April 5, 1957
Hollywood’s Ageless Stars (8th of a series)
Bob Taylor’s Career Has Been Scandal-Free
Robert Taylor is so normal, he’s almost a bore. He has never been involved in a scandal, has never won an Oscar and never been panned by the critics. No one in Hollywood seems to have a word to say about him other than he’s damn nice. Nice people rarely make interesting copy and try as hard as we could we were unable to find even one instance when Taylor displayed temperament or even mild irritation. Considering the fact that he is now 45 years old and has been a motion picture star for 23 years, his record is remarkable.
Edwin Knopf, who is producing Taylor’s newest film, Tip on a Dead Jockey, said he believes that Taylor’s “normalcy” is what keeps him on the top. “Those character traits which are so inbred communicate themselves to the audience,” he said. “Audiences sense the fine qualities and like them.” In addition, he’s a fine artist, a no nonsense guy who studies his script more thoroughly than any other actor I know.”
Richard Thorpe, who has directed Taylor in six films including his current one, agrees with Knopf and incidentally, most of Hollywood about Taylor. “He’s a rarity,” he said. “A lot of the big stars are really heels off screen and the public doesn’t know it at first. It takes them a while to discover it. But Bob is a really nice guy and it comes through on screen. Also, he’s a rugged, handsome man and they’re pretty few and far between these days.”
What does Bob Taylor think has kept him at the top? “Darned if I know,” he says. “I’ve been wondering myself for 24 years. I guess the most important thing is getting a good picture once in a while. Acting is the easiest job in the world, and I’m the luckiest guy. All I have to do is be at the studio on time and know my lines. The wardrobe department tells me what to wear, the assistant director tells me where to go, the director tells me what to do. What could be easier?”
Taylor started at M-G-M in February, 1934, under his real name—Spangler Arlington Brugh. He was a handsome 23 years old when he began his career at $75 a week, starring in two-reelers. Within three years he made 18 pictures including “Camille” with Greta Garbo, which established him as box office idol. Girls crawled around in the shrubbery about his home, stowed away in his cabin on board ship, and tore his clothing to shreds on public appearances.
But along the way he had been dubbed a pretty boy. The tag almost ruined his career. Then, in 1939—In June of the year he married Barbara Stanwyck—M-G-M gave him a complete switch in parts. He played the title role in “Billy the Kid,” was a hard-bitten prize fighter in The Crowd Roars, and a gangster in Johnny Eager.
His career was going full steam ahead when he enlisted in the Navy Air Force. After four years of service in World War II he returned to Hollywood and resumed his career in costume roles to keep him alive at the box office. In 1951 Taylor and Miss Stanwyck were divorced without a shred of
scandal and they are still good friends. He’s no longer a pretty boy but he is still a handsome man with jet black hair, a trim physique, and good carriage. He doesn’t diet and keeps in shape by taking frequent hunting and fishing trips with his family.
Most of the top box office stars choose their scripts carefully, but not Taylor. He does pretty much what his M-G-M bosses choose for him, although he has the power of veto. If it is a good picture he is grateful. If it’s a bad picture he does it anyway. Temperament doesn’t come naturally to me,” he explained. “Sometimes I wish I could give the studio a pot full of trouble but the things that upset me are usually not worth raising hell about. Anyway I have too much fun between pictures.”
Unlike many of the other top stars, Taylor’s ambition stops with acting. “I don’t know enough about motion picture techniques to consider directing.,” he said. Acting is the only thing I know much about and I like it. I’m not dedicated to it, however, in the sense of living my life as an actor.”
Like all top stars Taylor is a hard worker. He has the nickname of “Old Reliable” because he always knows his lines, is never late and can always be counted on to turn in a first-rate performance.
Until he married Ursula Thiess three years ago Taylor slept in the maid’s room of his mother’s house and used the breakfast nook for his clothes closet. After the wedding he moved into his wife’s tiny house where he hung his clothes in the living room. Now he and Mrs. Taylor, her two children by a former marriage and 21-month-old Terrance Taylor, live in a large ranch house in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Other than a housekeeper and once-a-week gardener they have no help. When they go out for an evening his mother comes over and baby sits.
Ursula, who acted in a few movies before her marriage, gave up her career. Career problems were reported to be the root of Taylor’s problems with Miss Stanwyck. Despite the pleas of the M-G-M publicity department Taylor has never allowed photographs of his son; never permitted photographers an interview at his home. In fact, no one from the publicity department has ever set foot inside of it. Taylor does everything possible to avoid publicity rather than seek it.
The Taylors live a quiet life with friends outside of the film industry. An aviation enthusiast before the war, he often flies his own plane. His closest personal friend is Ralph Couser, who is also a pilot. The best summation of Taylor’s character came from an old farmer in Utah who talked with him for hours while on location recently. Asked what he thought of the star, the old timer replied simply, “That’s one man who never growed himself an ego.”