That’s why I particularly like Robert Taylor.
He ranks as the number one exception to this general rule.
Bob is constantly proving that a star can have looks, a keen love of life, the radiant bright lights—and balance. He is, in person, one of the best answers I can give you to what’s fine about Hollywood. He is one of the few men here who is right about the place.
When you know him well, you feel a sense of security. No matter how crazy the world behaves, you remember at Bob is getting along all right by sticking stubbornly to his own standards, figuring out the sanest solutions to all problems for himself. His ability to retain the identical inner strength he brought with him when he moved to California sets him apart, keeps him colorful and is the most enviable quality he possesses.
One of the first truths you discover about him is his rejection of all the “catering” procedure accorded his position. He sky-rocketed to fame at twenty-four. Now, at thirty-seven, due to the Taylor pattern, he is as unimpressed by fame as he was when he was just a small-town boy from Nebraska.
He didn’t hire a butler, a chauffeur, or a stooge to run errands and stand around admiringly. He employs no secretary. A fine correspondent, vivid and witty, an excellent typist because he’s considerate of his friends’ eyesight, he handles most of his mail himself. More than anyone else in Hollywood, Bob weighs the other fellow’s feelings. He works at being fair in all his dealings. To him it’s highly important to wear well with everyone. Where Bob came from—Beatrice, Nebraska—it’s the long-run record that counts. So, in Bob’s book, that still holds, in spite of the glamor surrounding him as a resident of Beverly Hills.
He is a wonderful guy to be around because of his amazing self-control. He maintains his even disposition nine-tenths of the time in a town which is geared to impulsive decisions, temperamental outbursts, an inquisitive press, and a thousand and one personality facets Nebraskans never heard tell of.
Bob isn’t just generally good natured. He isn’t just a simple soul or too lazy to squawk. Basically, he possesses all the complexities of a perfectionist. He never lets himself get away with substitutions. As a child he was taught that he would have to earn good fortune. As a man, he has no desire to duck any detail that makes for success. His ingrained self-discipline is enormous. And pacing it is a tolerance for the idiosyncrasies of others. A fortunate teaming.
I believe his talent for competent self-organization is unmatched. He has remarkably clear head, invariably plans what he is going to, why and how. He writes memos to himself, and then follows through in the most direct way, holding to a minimum of confusions in his life. He, fortunately, had foresight enough to pick a wife with comparable directness and the same instinct for system and simplicity. The Robert Taylors are extremely neat mentally, emotionally and physically.
Unspoiled as he is, Bob isn’t to be at a premiere or a fashionable party for he and his wife, Barbara Stanwyck, are stay-at-homes content with their few close chums. Bob is increasingly fond of his own home, where he has every comfort. Once he supposed he’d always eat most of his meals out, had a passion for restaurants. He was used to that because his mother assisted his dad, a country doctor, and the trio automatically met at various Beatrice cafes. Marriage to an actress as made Bob more domestic. Although Barbara is frequently at a studio all day, can’t cook a boiled egg, and is a spare eater, she has a genuine flair for assembling all the ingredients of home—and does so superbly. Bob is blissful with steak, baked potatoes and a green salad. He hates fancy hors d’oeuvres and desserts.
The Taylors have just moved into the house they feel will be their permanent headquarters. Bob says they couldn’t afford to build, at present-day prices, but they had to have more closet room. With a toss-off like that you find him in a beautiful, ten year old New Orleans Colonial residence next door to Irene Dunne’s, which his wife had completely redecorated. You won’t see any interior photographs of it, however, because they didn’t buy it to be used for publicity purposes.
“A good film is the only smart bait!” Bob exclaims firmly. “I don’t think moviegoers will buy a single ticket on account of the clever way my wife has arranged the living room.” Barbara hasn’t called in an expensive interior decorator to tell them what they should have, but has employed her own discriminating taste. This suits Bob to a T for he thinks the practical can be combined with the beautiful. The house is dominated by a woman’s love of color, but every chair, couch and ashtray is man-sized. “There’s no table we can’t put our feet on—if we want to,” he says with a grin.
Both Bob and Barbara are early risers. When Barbara has some spare time, she reads another book, and she manages almost one a day so you can accurately judge that she is exceedingly well read. Since graduating from college, Bob has been cooped up on so many movie stages his urge is all for action. He is athletic and she isn’t, and both are willing to let the other be.
His elaborate sports equipment is one of his hobbies. He plays tennis on his own court and swims on his own pool. His hunting and fishing gear is personally polished and meticulously kept in the basement. He was so enthused about the new collapsible boat Barbara bought him for mountain lakes that he blew it up in the living room when it was brought home to the uncritical amusement of Mrs. T.
His airplane, a twin-engined, eight passenger Beechcraft, is a trifle too large to haul in the front door. He parks it at the Los Angeles Municipal Airport, so should you plane west and imagine you see Robert Taylor striding across the field as you land, you may be correct. If you detect the name “Missy” on his ship, step over and ask him whatever you want to know about flying. (He has named his plane with one of the affectionate tags he has for his wife, who facetiously dubs his plane “a crate” and won’t go near it.)
“She’s plain afraid of flying,” Bob says uncritically. “She hates the very thought of it. One time she gave it a try and I took her to Palm Springs. She grabbed hold of the arms of her seat, wouldn’t look out of the windows at all. I am fatalistic. If the whole bottom of the plane dropped out, I’d reach for the parachute. Sure, I’d be scared. But the law of percentages says nothing will happen. There is, of course, one real danger in flying. You still have to take that drive to the airport! In Los Angeles that’s no gag. I fly in from a trip, button up my ship, pile my gear in a car, and wow! I hit that traffic, and there isn’t any back road to take. Even the alleys are crowded now!”
An excellent mechanic, Bob traces his interest in aviation and planes back to high school days. He had four cars then, starting with an ancient Model T Ford that had nothing more intricate than an ignition switch to master. “When you have to pilot yourself you aren’t simply idling through space, you know. You have plenty of things to keep tabs on. But since I even had a stripped-down racer with a hopped-up motor and the floorboards out, after I came to Hollywood, I like to watch all the gadgets on an instrument panel.”
Distance is no detriment to Bob’s enthusiasms. When he wanted to test a new plane radio, he flew all the way to New Orleans, then home by way of Detroit. He reported simply to his wife: “It works.” He has flown to New Orleans “for a fish dinner,” an equally dumbfounding reason to cross half the continent in his little woman’s mind. Gypsying, and otherwise, he’s run up some 3300 hours in the wild blue yonder; he ordinary travels at the rate of 200 miles per hour, so get out your pencil. When he entered the Navy, during the War he graduated third in a class of one hundred and fifty officers assigned to the flying instructors’ school; his class scored the highest over-all rating of any the Navy ever prepared. The how-to-fly films he subsequently supervised for the fleet’s training program have been used by the Navy ever since. So his ability in the upper stratas is no malarkey. Next summer he hopes to pilot himself over Alaska, having already sampled the scenery below the Mexican border. Incidentally, his two-way radio phone in his own plane functions exactly like an ordinary telephone. “I can dial Barbara directly. That is, I can get our house, but half the time she isn’t there!”
He smiled. It is evident that the nine-and-a-half years he has been married have been happy. He has never removed his wedding ring, which is an indication of the sentiment he
doesn’t discuss. The only quirk in his wife that really puzzles him is her declaration that she hasn’t a thing to wear. Extraordinarily well garbed himself, he approvingly appreciates her desire to be chic. “But Winters she says all she has are Summer things, and vice versa.” Apparently this a rare point on which she isn’t as smoothly organized as he is.
Bob is one husband who’s never had an inclination to make his wife over. That’s because she’s the type of girl who has always appealed to him. He always went with high school and college girls were square-shooters self-reliant, ambitious and witty. Although his wife started to zoom in pictures younger than he did, switching from Broadway to Hollywood when she was twenty-one, she never wears ay makeup other than lipstick, refuses to own a hat, and is not out to attract a crowd in person. She confines her acting strictly to the camera and is a relaxed warm human being when the cameras aren’t around. No wonder Bob adores her. But note that he was smart enough to pick someone of her caliber.
He doesn’t believe love happens at first sight. He courted his wife, testing their friendship, for nearly three years before they were certain of one another. He had no doubts of their marriage. His own parents were a most devoted pair and his aim has been to follow in their footsteps.
“The first thing I notice in a woman is her voice,” Bob admits. “If it’s harsh, I fade fast. Then I look for sincerity. I hate coy girls, clinging vines. I run as hard from blasé, dizzy and mannish women. Those who just have to be seen at every party, and the ones who set themselves up as oracles, bore me. In fact, deliver me from phonies.”
Ava Gardner,his co-star in MGM’s The Bribe, is an earnest student of screen technique. But Bob has always brought out this trait in all his heroines on the Culver City lot. Unquestionably they recognize his eagerness for an effective performance and play up to it.
Bob is one of the few stars who is actively , consciously grateful for his chance to be in the movies. He doesn’t think the stage better, doesn’t moan about the provincialism of the Coast. “A visit to New York once every five years is enough,” he says contentedly. He doesn’t want to switch to directing, nor does he hanker to produce his own films. “I just want to go on improving as an actor. This business has given me everything I have today. Why shouldn’t I like it?”
Bob is too modest. I can’t help remembering all he himself has brought to Hollywood.