Al Perry worked as a ranch hand at the Robert Taylor Ranch on weekends from 1962 to 1969. Mr. Perry has been gracious enough to share his recollections of the Taylors in a number of comments on this blog. With his permission, I have put them together in a single post. Thanks so much Al.
September 14, 2016:
I forgot to mention in my narrative that Ursula Theiss also had two children by a previous marriage. Michael who lived by himself was a very troubled young man, and Manuella who was younger also lived on the ranch and had her own separate small apartment next to the ranch foreman’s cottage. Bob was more than willing to treat Ursula’s children as “his own” but by mutual agreement they were never “legally adopted” by him ~ there was no need to. As far as I’m concerned, Robert Taylor was indeed one of the most “honorable” and friendliest of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
September 2, 2016:
The one thing that is not often discussed about Barbara Stanwyck was her inability to bear children because of an earlier botched abortion she had when I believe she was still in her teen years. Whether Bob ever knew that about her before they were married, I don’t know. But he certainly did want a family of his own and Terry Taylor was born in June, 1955 less than a year after Bob and Ursula Theiss were married in 1954. Tessa Taylor then came along in August 1959 and at least during the years 1962 to 1969 when I worked at the ranch Bob was completely devoted to his family and they often went on vacation together to a ranch they had the use of in Wyoming. And throughout those 7 years when I worked there Bob never once spoke of his ex wife Barbara Stanwyck.
January 28, 2015:
Hello Judith ~ I was just browsing on Google to try and find similar photos of the ones I talked about the other day on a different thread on here that shows Bob and Barbara Stanwyck together and I now realize that I may have been mistaken about the time frame in which those photographs were taken. It appears now that what I have in the way of all the negatives I previously talked about were indeed taken in 1947 and not 1939 which I previously thought. I didn’t know the whole story about it beforehand and that these images were taken during their 2nd try at a honeymoon and reading further also the “reason” for it as well. But what surprises me even further is what you said about Tessa initially posting these photographs on her Facebook page.
What I now think may have happened is that at one point her Father (or the studio) must have had prints made from some of the negatives for them and sometime after his death, Tessa may have found these same prints and then eventually just decided to scan and post some of them on her FB page. For some reason though, I never thought that Tessa would even be interested in seeing her Father together with Stanwyck which is the reason why I never sent her the original black and white negatives that I still have. Instead, as I wrote about it earlier, I only sent all of the other color prints and negatives that showed just her and her family together. Quite an interesting turn of events which I would never have uncovered were it not for your dedication to the memory of Robert Taylor on this blog. Thank you.
January 26, 2015 in reply to a comment by former stunt woman Martha Crawford Cantarini:
Hello again Martha and thank you for the compliment. I wish I knew where the rest of those old negatives of the two of them together are today. I took about a dozen shots and the one in her book was her favorite. About 10 or 12 years ago my son and Tessa were dating for a period of time. As it so happened they were both living not far from one another in South Pasadena. He was divorced at the time from his only marriage and I don’t believe Tessa ever did get married at all throughout her entire life. According to what
my son told me, Tessa had a rather sad life after her Father died. She really was Daddy’s little girl and he always treated her like a Princess. She had her own pony in the barn named “Two Bits”.
After Bob’s funeral and about a week or two before I left the Ranch, Mrs. Taylor asked me if I would care to go into the garage/storage area at one end of the barn and then clean out as much of everything in there and keep whatever I wanted to and discard the rest. I felt honored to do it and I did find some treasured memorabilia of Bob’s that unfortunately over these many years now most of it has just disappeared.
Among all of that “stuff” I found a rather large paper bag full of color 35mm negatives and paper prints and Kodachrome slides mostly all candid snap shots of the Taylor family on vacation somewhere or always just doing something in or around the front of their house at the ranch. One of those candid shots even shows all of them sitting on their own motorcycles. I was amazed too to find many candid 35mm negatives that Bob must have taken himself when he was on location in Egypt filming “Valley of the Kings”.There were also many color slides of Bob and his one time pilot who’s name I forget and many beautiful shots of both of them together in Bryce Canyon, Utah. I think those shots might have been before Bob and Ursula were married. He had a Twin Beech airplane he named “Missy” and if I’m not mistaken I think that was also the nickname he had for Barbara Stanwyck.
Tessa never did quite get over her father’s death even later in her adult life. My son said she seemed so sad all the time whenever she thought of him or they talked about him and I decided to
write to her personally to tell her of all of the photos I still had of her and the family and of her Father. I asked her if she’d like to have them all and she was thrilled to hear that they still existed and she thanked me and said “yes absolutely”. Not much longer after that however they mutually agreed to sever their relationship and that was that. I believe she moved up to the State of Washington and I never heard from her again. So nice talking with you again Martha. Take care.
January 21, 2015, in response to Martha Cantarini:
So pleased to find this page and thank you so much to whoever was able to post those B&W photos in my narrative above.. Tessa was always just as beautiful as her Mother as I know she still is today. and I really enjoyed being able to do that for them that day. And then there’s old Tommy and sure enough I just got another lump in my throat. He certainly was a beautiful horse to work with back then if you can call a gelding “beautiful”. I could always trust him 100% no matter what I was doing with him. Those certainly were memorable days for
me and the only thing I regret is not having the privilege of ever personally meeting you back then Martha.
I will send you my personal email address Martha if you could send me any more photos you might have of Tommy and you or anything else you might like to share. And if you could send them as an attachment I’ll be able to enlarge and download them into my image editor and then print them out and maybe hang them on my wall to look at and be reminded of the “good old days” again.
Again, thank you Martha and to the creator of this website for providing such a great place to share old memories about Mr. Spangler Arlington Brugh ~
January 21, 2015 in response to Martha Cantarini:
You’re right Martha, it is a pleasure to chat with someone who remembers and personally knew Bob and Ursula. They were two people so much in love at the time and had so much respect for one another that even a blind person could sense it. They started out as two very different
people who were almost suddenly melted together to form “one” of a kind. Each of them starting out from two very different walks in life even though both were “actors” but eventually coming together not unlike the same way my own parents once did so many decades earlier.
It is also probably why I was so eager to become even just a small part of who they were when the opportunity arose for me to begin working for them on their ranch and if the truth be known I would have gladly worked on that ranch for nothing ~ just simply for the experience of being in the outdoors and playing a very small part in the real life of Robert Taylor and his wife. Ursula was always Mrs. Taylor to me and I never even thought to call her by her first name even though I always knew she wouldn’t mind. But nevertheless, I always had that much respect for her and I never wanted to compromise that.
From almost the very beginning when I started working at the ranch, Bob knew how much I loved photography and asked me one day if I would mind taking some candid portraits of Ursula and Tessa who was only about 2 or 3 at the time. I felt so honored but also somewhat unsure of myself about doing it at first but I just suddenly blurted out ~ “sure, I’d be glad to!”. Mrs. Taylor was pleased with the results but it wasn’t until decades later when I discovered just how much Ursula had liked one of the shots I had taken of her and Tessa together when she included her “favorite” one in her book ~ “…but I have promises to keep” ~ at the top of page 129. That personal photo shoot was a very memorable (but also very nervous) moment in time for me that I will never forget.
Some time later in that same decade my wife and I divorced but I always had “visitation”
every weekend. My 3 young children more often than not always came with me to the ranch to “help” their Daddy with ‘chores’ if and whenever I could lure them away from playing and having fun with Tessa and Terry. I always knew where they were and never worried about them and so ~ Daddy would always somehow manage to find a way to do “chores” all by himself but somehow too we all still managed to also have just as much ‘fun’ doing what we were all doing by “ourselves” just the same. I had/still have 2 daughters and a son.
But it wasn’t until just a few short years ago that my youngest daughter Carolyn (who is now in her early 50’s) revealed to me for the first time that she once thought that it was she who might have caused the ‘death’ of Robert Taylor. Both her and Tessa were about 5 or 6 at the time and really making a lot of ‘noise’ one day playing in Tessa’s room when Bob suddenly burst in and shouted out ~ “Hey you two ~ keep it down in here ~ I’m trying to get some sleep!”.
That happened in the early Summer of 1969 after Bob had one of several operations on his lungs and not long after when Bob finally died. For the longest time my youngest daughter always harbored the “guilt” that it was only because of the “noise” that both she and Tessa were making that finally caused the death of Tessa’s father after he angrily burst into Tessa’s room. She never said anything to me about it then so I never had a chance to console or try to council her about it. Is it any wonder even today how the precious mind of a young child could be so influenced about something they have absolutely no control over ~ and yet still assume complete responsibility for it?
Art Reeves, Bob’s full time ranch foreman was also with him at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica just a few moments before he died.. Bob motioned to him to come closer and later Art told me what he had said ~ “Art, I wish I would have quit sooner.” Both Art and I knew exactly what he meant because the two of us were also very heavy smokers at the time and soon after that we were both motivated enough to finally quit smoking ourselves ~ whether or not it was out of respect for Bob or how poorly he looked after those horrible operations he had to endure it didn’t matter. Robert Taylor, the man, had a tremendous affect upon both of our lives and each of us in our own ways after that always tried to live up to some of Bob’s own “values” and standards in life.
Not long before I had to leave my “job” at the ranch, Art Reeves and I loaded Bob’s prized stallion “Show Bars” into a horse trailer and drove him up to Santa Barbara where Bob’s best friend and his wife once lived. Bob had ‘willed’ Show Bars to his best friend Ronald Reagan and although this was not the first time I had met him, it was the first time I ever had the Governor of the State of California and future President of the United States “assist” me in the removal of a large load of horseshit that Show Bars had unceremoniously deposited on the Governor’s well manicured front lawn immediately after we backed him out of his trailer.
Art was still doing something inside the horse trailer and I sheepishly looked over at Governor Reagan and to this day I still don’t know what in the hell ever possessed me to suddenly blurt out ~ “Well, you want to shovel or rake”? A burst of laughter suddenly came from the house where Mrs. Reagan (Nancy) was standing in the doorway and the Governor burst into laughter just as loud and said ~ “Well, suppose you shovel and I’ll rake”. Unforgettable and simple moments in time like that no matter how simple or how old will never be forgotten by a simple man like me and I will always treasure it for as long as I live.
The trip up from Mandeville Canyon to Santa Barbara by the way took several hours andI’m convinced that Show Bars somehow knew that he was being transported to a new owner and the sooner he established who was the “boss” at wherever he was being dropped off at ~ the sooner this new “owner” of his would realize it. I don’t know what ever happened after that but I do remember Art once telling me the first day I started working at the Taylor ranch to “never” turn my back on the stallion if I’m working in his yard. Art pointed to a short 2X4 lying on the ground just in front of “his yard” and told me if “he ever” does decide to take me on and test me and give me any kind of trouble to just walk over to it, pick It up and then walk back into “his” yard and show him who’s really “in charge” ~ but don’t ever hit him with it ~ just show him you’ve got it and that always just calms him down and he’ll generally just let you in there to clean up or whatever else it was I had to do.
It was almost 7 years I had to work with that stallion and I was never quite able to figure out just who in the hell was boss over who but eventually we both somehow managed to tolerate one another just the same. He sure as hell was a handful to get out of the stall to lead him out to “his yard” in the beginning but eventually he learned not to piss me off so much that I’d just leave him inside for the rest of the day otherwise. In those earlier days that only happened a few times but he soon got the “message” that if he wanted to go outside at all ~ he’d better start cooperating.
He really was truly a magnificent looking stallion and later on a whole lot of “fun” to work with. He’d challenge me and I’d always come back and challenge him (without even having that 2X4 in my hand) and I’d always wind up being the winner. I think it became just some sort of “horse” game of his with me after a while but we always both then just came away actually kind of enjoying it.
January 20, 2015:
Martha, I would so much love to be able to see “Tommy” once again as you mentioned in your post where you said you were sitting on him at one of the Golden Boots Awards. I don’t think photos can be posted on here but if you have the ability to post the URL web address that may have covered that event with you and Tommy together I would be ever so grateful. Tommy and me (and Bobby too) spent almost 7 years together and I miss those 2 old horses almost as much as I miss the two unforgettable people who once rode them, up that long dusty trail just in front of the bunkhouse on their own property in Mandeville Canyon on their way up to do whatever it is that two people like them still in love do on such trips. I forget both of their names now but Bob’s two golden retrievers also use to accompany them on occasion and I’ll never forget those moments.
Those were 7 of the most memorable years of my much younger life but the worst of it now is ~ I never get to talk about any of this with anyone who has even the slightest interest in hearing about such things and perhaps even worse, trying to explain to a much younger generation who an actor named Robert Taylor is or even use to be. But then again, I suppose that happens with every new generation.
January 20, 2015:
What a wonderful post Ms. Cantarini and what a great career you had as well. But I’m a little confused about what you wrote about “Buck” being the horse that Bob said he rode in his “first” western film which would have been “Billy the Kid” released in 1941. He may have but I couldn’t see Buck in any of the trailers on Youtube that shows Bob riding a buckskin in that movie ~ but I did see him mounted on one in his “second” western called “Ambush” released in 1950.
I once worked part time for Bob on his Ranch in Mandeville Canyon from early 1962 until
shortly after his death in 1969. The first thing I’d always see every time I went into the tack room was a beautifully framed large color photo portrait of Bob mounted on top of Buck with what appeared to be the Alabama Hills in the background. To me, that was the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen but I never knew the history of Buck. Your very tender recollection of his passing with his head lying on your lap just about put a very large lump in my throat when I read it and I’m so grateful that you posted it. Bob’s horse “Tommy” was always very easy to work with and so was Mrs. Taylor’s horse “Bobby” which was a beautifully colored dark “chestnut” as I recall. Bob and Ursula were two of the finest people I’d ever had the pleasure of knowing and I’m so grateful that those all too brief 7 years that I had with them also provided me with more than 45+ years of wonderful memories.
September 1, 2014 in reply to b&wmovienut:
She [Barbara Stanwyck] did indeed have an impact on Bob’s life as most women would have and she most definitely was an extremely accomplished actress ~ but she also refused to release him from the obligation of alimony after their divorce for as long as he continued to remain alive and for as long as she never re-married (which she never did) even though her own “wealth” was at least equal to and in some instances even exceeded his own. “Missy” very definitely had an “impact” on Mr. Taylor’s life which was not in all cases all that positive. There are of course always two sides to every story.
September 1, 2014:
Robert Taylor also had a stepson named Michael Thiess who tragically committed suicide just a few days or perhaps not more than a week before Bob died. Ursula had a terrible time of it trying to keep that from her dying husband but she did and to my mind she is one of the most courageous women I have ever known. She had two funerals to attend during that time and did it with such dignity and strength that I have never forgotten it. Barbara Stanwyck who I only briefly met once, to me at least, was just a footnote in the life of a man that I most looked up to and admired the most other than my own Father.
August 29, 2014:
Mrs. Taylor also wrote a detailed book about her life with Bob Taylor called ~ Ursula Thiess “…but I have promises to keep.” It also contains quite a number of pages of black and white photos of her and the family.
December 17, 2013:
I had the rare pleasure of working at the Taylor Ranch part time every weekend from early 1962 until the time of Bob’s death in 1969. It was at his full time residence at 3099 Mandeville Canyon Rd in Los Angeles. Both Bob and Mrs. Taylor were two of the finest people I’ve ever known and my own children use to play with Terry and Tessa any time I brought them along with me for the weekend. I use to “fill in” for Art Reeves (Bob’s full time foreman) to allow him and his wife Barbara a break on the weekends. Those 7 years were the most memorable of my young life. They’re all gone now ~ Bob, Ursula, Art and Barbara but the wonderful memories I still have of that time will always live on in me for as long as I do.
The only time I met Barbara Stanwyck was at the Taylor’s home shortly after Bob’s funeral. She and Mrs Taylor briefly shook hands with one another as a sign of mutual grief and respect I imagine and spoke privately together inside the home for a brief period. There was a large private gathering of a virtual Who’s Who of Hollywood’s old time veteran movie actors and stars there that day ~ Bob had many, many personal friends all of whom seemed to be just as down to earth and honest as he was.
Thank you so much for posting your tribute and the photographs of him and his family. It brought back so many great memories for me.