Robert Taylor died of lung cancer on June 8, 1969. At his funeral, California Governor Ronald Reagan gave the eulogy. Here are a few excerpts from that eulogy, given on June 11, 1969.
“How to speak of Robert Taylor–one of the truly great and most enduring stars of the golden era of Hollywood? What can we say about a boy named–well, a boy from Nebraska with an un-Nebraska-like name of Spangler Arlington Brugh?
“MGM was a giant and the home of giants. It had the greatest stars in an era when Hollywood was a Mount Olympus peopled with godlike stars–Gable, Tracy, Grant, Montgomery, Coleman, Cooper, the Barrymores. And there were goddesses to match–Garbo, Shearer, Crawford, Irene Dunne. Bob Taylor became one of the all-time greats of motion picture stardom. Twenty-four years at that one studio, MGM, alone. Thirty-five years before the public. His face, instantly recognizable in every corner of the world. His name, a new one–a household word.
“And all of this came in one sudden, dazzling burst. To simply appear in public caused a traffic jam. There has never been anything like it, before or since–possibly the only thing that can compare to it–Rudolph Valentino, and why not? Because on all of Mt. Olympus, he was the most handsome.
“Now there were those in our midst who worked very hard to bring him down with the label, ‘Pretty Boy.’ And, of course, there’s that standard Hollywood rule that true talent must never be admitted as playing a part in success if the individual is too handsome or too beautiful.
“It’s only in the recent years of our friendship that I’ve been able to understand how painful all of this must have been to him–to a truly modest man–because he was modest to the point of being painfully shy. In all the years of stardom he never got over being embarrassed at the furor that his appearance created. He went a long way to avoid putting himself in a position where he could become the center of attention.”
“His quiet and disciplined manner had a steadying effect on every company he was ever in, and at the same time, throughout the country, who remember him because he taught them to fly. He fought combat city in World War II as a Navy flier and he wound up teaching others–and I’ll bet he taught them good. There was no caste system in his love of humanity.”
“He loved his home and everything it meant. Above all he loved his family……(to the family) In a little while the hurt will be gone. Then you will find you can bring out your memories. You can look at them–take comfort from their warmth. As the years go by you will be very proud. Not so much of the things that we have –talked about here–you are going to be proud of simple things. Things not so stylish in certain circles today, but that just makes them a little more and of greater value. Things he had like honor and honesty, responsibility to those he worked for and who worked for him, standing up for what he believed and, yes, even a simple old-fashioned love for his country, and, above all, an inner humility.
“He needed the strength (at the end) that he could only get from being in that home filled with [Ursula’s] presence. He spoke to me of this only a few days ago. It was uppermost in his mind, and I am sure he meant for me to tell [her] something that he wanted above all else. There is just one last thing that [she] can do for him–be happy. This was his last thought to me.”**
**The eulogy was printed in Ursula Thiess’ book “…but I have promises to keep” My Life Before, With & After Robert Taylor. Copyright 2007 by Ursula Taylor.