Movie Stars: Taylor, Robert–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

Robert Taylor (born Spangler Arlington Brugh; August 5, 1911–June 8, 1969) was one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men of his time.

Taylor began his career in films in 1934 when he signed with MGM. He won his first leading role the following year in Magnificent Obsession. His popularity increased during the late 1930s and 1940s with appearances in A Yank at Oxford (1938), Waterloo Bridge (1940), and Bataan (1943). During World War II, he served in the United States Naval Air Forces, where he worked as a flight instructor and appeared in instructional films. From 1959 to 1962, he starred in the series The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. In 1966, he took over hosting duties from his friend Ronald Reagan on the series Death Valley Days.

Taylor was married to actress Barbara Stanwyck from 1939 to 1951. He married actress Ursula Thiess in 1954, and they had two children.

A chain smoker, Taylor was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 1968. He died of the disease on June 8, 1969 at the age of 57.

Taylor was born Spangler Arlington Brugh on August 5, 1911, in Filley, Nebraska, Taylor was the only child of Ruth Adaline (née Stanhope) and Spangler Andrew Brugh, a farmer turned doctor. During his early life, the family moved several times, living in Muskogee, Oklahoma; Kirksville, Missouri; and Fremont, Nebraska. By September 1917, the Brughs had moved to Beatrice, Nebraska, where they remained for 16 years.

As a teenager, Taylor was a track and field star and played the cello in his high school orchestra. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. While at Doane, he took cello lessons from Professor Herbert E. Gray, whom he admired and idolized. After Professor Gray announced he was accepting a new position at Pomona College in Claremont, California, Taylor moved to California and enrolled at Pomona.

He joined the campus theater group and was eventually spotted by an MGM talent scout in 1932 after a production of Journey’s End.

Career

Upward Mobility

He signed a seven-year contract with MGM with an initial salary of $35 per week, which rose to $2500 by 1936.

Within two years, his salary was multiplied by 700 percent.

The studio changed his name to Robert Taylor. He made his film debut in the 1934 comedy Handy Andy, starring Will Rogers (on loan to 20th Century Fox).

His first leading role came by accident. In 1934 Taylor was on the M-G-M payroll as “the test boy,” a male juvenile who would be filmed opposite various young ingenues in screen tests. In late 1934, when M-G-M began production of its new short-subject series Crime Does Not Pay with the dramatic short Buried Loot, the actor who had been cast fell ill and could not appear. The director sent for the test boy to substitute for the missing actor. Taylor’s dramatic performance, as an embezzler who deliberately disfigures himself to avoid detection, was so memorable that Taylor immediately was signed for feature films.

In 1935, Irene Dunne requested him for her leading man in Magnificent Obsession, which was followed by one of his best films, Camille with Greta Garbo.

Throughout the late 1930s, Taylor appeared in films of varying genres including the musicals Broadway Melody of 1936 and Broadway Melody of 1938, and the British comedy A Yank at Oxford with Vivien Leigh. Throughout 1940 and 1941 he argued in favor of American entry into World War II, and was sharply critical of the isolationist movement. During this time he said he was “100% pro-British”.[9] In 1940, he reteamed with Leigh in Mervyn LeRoy’s drama Waterloo Bridge.

After being given the nickname “The Man with the Perfect Profile”, Taylor began breaking away from his perfect leading man image and began appearing in darker roles beginning in 1941. That year, he portrayed Billy Bonney (better known as Billy the Kid) in Billy the Kid. The next year, he played the title role in the film noir Johnny Eager with Lana Turner. After playing a tough sergeant in Bataan in 1943, Taylor contributed to the war effort by becoming a flying instructor in the U.S. Naval Air Corps.[10] During this time, he also starred in instructional films and narrated the 1944 documentary The Fighting Lady.

After the war he appeared in a series of edgy roles, including Undercurrent (1946) and High Wall (1947). In 1949, he co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in Conspirator, which Hedda Hopper described as “another one of Taylor’s pro-British films”. Taylor responded to this by saying “And it won’t be the last!”

However, both Hopper and Taylor were members of the anticommunist organization the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, as were Taylor’s friends John Wayne, Walt Disney and Gary Cooper. For this reason Hopper always spoke favorably of Taylor, despite him disagreeing with her over what she saw as his “Anglophilia” and what he saw as her “Anglophobia”.

In 1950, Taylor landed the role of General Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis with Deborah Kerr. The epic film was a hit, grossing US$11 million in its first run. The following year, he starred in the film version of Walter Scott’s classic Ivanhoe, followed by 1953’s Knights of the Round Table and The Adventures of Quentin Durward, all filmed in England. Of the three only Ivanhoe was a critical and financial success. Taylor also filmed Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1954.

By the mid-1950s, Taylor began to concentrate on westerns, his preferred genre. He starred in a comedy western Many Rivers to Cross in 1955 co-starring Eleanor Parker. In 1958, he shared the lead with Richard Widmark in the edgy John Sturges western The Law and Jake Wade.

In 1958, after 24 years, he left MGM and formed Robert Taylor Productions, and the next year, he starred in the TV series The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (1959–1962). Following the end of the series in 1962, Taylor continued to appear in films and television shows, including A House Is Not a Home and two episodes of Hondo.

Robert Taylor received the 1953 World Film Favorite–Male Award, at Golden Globes (tied with Alan Ladd).

In 1963, NBC filmed, but never aired, four episodes of what was to have been The Robert Taylor Show, a series based on case files from the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The project was suddenly dropped for lack of coordination with HEW. In the same year, he filmed ]]Miracle of the White Stallions]] for Walt Disney Productions.

In 1964, Taylor co-starred with his former wife Stanwyck in William Castle’s psychological horror film The Night Walker. In 1965, after filming Johnny Tiger in Florida, Taylor took over the role of narrator in the television series Death Valley Days when Ronald Reagan left to pursue a career in politics.[14] Taylor would remain with the series until his death in 1969.

Europe

Taylor traveled to Europe to film Savage Pampas (1966), The Glass Sphinx (1967) and The Day the Hot Line Got Hot (1968).

After three years of dating, Taylor married Barbara Stanwyck on May 14, 1939 in San Diego, California. Zeppo Marx’s wife, Marion, was Stanwyck’s maid of honor and her godfather, actor Buck Mack, was Taylor’s best man.[15] Stanwyck divorced Taylor in February 1951. During the marriage, Stanwyck’s adopted son from her previous marriage to Frank Fay, Anthony “Tony” Dion, lived with them. After the divorce, Stanwyck retained custody of the child.

Taylor met German actress Ursula Thiess in 1952. They married in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on May 23, 1954.[17] They had two children, a son, Terrance, (1955) and a daughter, Tessa, (1959). Taylor was stepfather to Thiess’ two children from her previous marriage, Manuela and Michael Thiess.[18][19] On May 26, 1969, shortly before Taylor’s death from lung cancer, Ursula Thiess found the body of her son, Michael, in a West Los Angeles motel room.[20] He died from a drug overdose. One month before his death, Michael had been released from a mental hospital. In 1964, he spent a year in a reformatory for attempting to poison his own father with insecticide.[21][22]

Politics

In February 1944, Taylor helped found the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.[23] In October 1947, Taylor was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities regarding Communism in Hollywood.[24][25] He did this reluctantly, regarding the hearings as a “circus” and refusing to appear unless subpoenaed.[26] In his testimony concerning the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), delivered on October 22, 1947, Taylor stated: “It seems to me that at meetings, especially meetings of the general membership of the Guild, there was always a certain group of actors and actresses whose every action would indicate to me that, if they are not Communists, they are working awfully hard to be Communists.” [27] Two people already under investigation by the FBI, Karen Morley and Howard Da Silva, were mentioned as troublemakers at SAG meetings. Taylor alleged that at meetings of the SAG, Da Silva “always had something to say at the wrong time.” Da Silva was blacklisted on Broadway and New York radio,[28] and Morley never worked again after her name surfaced at the hearings.[29] Taylor went on to declare that he would refuse to work with anyone who was suspected of being a Communist: “I’m afraid it would have to be him or me because life is too short to be around people who annoy me as much as these fellow-travelers and Communists do”.[30] Taylor also labeled screenwriter Lester Cole “reputedly a Communist”, adding “I would not know personally”.[31] After the hearings, Taylor’s films were banned in Communist Hungary and in Czechoslovakia, and Communists called for a boycott of his films in France.[32] In 1951 Robert Taylor remarked “I speak out against communism now for the same reason I spoke out against Nazism a decade ago, because I am pro-freedom and pro-decency.”[33] Robert Taylor helped narrate the anticommunist public service documentary The Hoaxters which compares the threat of international communism in the 1950s to the threat of nazism in the 30s and 40s.[34]

Taylor supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election.[35]

In 1952, Taylor starred in the film Above and Beyond, a biopic of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets.[36] The two men met and found that they had much in common. Both had considered studying medicine, and were avid skeet-shooters and fliers. Taylor learned to fly in the mid-1930s, and served as a United States Navy flying instructor during World War II. His private aircraft was a Twin Beech called “Missy” (his then-wife Stanwyck’s nickname) which he used on hunting and fishing trips and to fly to locations for filming.

Ranch
Taylor owned a 34-room house situated on 112 acres (0.45 km2) located in Mandeville Canyon in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Dubbed the Robert Taylor Ranch, the property was sold to KROQ-FM founder Ken Roberts in the 1970s. Roberts remodeled the home and put it back on the market in 1990 for $45 million. He later reduced the price to $35 million, but the ranch failed to attract a buyer. In 2010, the ranch was seized by New Stream Capital, a hedge fund, after Roberts failed to pay back a high interest loan he had taken from them.[37]

In November 2012, the Robert Taylor ranch was put up for auction by the trust that owned it. It was purchased for $12 million by a Chicago buyer in December 2012.[38]

Death
In October 1968, Taylor underwent surgery to remove a portion of his right lung after doctors suspected that he had contracted coccidioidomycosis (known as “valley fever”). During the surgery, doctors discovered that he had lung cancer.[39] Taylor, who had smoked three packs of cigarettes a day since he was a boy, quit smoking shortly before undergoing surgery. During the final months of his life, he was hospitalized seven times due to infections and complications related to the disease. He died of lung cancer on June 8, 1969, at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Taylor’s funeral was held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. Long-time friend Ronald Reagan (who was then the governor of California) eulogized Taylor.

Among the mourners were Robert Stack, Van Heflin, Eva Marie Saint, Walter Pidgeon, Keenan Wynn, Mickey Rooney, George Murphy, Audrey Totter and Taylor’s ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Robert Taylor has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.

Filmography
Year Title Role Notes
1934 Handy Andy Lloyd Burmeister
1934 The Spectacle Maker The Duchess’s Paramour Short subject
Uncredited
1934 There’s Always Tomorrow Arthur White Alternative title: Too Late for Love
1934 A Wicked Woman Bill Renton—Rosanne’s Love
1934 Crime Does Not Pay #1: Buried Loot Al Douglas Short subject
Uncredited
1935 Society Doctor Dr. Ellis
1935 Times Square Lady Steven J. “Steve” Gordon
1935 West Point of the Air “Jasky” Jaskarelli
1935 Murder in the Fleet Lt. Randolph
1935 Broadway Melody of 1936 Robert Gordon
1935 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara Himself Short subject
1935 Magnificent Obsession Dr. Robert Merrick
1936 Small Town Girl Dr. Robert “Bob” Dakin Alternative title: One Horse Town
1936 Private Number Richard Winfield
1936 His Brother’s Wife Chris Claybourne
1936 The Gorgeous Hussy “Bow” Timberlake
1936 Camille Armand Duval
1937 Personal Property Raymond Dabney aka Ferguson Alternative title: The Man in Possession
1937 This Is My Affair Lt. Richard L. Perry
1937 Lest We Forget Himself Short subject
1937 Broadway Melody of 1938 Stephan “Steve” Raleigh
1938 A Yank at Oxford Lee Sheridan
1938 Three Comrades Erich Lohkamp
1938 The Crowd Roars Tommy “Killer” McCoy
1939 Stand Up and Fight Blake Cantrell
1939 Lucky Night Bill Overton
1939 Lady of the Tropics William “Bill” Carey
1939 Remember? Jeffrey “Jeff” Holland
1940 Waterloo Bridge Roy Cronin
1940 Escape Mark Preysing Alternative title: When the Door Opened
1940 Flight Command Ensign Alan Drake
1941 Billy the Kid Billy Bonney
1941 When Ladies Meet Jimmy Lee
1942 Johnny Eager John “Johnny” Eager
1942 Her Cardboard Lover Terry Trindale
1942 Stand By for Action Lieutenant Gregg Masterman Alternative title: Cargo of Innocents
1943 Bataan Sergeant Bill Dane
1943 The Youngest Profession Cameo
1944 Song of Russia John Meredith
1944 The Fighting Lady Narrator Credited as Lieut Robert Taylor USNR
1946 Undercurrent Alan Garroway
1947 High Wall Steven Kenet
1949 The Bribe Rigby
1949 Conspirator Major Michael Curragh
1950 Ambush Ward Kinsman
1950 Devil’s Doorway Lance Poole
1951 Challenge the Wilderness Himself Short subject
1951 Quo Vadis Marcus Vinicius
1951 Westward the Women, Buck Wyatt
1952 Ivanhoe Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe
1952 Above and Beyond Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets
1952 The Hoaxters Narrator
1953 I Love Melvin Himself
1953 Ride, Vaquero! Rio
1953 All the Brothers Were Valiant Joel Shore
1953 Knights of the Round Table Lancelot
1954 Valley of the Kings Mark Brandon
1954 Rogue Cop Det. Sgt. Christopher Kelvaney
1955 Many Rivers to Cross Bushrod Gentry
1955 The Adventures of Quentin Durward Quentin Durward
1956 The Last Hunt Charlie Gilson
1956 D-Day the Sixth of June Captain Brad Parker
1956 The Power and the Prize Cliff Barton
1957 Tip on a Dead Jockey Lloyd Tredman
1958 The Law and Jake Wade Jake Wade
1958 Saddle the Wind Steve Sinclair
1958 Party Girl Thomas “Tommy” Farrell
1959 The Hangman Mackenzie Bovard
1959 The House of the Seven Hawks Nordley
1960 Killers of Kilimanjaro Robert Adamson
1963 Miracle of the White Stallions Colonel Podhajsky Alternative title: The Flight of the White Stallions
1963 Cattle King Sam Brassfield Alternative title: Cattle King of Wyoming
1964 A House Is Not a Home Frank Costigan
1964 The Night Walker Barry Morland
1966 Johnny Tiger George Dean
1966 Savage Pampas Captain Martin
1967 The Glass Sphinx Prof. Karl Nichols
1967 Return of the Gunfighter Ben Wyatt
1968 The Day the Hot Line Got Hot Anderson Alternative title: Hot Line
1968 Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows Mr. Farriday – The ‘In’ Group

Television
Year Title Role Notes
1958 The Thin Man Himself Episode: “The Scene Stealer”
1959–1962 The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor Det. Capt. Matt Holbrook 97 episodes
1963 The Dick Powell Show Guest host Episode: “Colossus”
1966–1969 Death Valley Days Host 77 episodes
1967 Hondo Gallagher 2 episodes

Box-office ranking: Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll
1936 – 4th (US)
1937 – 3rd (US), 8th (UK)
1938 – 6th (US), 7th (UK)
1939 – 14th (US), 4th (UK)
1941 – 21st (US)

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