All of the block quotes here come from Ursula Thiess’ book “…but I have promises to keep. My Life Before, With & After Robert Taylor, 2007. The page numbers appear after the quotation. Although I usually refer to people formally on this blog, using Mr., Ms. etc., in this case it seemed more appropriate to call Mr. and Mrs. Taylor by their first names.
“He walked into my life with a slight emotional limp. His divorce from Barbara Stanwyck, only recently finalized, still filled him with guilt and regrets.” This is how Ursula Thiess, a beautiful model and actress, describes Robert Taylor, her future husband. Robert Taylor had been badly burned by the divorce. Although he wanted it, it left him alone as most of his and Barbara Stanwyck’s friends took her part.
Bob Taylor was not a man to brag or expect people to recognize him. Arriving at Ursula’s door for their first date he held out his hand and said “I’m Bob Taylor” as though she didn’t know. He took her to the Coconut Grove. She was literally swept off her feet.
“Sometime during the evening, Bob invited me to the dance floor. I felt myself elevated into seventh heaven, for there he was—holding me in his arms, allowing my fantasies to take me above and beyond….What attracted me most to him and made him so easy to be with, was his down-to-earth, unassuming manner and his beautiful searching blue eyes, which were the open windows to his incredible sex appeal.” (60-61)
Ursula was in love but Bob was reluctant to commit himself and continued to date other women including Barbara Stanwyck. The marriage proposal that Ursula wanted was not forthcoming although they continued to see each other regularly.
“As time went on, our romance blossomed. Bob was the greatest lover—patient, sensitive and totally tuned in to his partner’s needs.. The type of lover every woman dreams about, but seldom experiences.” Bob Taylor’s comment was “she can cook, too.” (62)
Bob left for England to film Knights of the Round Table in 1953. While in England Bob Taylor wrote to Ursula every other day, a habit he kept up while on location for the rest of his life. He had always found it easier to communicate on paper than in person.
Despite the constant letter writing, when he returned from England, Bob Taylor didn’t seem any more commitment minded than he had before.
“On the way home from [a trip to Oregon], I disclosed as best I was capable, that our relationship was terminated. I noticed that familiar famous Taylor frown finding its way between his eyebrows as he kept driving. Maybe an hour had gone by without a word from either of us, when he broke the silence with “What have I done to make you angry at me?” I assured him that there was nothing in particular, only my belief that our relationship wasn’t going anywhere.” (64)
Ursula stuck to her guns but Bob didn’t take her seriously. The day after a “goodbye dinner” for him as he was leaving for Africa to film Valley of the Kings, he came to her door. She had taken back her house key so he rang the bell (at one o’clock in the morning) and asked to come in. She refused and sent him on his way. While Bob was in Africa, Ursula dated a number of young men and appeared in newspaper gossip columns with them.
After his return from Egypt and his meeting with Ursula’s daughter, Manuela, Bob showed up at her house one evening while she was entertaining friends for dinner. After the friends left, he gave her several presents including perfume from Paris. Then he asked her to open a small box.
“As I gingerly opened this little box, he told me that he had ordered it the day after his return from Egypt. “I don’t know what took me so long,” he apologized, “I guess it was my fear of another failure. Darling, would you marry this old goat?” (68-69)
They married on May 24, 1954. All of the arrangements were handled by Bob Taylor: date, place, guests. It was a very small affair, held on a boat in the middle of Jackson Lake, Wyoming. The two witnesses were Bob’s secretary and confidant Ivy Mooring and his old friend from the Navy, Ralph Couser. The day afterwards they flew to Cloverdale, California for him to begin filming Many Rivers To Cross with co-star and former lover Eleanor Parker.
After their marriage, Bob and Ursula became part of the elite Hollywood set. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were their best friends. They regularly socialized with expats David and Hjordis Niven, George Sanders, Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov and sometimes Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding. Ursula became good friends with Grace Kelly.
In 1955 Ursula went to England, where Bob was filming Quentin Durward. She was pregnant with their first child.
“We went to the Dorchester, his favorite hotel in London, selected carefully years ago for reasons of privacy. This establishment offered a back entrance that he could use without being noticed. For my arrival, our suite had been turned into a flower garden. My husband had bouquets and baskets everywhere—and I mean everywhere! Each arrangement, and there must have been twenty of them, had a little love and welcome note attached to it. He even put one on the toilet seat, in each closet, in the bathtub, you name it, flowers enough for a wedding reception ” (82)
Four months after Terrence Taylor’s birth, Ursula Thiess retired from acting. She wanted to devote herself entirely to being a wife and mother, a decision her husband heartily endorsed. In 1959 they bought a 113 acre ranch in Mandeville Canyon and lived their lives happily far away from the Hollywood social scene. Their second child, Tessa, was born in 1959. The Taylor family lived on the ranch until his death ten years later.
Their love never faded. Ursula wrote this about a trip to Egypt in 1967:
“When I arrived at the Nile Hilton, not expecting Bob to be at the hotel yet, I signed in and was ushered to the ninth floor. Simultaneous with the opening of the elevator, the last door on the long corridor opened as well, presenting a freshly showered, bath-robed Bob. I stopped and looked at him as he stood there, still a hundred feet away, with a big smile on his face, his legs spread apart, cowboy-fashion, and his arms stretched out for am embrace. As my heart started pounding and the pit of my stomach knotted with excitement, I ran toward my husband like a seventeen-year-old, carried on the wings of first love. The moment we embraced, stronger than ever, I felt an emotion of total commitment.” (166-7)
Their love affair continued for the rest of his life. Ursula spent as much time as possible on location with her husband. Bob became more comfortable with public displays of affection such as hand holding. In June 1969 Robert Taylor died of lung cancer in St. John’s Hospital, Santa Monica, California. Ursula was with him.
“Even in his semi-conscious state, Bob was aware of the physical contact we held. If I would try releasing my hand from his for a moment, I was always surprised by his affirmative grip, considering the fragility of his body. There was no more fear, no more pain nor panic to disturb his peace…….My husband opened his eyes once more, smiled at me, and said, “Mutti, I love you,” and then slipped into a coma.* (196)
*Mutti is German for mom, a short form of mutter or mother. It was Bob Taylor’s nickname for Ursula.