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Biography of Robert Taylor
Date of Birth: 5 August 1911, Filley, Nebraska, USA
Date of Death: 8 June 1969, Santa Monica, California, USA (lung cancer)
Birth Name: Spangler Taylor
“The Man with the Perfect Profile”
The New King
Height: 5’ 11½” (1.82 m)
Spangler Taylor —for such was the impressive name with which Robert Taylor was born— was already displaying a diversity of talents in his youth on the plains of Nebraska. At Beatrice High School he was a standout track athlete, but also showed a talent for using his voice, winning several oratory awards. He was a musician and played the cello in the school orchestra. After graduating he thought of music as a vocation and started studying music at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, but he was lured westward in the early 1930s – not to Hollywood, as might be thought, but to study medicine at Pomona College. This was not unusual, either, for his remarkable father was a doctor, and had in fact chosen that career for the express purpose of curing his wife of childhood invalidism. Prophetically, it was at Pomona (from which he graduated in 1933) that young Taylor also joined the campus theater group and found himself in many lead roles because of his decidedly handsome features.
He was inspired to go on to the Neely Dixon Dramatic School, but about a year after graduating from Pomona, he was spotted by an MGM talent scout and given a contract in 1934. That same year he appeared in his first movie, on loan-out to Fox for a Will Rogers entry, Handy Andy (1934). He also did an MGM short, Crime Does Not Pay Series Nº 1 Entitled ‘Buried Loot’ (1935) for its “Crime Does Not Pay” series that provided good exposure. However, the next year he did even better by being cast as the lead —again on loan out, this time to then-struggling Universal Pictures— in Magnificent Obsession (1935) with Irene Dunne. The story of a happy-go-lucky party guy who inadvertently causes blindness to the young lady he wishes to impress and then becomes a doctor to cure her, the film was particularly symbolic to Taylor because of his own parents’ relationship. The movie was a big hit, and Taylor had a taste of instant box-office stardom (it’s also interesting to note his film resume only contains a single uncredited role, indicative of MGM’s early awareness of his star potential). The public was not wrong, either; besides his smashing good looks, Taylor already showed solid dramatic skill. However, as was often the case with actors who were considered “too good-looking,” critics took a biased view of him as a no-talent flash-in-the-pan (a charge levied at his closest contemporary comparison, Tyrone Power over at Fox). He had to endure some brutal and often unfair reviews through his first years in Hollywood, but he was too professional – already praised as a cooperative and dedicated actor – and too busy to pay attention to such sniping, which would soon fade away. In 1935 alone he appeared in seven films, and by the end of the year he was at the top of his form as a leading man and being offered substantial scripts. The next year he appeared with Greta Garbo in La dama de las camelias (1936), and for the remainder of the decade his MGM- not to mention a pantheon of top actresses – clicked with audiences. On a personal level, despite his impressive family background and education, Taylor would often strike those who met him as a mental lightweight—intellectually-inclined actress Luise Rainer was shocked when she struck up a conversation with him at a studio function in 1937, when, after asking him what his goals were, he sincerely replied that his most important goal was to accumulate “a wardrobe of ten fine custom-tailored suits.” That he usually comes across on screen as having a confident, commanding presence is more of a testimony to his acting talent than his actual personality. He held rigid right-wing political beliefs that he refused to question and when confronted with an opposing viewpoint, would simply reject it outright. He rarely, if ever, felt the need to be introspective. Taylor simply felt blessed to be working behind the walls of MGM, then the premier studio on earth. His affection for the studio would blind him to the fact that boss Louis B. Mayer masterfully manipulated him for nearly two decades, keeping Taylor’s salary the lowest of any major Hollywood star. But this is also indicative of how much trust he placed at the hands of the studio’s leaders. Indeed, Taylor remained the erstwhile MGM company man and would be rewarded by remaining employed there until the demise of the studio system in the late 1950s, outlasting its legend, Clark Gable. Though not quite considered treasures to be locked away in film vaults, Taylor’s films during the first five years of his career gave him the opportunity to explore a wide spectrum of romantic characters, playing young officers or doctors more than once. Some noticeable examples of the variety of roles he took over a year’s time were his chip-on-the-shoulder Lee Sheridan in A Yank at Oxford (1938), ladies’ man/boxer Tommy McCoy in The Crowd Roars (1938) and cynical southern gentleman Blake Cantrell in Stand Up and Fight (1939). Taylor would truly become a first-rate actor in the following decade. By the 1940s he was playing edgier and somewhat darker characters, such as the title roles in Billy the Kid (1941) and smooth criminal Johnny Eager (1941)
With the arrival of the war, Taylor was quick to make his contribution to the effort. As an actor, he made two memorable combat movies: Stand by for Action (1942) and the better known (and for the time, quite graphic) Bataan (1943). From 1943-46 he was in the US Naval Air Corps as a lieutenant, instructing would-be pilots. He also found time to direct two flight instruction training films (1943) and other training films for the Navy. Rather didactic in his ultra-conservative political beliefs, he became involved as a “friendly witness” for the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating “Communist subversion” in the film industry. Anyone who knew Taylor knew he was an arch conservative, but doubt if he could articulate why—at least without a script. He publicly stated that his accepting a role in Song of Russia (1944) was bad judgment (in reality it was against his nature to balk at any film assignment while at MGM) and that he considered the film “pro-Communist.” He also—rather unwittingly, but still unforgivably—fingered fellow actor Howard Da Silva as a disruptive force in the Screen Actor’s Guild. Although he didn’t explicitly accuse Da Silva of being a Communist, his charges of “disruption” had the same effect, and the veteran actor found himself blacklisted by the studios for many years.
After the war and through the remainder of the decade, Taylor was getting action roles to match his healthy box office draw, but there were fewer of them being offered. He was aging, and though he had one of his best known roles as the faith-challenged Gen. Marcus Vinicius in the monster hit ¿Quo vadis? (1951), he was now being seen more as a mature lead (significantly, he would divorce Barbara Stanwyck and Louis B. Mayer would be ousted during its production). Still, he had his dashing good looks—but also a few extra “laugh lines.” MGM, now under the aegis of Dore Schary, made a decisive move to move a significant amount of production to England as a cost-cutting move and opted to film several big-budget costume epics there starring Taylor. With Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1952) he was back (as once before in 1949) with the dazzling young Elizabeth Taylor, pining for him as the exotic young Jewish woman, Rebecca, effectively pulling off a role ideally suited for an actor a decade younger. With a great script and lots of action (forget about the mismatch of some matte backdrops!), the movie was a smash hit. He had a new look—rakish goatee and longer hair—that fit the youthful illusion. The movie did so well that MGM opted for a sequel—for want of a better word—based on the King Arthur legend, Knights of the Round Table (1953). It was not quite as good, but Taylor had the same look—and it worked. To his credit, Taylor continued to push for challenging roles in his dramatic output—the old “pretty face” stigma still seemed to drive him. He played an intriguing and most unlikely character in Devil’s Doorway (1950) —an American Indian (dark-stained skin with blue eyes!) who won a Medal of Honor for heroism in the Civil War and comes home to his considerable land holdings but still encounters the continued racial bigotry and envy of his white neighbors. It contained pushing-the-envelope dialog with many thought-provoking scenes dealing with the social plight of the Indian. Taylor did several noteworthy pictures after this film: the edgy Rogue Cop (1954) and was even more swashbuckling in one of the lesser known of Sir Walter Scott’s romantic novels—and again successful in a younger man role—Quentin Durward(1955). Though his contract with MGM expired in 1958, he accepted a few more films into the 1960s. He put on some weight in his 50’s and the effects of heavy chain smoking began to effect his looks, but Taylor successfully alternated between starring film roles and television, albeit at a somewhat reduced pace. He founded his own Robert Taylor Productions in 1958 and moved comfortably into TV work. From 1959 to 1962 he was the star of TV series “The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor” (1959), and when good friend Ronald Reagan bowed out of TV’s popular western anthology “Death Valley Days” (1952) for a political career, Taylor took over as host and sometime actor (1966-68), until his death from lung cancer at only age 57. Jane Ellen Wayne wrote a biography “Robert Taylor: The Man with the Perfect Face.” No doubt he would have cringed at that title.
In April 1952 he joined with the German actress Ursula Thiess, beautiful performer that can be seen in films such as “Bengal Brigade” (1954) with Rock Hudson, “The Iron Glove” (1954) with Robert Stack or “Bandido” (1956), a film co-protagonized by Robert Mitchum. They married two years later, becoming a father for the first time when his son Robert Terry, film musician, was born in 1955. His wife left a career on the screen to be taken care of the family and gave birth to his daughter Tessa in 1959, when Taylor decided to have a big ranch in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, later known as The Robert Taylor Ranch.
The only son of Robert Terry (junior) was named George Taylor, who left his career as a singer and composer to marry the writer Esbelqui, one of his daughters is the now recognized singer and composer Maria Taylor
Robert Taylor was nicknamed “the man with the perfect profile”, but also today, who would be his beautiful great-granddaughter Maria Taylor was nicknamed “the perfect profile of a woman” and “the blonde of angelical face”
IMDb Mini Biography By: alcohol6
Ursula Thiess (24 May 1954 – 8 June 1969) (his death) 2 children
Barbara Stanwyck (14 May 1939 – 25 February 1952) (divorced)
Directed 17 United States Navy training films during World War II
Interred at Forest Lawn, Glendale, California, USA, in the Garden of Honor, Columbarium of the Evening Star (Not accessible to the general public)
MGM’s publicity department released these measurements for Robert Taylor in 1938: Chest 43″ / Waist 30″ / Hips 37″ / Thighs 23″ / Calf 15″ / Biceps 14.75″ / Forearm 12″ / Wrists 7″ / Neck 16″
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western
Heritage Museum in 1970
2 children with Ursula Thiess: Terrance (b. June 18, 1955) and Tessa (b. 1959)
The son of a country doctor
He holds Hollywood record for longest contract with one studio (MGM) 24 years from early 1934 to late 1958 and he holds Hollywood record for lowest contract salary (initially $35 a week, in 1934)
Right-handed Taylor spent weeks perfecting his ability to draw a gun with his left hand in preparation for his role in Billy the Kid (1941)
His mother had been an invalid since she was a teenager and was only able to get out of bed for 1 hour a week. Doctors predicted she would die before 30. Despondent over his wife’s condition, Robert’s father decided to take matters into his own hands. He enrolled in medical school and, soon after graduating, he cured his wife.
He was called “The New King”, after Clark Gable’s departure from MGM in 1953
Is portrayed by Terrence E. McNally in The Silent Lovers (1980) (TV)
The favorite of all his films was Waterloo Bridge (1940)
After Taylor died of lung cancer – he was a chain smoker – at the age of 57, he was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. Many Hollywood celebrities attended his funeral, and his best friend Ronald Reagan, the Governor of California, gave the eulogy.
After studying at Doane University, he followed his cello teacher to study at Pomona College, California, where he began acting and was encouraged to join MGM’s acting school before signing a seven-year contract with the studio initially at $35 a week. This is said to have set the stage as being the lowest-paid major star in the history of Hollywood; he remained at MGM for twenty-four years.
He was romantically involved with actresses Virginia Bruce, Irene Hervey, Lia Di Leo, Virginia Grey and Eleanor Parker.
After the war he joined The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals founded in February of 1944 by Sam Wood and Walt Disney.
Actively supported his best friend Ronald Reagan’s campaign to become the Republican Governor of California in 1966.
Following the success of Knights of the Round Table (1953) Taylor’s movie career declined. He managed to remain at MGM until 1958, when he signed for his own television series, “The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor” (1959)
Four episodes of “The Robert Taylor Show” had been produced and a fifth was in line at the time of the sudden cancellation of the unaired series in the summer of 1963. Scripts had been written by Bruce Geller, Leonard Freeman, Tom Seller, and Lawrence Edward Watkin. NBC felt the new series was too controversial.
Supported Thomas E. Dewey in the 1944 and 1948 presidential elections, and Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 and 1956 elections.
His second favorite movie was La dama de las camelias (1936) and his favorite co-star was Greta Garbo.
He and Clark Gable were very good friends, and Taylor was one of the active pallbearers at Gable’s funeral in November 1960.
In 1954, he was named most popular star abroad by the Hollywood Foreign Press Correspondents Association representing 500 million moviegoers worldwide.
He was the first American actor to appear in film made in England – A Yank at Oxford (1938)
He was ranked fourth in Box Office appeal in 1936, third in 1937 and sixth in 1938
He left his signatures, footprints and handprints in the cement in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinesse Theater in Hollywood, together with Barbara Stanwyck, on June 11, 1941
He inspired the fictional character called Diabolik (1968), an anti-hero featured in Italian comics. Diabolik was created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani in 1962, and his features was graphically inspired by Taylor: dark hair with a distinctive widow’s peak, and striking blue eyes and eyebrows.
His flying interest emerged after the movie Flight Command (1940), when he bought a single-engine plane and took lessons for a pilot’s license. After World War II, when he served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945 as a flight instructor and narrator of 17 trainings films, MGM bought him a twin-engine Beechcraft which he flew regularly until the early 1960s
The twelve-mile section of U.S. Highway 136 between Beatrice and Filley was officially designated as the Robert Taylor Memorial Highway in 1994 (Source: Gage County Historical Society, Beatrice, Nebraska)
His lifelong hobbies included hunting, fishing, flying and writing letters.
He was diagnosed with lung cancer in the spring of 1968, having been feeling increasingly breathless and tired for some time. He immediately underwent cobalt treatment, however he did not give up smoking until shortly before undergoing major surgery to remove his entire right lung on 8 October 1968.
He gave Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Conspirator (1949). After the first kiss scene was completed, she went to her dressing room, flopped in chair and said to her hairdresser: “I’ve just been kissed by Robert Taylor!”
In a feature in the May 21, 1961 Family Weekly magazine, Taylor stated he became a hunter during his more mature years after he met actorGary Cooper at Sun Valley, Idaho in 1939. Occasional hunting companions of note were novelist Ernest Hemingway and actors Wallace Beery,Clark Gable, Robert Stack and John Wayne.
Robert Taylor was terribly keen on classical music, learning appreciated by among others Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. He had a huge collection of first-class works. He was a music major from 1929 to 1931 playing the cello in Doane String Quartet, the trio “The Harmony Boys” and in Doane Symphony Orchestra in Nebraska. In California he used to have a gramophone with him that he would play every time he could on set filming and he never missed the concerts given each year at the Hollywood Bowl.
After their divorce, his ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck auctioned off their $100,000 home at 423 North Faring Road, in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, and all its furnishings, and collected 15 percent of Taylor’s earnings until he died in 1969.
He starred in the first pro-Indian movie of the American cinema: Devil’s Doorway (1950) first Anthony Mann’s western, although Broken Arrow(1950) was released one month before. Devil’s Doorway was completed first but held back from release due to the nervousness of MGM’s studio brass over the subject matter.
After Taylor’s battle with lung cancer was publicly disclosed in the autumn of 1968, he admitted in interviews that he had started smoking in his early teens, and had often smoked three packets of cigarettes a day as an adult.
Acting is the easiest job in the world, and I’m the luckiest guy. All I have to do is be at the studio on time, and know my lines. The wardrobe department tells me what to wear, the assistant director tells me where to go, the director tells me what to do. What could be easier?
For seventeen years it was Mr. Mayer [MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer] who guided me, and I never turned down a picture that he personally asked me to do.
I was this punk kid from Nebraska who had an awful lot of the world’s good things tossed in his lap.
I must confess that I objected strenuously to doing Song of Russia (1944) at the time it was made. I felt that it, to my way of thinking at least, did contain Communist propaganda.
It’s happens that I like the people of Nebraska. They’re the best, the most hospitable, the most honest, the most trustworthy people in our whole darned country. And you lucky Nebraskans who are still living there just believe me. I’ve been a lot of places, and I have met a lot of people, and I still say Nebraskaland has the best hunting and the best people in the whole country.
[About his childhood in Nebraska] I was not–I still am not–gregarious. I was then as I am now, uneasy when I am with more than one person. I preferred being alone on the prairie or in the woods, to playing football with the gang. After the school I didn’t play with the other kids. I liked to be alone by myself. An I was alone. I never ran with a group. I wasn’t unhappy. On the contrary, I read a lot. I wasn’t at all the dreamy sort. I had my horse. I had my bike. I always had a flock of animals to care for. I just had enough to do on my own and that’s how I preferred to do and be.
I got $35 a week and my mother, grandmother and I had to live on it. There was that awful night when I realized we had one thin dime in the world. I had been studying hard at the studio, trying to do everything they told me. But I seemed to be getting nowhere, and getting there fast. I had nothing and no prospects of ever getting anywhere. I hadn’t any chance of being a success in this business but I had confidence in myself. I knew I could land something – maybe a salesman’s job – and make more money than I had been getting. We would be all right, then. In the morning I went to Mr. Louis B. Mayer and asked him to release me from my contract.
In my freshman year  I played the leading role in the campus performance “Helena’s Boys”, greatly to the disgust of Professor Gray [Herbert B. Gray. Taylor's cello teacher from 1925 to 1931], who wanted to know why I fiddled about with such nonsense. He said that I should concentrate on the cello, that I had the makings of a concert artist, what had I to do with “playacting”? I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t know myself. I don’t know now. I only know that there was something in the musty smell of backstage that I like.
[about his role in Devil's Doorway (1950)] I admired the characterization because of the fact that the Indian, previously considered the “heavy” in early Westerns, is a regular guy. For once he gets a chance to tell his side of the story.
[October 23, 1947] I can name a few who seem to sort of disrupt things once in awhile. Whether or not they are Communists I don’t know . . . One chap we have currently, I think, is Mr. Howard Da Silva. He always seems to have something to say at the wrong time. Miss Karen Morleyalso usually appears at the guild meetings.
These investigations, the way they are being run in Washington at the moment, remind me more of a three-ring circus than of a sincere effort to rid the country of a real threat. There’s nothing any of us are going to tell them in Washington that the FBI didn’t know five years ago. Maybe it’s easier to call twenty friendly names from Hollywood than to have a look at the FBI files! Maybe it’s better publicity for the home-state electorate, too!
A screen metamorphosis is more psychology than histrionics. The thing is to analyze the character you are playing and then the various stages of self-development become a logical outgrowth of that individual finding himself.
When I went to college at Pomona, California, I still had no clear idea as to what I wanted to do. The operation on the settler must have made some sort of imprint on my mind, for I remember playing about with the idea of studying medicine. But I soon changed my mind, and, throwing overboard all intentions of wielding a scalpel, I took up economics! Sounds strange, doesn’t it? And, from economics, I drifted to psychology, where, for the first time, I “took root”. The subject interested me, and, in a very short time, I found myself studying it pretty deeply. But fate was already mapping out a different sort of career for me.
I do remember one event during this time  that seemed to me then to be some sort of landmark. This occurred when I was twelve, an emergency operation had to be performed on a snow-bound settler. The temperature was 12 below zero, but that didn’t matter. A man’s life was at stake–and so the operation had to go on. The kitchen table of the settler’s humble home was our operating table, and it fell to my lot to assist my father by getting the hot water ready, and sterilizing the instruments, after which there was nothing left for me to do except to watch, in a sort of half-hypnotized way, as the delicate incisions were made and the operation duly completed successfully.
[on Vivien Leigh] She was one of the most beautiful and talented ladies ever to grace a motion picture screen.
[on ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck] She is one of the finest actresses in show business. A lot of young actors and actresses could have profited then and now from a few “seminars” with “Missy” on their professional attitudes–their regard for the business of being an actor–on their on-stage and off-stage deportment as it were, because I doubt that there ever has been, or ever will be, a greater “pro” than Barbara.
“Know yourself”, said the wise old Greeks. That is the simple but profound maxim which, I am convinced, has been largely responsible for my feet stepping firmly up the movie ladder. Unless you do know yourself, your capabilities, and–what is perhaps more important still–your limitations, then opportunity will go on knocking on your door in vain. If you analyze yourself and find out your own strength and weaknesses, then you have taken the first step towards understanding others and being able to interpret them. In its more direct application to the film business this will result in there being less likelihood of any miscasting. And, by carrying out these principles I very soon learned to resist the temptation of “flying high” and playing roles for which I was temperamentally and physically unsuited.I have rigorously kept to that rule of only playing roles for which I know myself to be fitted.
[on Gary Cooper, after his death] Coop was the handsomest man- certainly one of the two or three best actors-ever to honor the ranks of the motion picture business. He was a very special man, darling, a very talented man, and probably felt forgotten. You can’t afford to get old in this business. It just walks away from you.
Looks are good or bad, according to taste. My appearance doesn’t fascinate me. But I’m not the one who has to be pleased either. It’s a big help to an actor if people like to look at him but it has nothing to do with acting.
Working with Greta Garbo during the making of La dama de las camelias (1936) was an inspiring experience I’ll never forget and that, doubtless, will leave its mark.
RT FAST FACTS
Real Name: Robert Spangler Taylor
Date of Birth: August 5, 1911
Place of Birth: Filley, Nebraska, USA
Date of Death: June 8, 1969
Place of Death: Santa Monica, California, USA
Cause of Death: lung cancer
Spouse #1: Barbara Stanwyck (1939 – 1951, divorced)
Spouse #2: Ursula Thiess (1954 – until his death; two children)
Nickname: “The Man with the Perfect Profile”
Directed 17 United States Navy training films during World War II
Interred at Forest Lawn, Glendale, California, USA in the Garden of Honor, Columbarium of the Evening Star
(Not accessible to the general public)
Maria Silvina Taylor granddaughter of Robert Spangler Taylor
Robert Taylor and his great-granddaughter Maria Silvina Taylor
Maria Silvina Taylor
August 7, 1990
Santa Monica, California, U.S.