Nancy Reagan’s death this week brought to mind the close friendship between Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Robert Taylor and Ursula Thiess.
Ronald Reagan and Robert Taylor lived parallel lives for decades. Both were midwesterners, both college educated, both successful actors. Each man had two marriages to actresses. Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman were married from 1940 to 1949. They had a daughter Maureen and adopted a son, Michael. Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck were married in 1939 and divorced in 1951. They had no children together. Both men’s first marriages were interrupted by World War II. Mr. Reagan served in the United States Army Reserves from 1937 to through 1945. Mr. Taylor served in the United States Naval Reserves from 1943 to 1945. Both men were subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947.
After their divorces, both eventually remarried. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married in 1952. Robert and Ursula Taylor married in 1954. Each of the women gave up their screen careers to take care of their husbands. Both marriages were fruitful. The Reagans had a daughter, Patti and a son Ron. The Taylors had a son Terence and a daughter Tessa. Both were godparents to the others’ children. Robert Taylor specified in his will that if he and Ursula were both gone, the Reagans should care for their children.
Nancy Reagan was a controversial figure. She was praised and vilified while she was First Lady. She could be difficult as both of her children commented at her funeral. Nancy Reagan was also loyal both to her husband and to her friends. When her friends were in difficulty, she was there for them.
The following is quoted from Linda J. Alexander, Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor Hollywood and Communism. Tease Publishing 2008, pages 350 and 351. I think it says a lot about Nancy Reagan.
“Nancy Reagan had flown into Los Angeles from Sacramento as soon as she heard the news [that Robert Taylor was dying]. Her daughter, Patti, was already at Bob’s bedside. Nancy stayed for the day and when she left that evening, she told Ursula she’d see her in a few days. ‘I got out in the hall, and something made me turn back,’ she remembered. ‘I returned to his room and kissed him on the cheek.
“The news that ‘Robert Taylor is dead,’ was broadcast before Ursula could get home that day from the hospital. In those early morning hours directly before Bob’s death, Ursula was taken care of by Manuela and Art Reeves [ranch foreman]. Art had always been there for Bob, for her, for the kids. He became their rock, somehow more than ever before. They also received support from Ronnie and Nancy and Art’s wife Barbara.
“Nancy was Ursula’s emotional support, coming in and taking over when Ursula finally collapsed. The funeral had to be taken care of and thankfully Bob had planned the entire process down to the last detail. True to his living persona, in death he didn’t want any fanfare. When his obituary was printed on the front page of the New York Times, an unheard of honor at that time, The Times ran his picture with the tagline, “Death Ends an Era.”
Well done, Mrs. Reagan. Rest in peace.