Modern Screen, March 1955
By Richard Moore.
Robert Taylor is now a completely happy man. He has a new wife, a new life, a new happiness–and a baby on the way!
There may be luckier girls in the world than Ursula Thiess. But if there are, this statuesque beauty doesn’t know them.
“I am sure,” Ursula says thankfully, “that I am the luckiest.” And Ursula says that with good reason, because as Mrs. Robert Taylor she is the envy of practically every single actress in Hollywood.
For an unknown girl from Germany to come here, capture the heart of handsome Bob, have him build her a $75,000 estate is quite an accomplishment. How did Ursula, five feet, seven inches, grey-green eyes, soft dark brown hair, pull the trick?
How did this sweet, gentle divorcee, mother of two children by a previous, marriage, get Bob Taylor to propose to her when half a dozen more experienced sirens failed in the very same venture?
The basic answer is that Ursula is Bob Taylor’s type. She’s quiet. She’s refined. Her major objective is to please Bob. Her acting career is completely subsidiary to his welfare. “If Bob is happy,” she says, “that is all that really counts.”
These are not empty words. Ursula was raised in the Germanic tradition to honor and obey a husband, not to compete with him. She cooks, she bakes bread, and she bears children proudly.
She and Bob expect their first child sometime in the spring. Perhaps in May as their first wedding anniversary gift. Ursula is giving Bob a child, a child of his own, something he has wanted for years and years, something to give meaning to his life.
Certainly, Ursula has made Bob happier these last few months than he’s ever been before. Their marriage on a cabin cruiser in Jackson Hole last summer, their announcement of
Ursula’s pregnancy in November, the outdoor trips they have enjoyed, the picnics, the fishing trips, the building of their new house–these have been the highlights of their first six months.
To show you a specific token of forty-two-year-old Bob Taylor’s happiness, he bought as his first Christmas present for Ursula a full-length black mist mink fur coat. The selling price was $9500.00 ($85,022.77 in 2017 dollars).
Love, however, is one subject that Robert Taylor does not discuss. Ask him about duck hunting in Arkansas, flying around the country with his pal and co-pilot Ralph Couser; ask him about fishing with Manuela, his eleven year old stepdaughter whom Ursula brought over from Hamburg in January, last year, and he will gladly talk. But mention love, and that’s all. The son of Nebraska’s Dr. Andrew Brugh is a conservative Midwesterner. And he will brook no invasion of privacy.
An old friend says, “Bob is not antagonistic toward the press. In spite of twenty years in Hollywood he is just incapable of talking about himself. He has just signed a new contract with Metro. Yet he genuinely believes that he’s still a fair actor. He’s a modest guy, and he won’t believe that are millions of fans who are interested in his every move.
“I remember that after the premiere of A Star Is Born, there was a party at the Ambassador. Bob was reluctant to dance with Ursula, reluctant to dance at all, ‘because these other fellows really know how to do the latest steps. I can hardly move.’ Finally everyone else at the table refused to dance unless Bob and Ursula showed the way.
“Only then did Bob take his wife and move out to the dance floor. He is a modest, self-effacing man. More important, he has background. He is the product of a happy home. His mother and father–his mother is still living–enjoyed great domestic bliss when Bob was a boy. And he never forgot that.
“Ursula will get up at seven in the morning and fix a picnic lunch. She will stay hidden in a swamp with Bob all morning waiting for a good shot at a wild duck. She will tramp the woods, set up an overnight camp. She will fly with Bob wherever he wants to go. That’s why we’re convinced Bob Taylor is a happy man.
“Unlike most actors, he learned from the failure of his first marriage. The second time he married a girl who is very different from his first wife.”
Ursula was born May 15, 1924, in the Hamburg Finkenau Clinic. Her parents were divorced when she was young. She was brought up in an era of Nazi-Communist unrest. Before World War II, the city of Hamburg was one of the most Communist ridden centers of Germany. The street fights between Communists and Nazis raged back and forth until the Nazis came to power, ruling with an iron hand, sending millions to concentration camps and cremation chambers.
Ursula, when she was fourteen, was ordered by the Nazis to do her Pflichtjahr, a year of work on a farm or in a family household. Impressionable and fearful, Ursula was shipped to Mecklenburg (now in the Soviet zone of Germany) where she milked cows, did farm chores, and came to love the agricultural life despite the hard work and the long hours.
A few years later, tall and well-developed, she got a job with a theatrical troupe that toured the country putting on plays in local dialects. The war was then underway, and Ursula was seventeen.
It was then that she fell in love with Georg Thiess. He was nine years older than Ursula. And apparently her years of marriage with him were her unhappiest. “I just don’t like to talk about them,” Ursula says. “They weren’t very pleasant.”
In 1943 the Allies began to subject Hamburg to heavy bombings. During one of these, Ursula gave to a daughter, Manuela. She was then evacuated to a small village in northern Germany. Following the birth of her second child–she returned to Hamburg for this–she decided that she had had enough of Georg Otto Thiess. In 1946, she got a divorce.
Put yourself, if you can, in Ursula Thiess’ position. You are twenty-two years old. You
have two small children to support. Hamburg is shattered beyond recognition. Everything has disintegrated. You have no place to go. The British are occupying the city.
Ursula’s answer was not despair but work. She took inventory of herself. Her greatest asset was and still is her beauty. She applied to photographers for modeling work, to stage managers for theatrical work. The little she learned she sent back to her mother. She wandered south to Munich, played a bit in a show called Forty-one Ladies from New York. Her need for money was tremendous. The children were dependent on her.
Luckily, a few of her photos were good enough to make magazine covers. One of them even made Life. This became the turning point. Howard Hughes of RKO saw it. In a matter of hours Ursula received a cable offer for a screen test. “I thought,” she says now, “it was a joke.” A second wire convinced her that the offer was no joke. She investigated and came to Hollywood in two weeks.
Her salary was small to begin with, and so was the apartment into which she moved. But the future glowed. Ursula began to study English with such feverish singleness of purpose that in 120 days she was announced as “ready” to act.
A week later she was in India, starring in Monsoon. When Monsoon was finished, Ursula returned to Hollywood, where at one of her first parties, her agent, Harry Friedman of MCA, introduced her to Bob Taylor.
Taylor is no great judge of women, but he was attracted to Ursula, and she to him. They began to see each other regularly. Bob introduced her to his mother. Mother approved and made a friend of Ursula. “What I like most about her,” said Mrs. Brugh, “is that she’s a lady.”
For her part, Ursula acted the lady, too. She stayed out of night clubs, and when reporters asked her about her relationship with Bob, she said, “they are trying to make it a big love affair. It is not. We are friends. We like to see each other.”
“Sure,” one reporter agreed, “but when you see only one man, an attractive girl like you, then it’s a sign of love. Surely, you must be in love with Mr. Taylor?” Ursula sidestepped all the leading questions, but it was no secret in Hollywood that she had fallen for Bob and that Bob found in her all the qualities he wanted and needed in a woman.
One year he returned from London and had Ursula meet him in Beatrice, Nebraska. “Just wanted to show her around the home territory” he said at the time. “Nothing serious.” It may not have been very serious then, but propinquity breeds love, and in 1952, 1953 and 1954 Bob Taylor and Ursula Thiess got to know each other rather well.
The only hitch in the proceedings came last year when Bob went to Egypt to make Valley of the Kings with Eleanor Parker. Ursula went into The Americano.
Stories began wafting back that Eleanor and Bob might one day get married. How these stories affected Ursula she is not saying. At one point, she began to see a little of another actor, George Nader. Around town it was whispered that she was tired of waiting for Bob. Taylor would have to propose or let go.
Last spring, Bob finally made up his mind. Okay, so he would have to continue paying
Stanwyck fifteen per cent of his gross earnings until she was remarried. Okay, so Ursula had two children she wanted to bring over from Hamburg. Maybe her mother, too. Hadn’t he met little Manuela? Wasn’t she the sweetest child? Hadn’t he always wanted a family? Wasn’t he getting on in years? Wasn’t it about time he started a family of his own? Suppose Barbara had sold the old house for $146,000? Suppose he had to build or buy a new one? He wasn’t broke. Suppose he had to move into Ursula’s apartment for a few months. What about it?
On May 1, Bob asked Ursula to lunch with him at MGM. He slipped the engagement ring on her finger and asked her to accompany him north on location. That’s where they spent their honeymoon.
It took six months for their Early American mansion to be completed. Overlooking the Pacific Palisades the house is a tribute to Taylor’s taste and bank account. Bob and Ursula moved in two days before Christmas, with Ursula’s daughter, Manuela, whom Mother calls “Dickelein.”
As you read these lines, Bob and Ursula should be somewhere in Germany. I’m going on location for a picture,” Taylor explains, “and Ursula’s going to Hamburg to pick up her son Michael. After that, it’s back to the Pacific Palisades for all of us.”
It has been a long time coming but at forty-two, Bob Taylor has not only acquired a ready-made family–he’s adding to it with care and kindness and the love of a good and beautiful wife. (Robert Taylor can now be seen in MGM’s Many Rivers to Cross.”
These are the original photos from the article: