By Ida Zeitlin, Modern Screen, 1939
When a gal like Babs–crazy about Java, jive and jools–loves a gun-totin’ meat-eating guy like Bob, watch out for fun and fireworks!
She’s a big-town gal. He’s from the cornfields of Nebraska. He loves horses and guns. She won’t ride, nor shoot at anything livelier than a clay pigeon. She’s got her nose forever stuck in a book. He doesn’t even read his mail. He’s nuts about flying. She’s been up
with him once. She could dance all night. After two turns ’round the floor, he’s through. He cooks a mean steak and regards food and all its mysteries with the enthusiasm of an artist for nature’s miracles. She doesn’t know which end of a saucepan’s up, and tolerates meals as a necessary overture to coffee. At few points do their surface tastes meet. And they have a hell of a swell time together.
Which proves only that Barbara and Bob Taylor are well matched, surface tastes to the contrary notwithstanding. They’re in love. Each respects and keeps his hands off the other’s personality. They think and feel alike on fundamentals. They’re both honest, generous-minded, warmhearted. They can tell the paste from the real. Neither’s ever been bitten by the Hollywood disease whose symptoms are delusions of grandeur.
They’re not given to open demonstrations of affection or public smootching. But all married people carry their atmosphere with them. The Taylor atmosphere of deep-seated harmony sets you purring. It’s based on elements hardier than a mutual craze for the rumba.
Barbara would sooner be caught dead than sentimentalizing. Her mocking humor plays lively variations on all themes, and her private emotions are kept where they belong—deep in the heart of Barbara. She has her own way of expressing them, though. Slated recently for an operation on her foot, she withheld the information from Bob and talked him into a week-end at Palm Springs. Not until it was all over did they notify him. He came tearing home, charged the hospital steps and was blocked by the doctor with reassuring news. Then his voice went bellowing down the corridor, bouncing from wall to wall, penetrating to Mrs. T’s room. Snug in her bed, she grinned with content as she heard, “Where the hell is she? I’ll break her blankety neck.”
domestic bliss . . .
He calls her Queen or Doll—which he took over from their friends, the Bennys —or Dinky. Apropos of cornfields, she calls him Elmer and Farmer Joe. Six months ago they bought a modern Colonial house in Beverly, on a trade-in for Bob’s ranch. When Barbara saw the
lawn, lovely with pepper trees, she made up her mind she’d like the house. Then she found an extra pepper tree in the backyard and said God was too good. They ripped out fancy fireplaces, scraped away disfiguring paint to uncover the mellow tones of natural wood, simplified and deformalized the whole place and moved in with Barbara’s son Dion and
her uncle Buck Mack.
If Buck’s arm would do Barbara anygood, he’d remove it and no questions asked. Bob rates half a step lower, only because he isn’t Barbara. They return his feeling in kind. He acts as a kind of practical ministering angel, markets, gardens and offers Bob competition at
pool. ‘The billiard table was a gift from Barbara. She thought she’d like to learn the game, but made the mistake of taking lessons from her husband. Her cue kept hitting the felt. At his tenth agonized yelp of, “You’ll rip the cloth, honey,” she laid the cue down. “After all,” she said sweetly, “it was given to you, wasn’t it, honey?” and went back to her book.
Bob subscribes to the Book-of-the Month for her and complains that before he can get them home, she’s read them. A Book-of-the-Day Club is what she needs. “How can you sit and read and read and read? Okay, it’s a girl and afellow and they want to get hitched. But
what’s so good about fifty books a month? They can’t all be that different.”
She bounced that one back at him the day he took her flying. She has no fears about Bob as a flyer, she just hates flying. On the rare occasions when she’d had to board a commercial plane, her hands have been wet ice and her face set in a smile that wrings the hearts of her friends—her adhesive-tape smile, she calls it. Bob kept after her to go up with him. But it was his mother who shamed her into it. She went up first.
“Were you scared?” asked Barbara. “I wouldn’t be afraid of anything with
It wasn’t a reproach. Whatever Barbara does or omits doing is okay with Mrs. Brough. A picture of her in the living room is inscribed “To the sweetest daughter in the world.” But Barbara’s sense of duty smote her. Could a man’s lawful wife do less for him than his mother? She climbed into the plane and hung on for dear life. “Just relax,” said Bob. “Look, there’s the Beverly Hills Hotel—that’s the Beverly Wilshire —that’s the Ambassador—
By the time they got down, her knuckles had all but pushed through the skin. Bob was beaming. “Once more, and you’ll have this racket licked.” She shook her head. “Oh come on, honey, wasn’t it swell up there?”
“What’s so good,” she quavered, “about fifty roofs a minute? They can’t all be that different.”
Barbara’s no good at pretending and hasn’t been able to force herself to anything more than a fair game of tennis. She says it’s no fun for Bob to play with her. He says it is and keeps her at it. To her intense gratification, she won a mixed doubles from him at a recent club tournament. They only asked her because they were minus a girl. She couldn’t run
much, since this wasn’t long after the operation on her foot, Her partner won the match for her, Bob’s lost it for him. Normally, at tournaments, she watches and applauds his shots. “Thinks she has to,” says he.
“It’s my throw-off,” says she, “I do it so people will smirk, ‘Isn’t she sweet?’ ” In a car together, Bob drives as a matter of course. To him, it’s a matter of course. To her it’s a rankling wound, unhealed by time. There was the day he got his new Cadillac. “I can’t wait to drive it,” squealed the little woman.
“Oh no! You’ll never drive this car.” She was stabbed, but not mortally. “Look, all the time we lived out at the ranch, I drove myself to the studio and back. I never had an accident, I was never so much as stopped. You don’t know how I drive. You’ve never even seen me drive.”
“No woman knows how to drive.”
That did it, “Okay, Farmer Joe. I don’t hope you break a leg, but if you do, have a swell time driving yourself to the hospital, will you?” She goes skeet-shooting with him, but
the rest he can have. Not long ago they went to Sun Valley. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment trips they like best. At nine-thirty they were having coffee in the playroom. “Let’s go to Mexico City,” said Bob. “Why? You didn’t like it when you were there before. Let’s go to Sun Valley.”
At ten their bags were packed, Buck had been told what dates to cancel and they were off.
Up there they went shooting with the Ernest Hemingways and the Gary Coopers. Rocky Cooper and Martha Hemingway brought down their share. Barbara, gunless, tagged along with Bob, who promptly bagged two pheasants. “Pick ’em up,” he called, as he went after another. She picked them up, carried them two feet and dropped them.
“Their purple-green necks were so pretty,” she apologized. “Yes, I know. I don’t mind eating them. I don’t mind eating steaks either, and even a cow, stop to think of it, has lovely eyes. But I couldn’t eat a cow I’d met personally, Bob. So I’m a sissy.” For all of him,
she can be a sissy.
Her eating habits distress him; his are a source of unending amazement to her. She likes great big steaks and raw chopped meat with onions-“just let it bow to the broiler,” says Bob, “as you pass.” Otherwise, she’d as lief not eat. He insists it’s because she drinks too
much coffee. To prove him wrong, she cut herself down to two cups a day for two weeks, at the end of which time she pointed out triumphantly that she wasn’t eating any more or sleeping any better, and reverted to her normal schedule. Bob plans the menus, Buck buys the provisions, Paula cooks them, Barbara ignores the whole thing. Bob enjoys being where food is, haunts the kitchen and calls Paula, the cook, his dream girl because she asks him fourteen times a day what he wants to eat. Barbara eyes him with awe as, having polished off four steaks, nine potatoes and two hunks of pie, he turns to Buck and says,
“How’s for having fried chicken tomorrow night?” This he sometimes varies with,
“Boy, I’ll sure have to go on a diet.” He doesn’t go on a diet. In fairness, he doesn’t have to go on a diet. Exercise takes care of his waistline.
Sundays are given over to the “bobbacue,” as Miss Stanwyck calls it, and to baked beans. He starts the fire at ten, the beans go in around noon and are eaten at seven-thirty. You could go to ‘Frisco and back, Barbara maintains, and the beans would be okay. They’re in
a crock, what could happen to them? But no, he has to sit for eight hours and watch them, coddle and coax them and keep their feet warm. She sets the table, He brings on the beans. She eats them. He tastes them, considers and frowns. “little too much tomato juice, I think. How about it, Buck?” Follows a learned discussion on the relative importance to
beans of pork, ham hock and don’t ask her what else, because that’s where she goes into a coma.
He’s an early riser. Working or not, he’s down by seven-thirty—in slacks and any old broken down robe. “Broken down,” murmurs his wife, “but still a Sulka.” Over a modest breakfast of orange juice, cereal, bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, he reads the papers and
waits for Barbara to appear. When she appears depends on how late she’s stayed up reading the night before. She’s trying to reform, makes a deal with herself to turn the light off at eleven, but if at eleven the Nazis have the girl by the throat, she turns the clock back. “That, she explains, “is what they call building one’s character.”
She gets down by nine-thirty, also in a robe—which is neither old nor broken down—and they talk things over while she breakfasts on a corner of toast and coffee. Then, having no gardener at the moment, Buck and Bob mow and prune and plant radishes because they grow quickest, while she sweeps the walks. For helping her, Dion gets a quarter -a
week. He’s paid for good will rather than efficiency. A total loss as a cook, she’s awhiz at cleaning. “Right handy round the house,” Bob admits. “We’ll pick up her option.”
Dinner’s at seven-thirty. When either is working—as Bob is now in “Cargo of Innocents”—they don’t go out during the week or have people in. The evening’s spent in the playroom, the only room in the house they really use. Bob’s chair stands across from the fireplace, be-
cause he’s always hot. Barbara’s cold, so hers is practically inside it. The ‘cello is conspicuous by its absence. In their last house, it sat in the corner for two years.
Till Barbara said: “I think that thing’s a gag. If you can play it, show me.” He showed her. He treated her incredulous ears to the sticky strains of “Mighty Lak A Rose,” an experience
from which she’s never recovered. The ‘cello is now down cellar, to Bob’s secret relief. No one will ever again ask him to play it.
Their favorite form of self-torture is listening to Japan on their shortwave. ‘So we lost an, air-carrier, so what?” brays Tokio. “So it takes four years to build one, you jerk,” Barbara storms. But they always listen—to the opening tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”—to the messages from five of our boys, invariably well treated—to the final cynicism of the fadeout theme, “Gone Are the Days.” Then they go to bed with ulcers.
As noted, Barbara loves to dance. Bob’s a good dancer but, according to his wife, lazy. Once, watching the other girls whirl while her husband sat, she rose abruptly. Bob looked up in surprise. Then he rose to follow her, anxious and inquiring. “Where you going, honey?” “To phone Central Casting and ask them to send me a partner.”
Since war came, they’re not in the mood to spend much time or money at night clubs. War has also put a curb on their gifts to each other. Their third wedding anniversary came last May. “That’s how much you can spend,” their business manager told them. “Or do
you just want to exchange checks now?”
At the time Bob was motor-scooter-crazy. Gas was going, tires were going, they’d all be
crawling to work on their hands and knees. You could run a scooter on a gallon of gas a month. What did Barbara think? Barbara thought it was screwy. How they got to work was the studio’s business. Let them send busses, let them pick everybody up, then shooting might be on time for a change. It had taken her all these years to acquire a car. Now she should go back to scooters?
Just the same, she gave him one for their anniversary. It rattled your teeth like dice. It stopped every minute on the minute. A round trip to the corner took an hour. In short, it proved a disappointment, especially after Ray Milland drove up one day on a motorcycle—blue and silver and very pretty. Barbara read the future in that motorcycle—the faraway look in Bob’s eyes as they followed Ray down the road, the discussion of what cycles could do that scooters couldn’t—the scooter’s sad end among spiderwebs in the garage. Still, Bob
won’t buy the cycle till he’s sold the scooter.
He asked her what she needed. “I won’t spend money for something you don’t need.”
“I need a bracelet.” Barbara prefers jewels. Her favorite is the star ruby she hasn’t got. Bob says she never can have it. “What do you need a bracelet for?” “For borders.” “Boarders?
“Comes the revolution, you have to cross borders, so you give the man a bracelet, and he sneaks you over. I saw it in the movies.” Within the limits set by the manager, she got her bracelet.
Bob once paid her as pretty a tribute as man could pay woman. Unorthodox by the standards of high romance, it bore more eloquence than all the drooling of
A visitor to his studio dressing room admired two pencil sketches of horses he’d once owned. “That was Barbara’s idea. She had them done for me before the horses were retired.” The visitor murmured approval. “Nice girl, Barbara.”
“Aw ” he smiled softly, the lovelight gently flooding his eyes, “she stinks.”
I never cared for Barbara Stanwyck and the only movie I saw her in was one where John Wayne was the star. I was aware of her in Big Valley. I just didn’t find her feminine and I don’t think her and RT were a match. I always thought that the pressure was on RT to find a spouse. Maybe it’s just me. Thanks, Judith, for the article!
It’s hard to know what Stanwyck movie you saw since she was never in a film with John Wayne as the male lead. (They had a single scene together in Baby Face in 1933, but John Wayne was one of the minor players in the film and definitely not the star). Sure, Stanwyck could be as tough as any woman on film, but she was also very versatile. The characters she played are often complex and can range from demure (Forbidden) to deadly (Double Indemnity) with funny, sexy, volatile, and sass-mouthed included in the mix as well. If you could only see one Stanwyck movie in your entire life (hopefully, that’s NOT the case), then I recommend The Lady Eve. The Lady Eve is not only one of Stanwyck’s finest moments on film, showcasing a variety of her strengths, but also a delightful movie overall with an outstanding cast and script.
I agree that RT & Stanwyck were ultimately not a good match, but the early years of their relationship (1936 to their marriage in 1939) seem to have been wonderful for both of them. There are many accounts of the many thoughtful, kind, and sweet things RT did for Stanwyck (and her for him) during those early years out of genuine affection, not because he was being forced into marriage. I believe they sincerely and wholeheartedly cared for each other, maybe loved each other, but that it simply didn’t work out in the end, like many marriages.
Paul, I appreciate the thoughtful comments. Thanks for writing. Judith
Hi, Jen. I think you’re right. After Photoplay “exposed” the cohabiting unweds MGM ordered them to wed. Gable and Lombard were another pair. I think Ms. Stanwyck was a fine actress but a poor match for Robert Taylor–a pity that Ursula didn’t come along sooner. Thanks for writing.