Robert Taylor (actor)

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Robert Taylor
Robert Taylor in Waterloo Bridge trailer.jpg
in Waterloo Bridge (1940)
BornSpangler Arlington Brugh Taylor.
(1911-08-05)August 5, 1911
Filley, Nebraska, U.S.
DiedJune 8, 1969(1969-06-08) (aged 57)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Lung cancer
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
ResidenceRobert Taylor Ranch
Other namesLieut Robert Taylor USNR
Alma materDoane College
Pomona College
Years active1934–1968
Spouse(s)Barbara Stanwyck (m. 1939–51)
Ursula Thiess (m. 1954–69)
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Robert Taylor
Robert Taylor in Waterloo Bridge trailer.jpg
in Waterloo Bridge (1940)
BornSpangler Arlington Brugh Taylor.
(1911-08-05)August 5, 1911
Filley, Nebraska, U.S.
DiedJune 8, 1969(1969-06-08) (aged 57)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Lung cancer
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
ResidenceRobert Taylor Ranch
Other namesLieut Robert Taylor USNR
Alma materDoane College
Pomona College
Years active1934–1968
Spouse(s)Barbara Stanwyck (m. 1939–51)
Ursula Thiess (m. 1954–69)

Robert Taylor (August 5, 1911 – June 8, 1969) was an American film and television actor who was one of the most popular leading men of his time.

Taylor began his career in films in 1934 when he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 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 Corps, where he worked as a flight instructor and appeared in instructional films. From 1959 to 1962, he starred in the ABC 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 in June 1969 at the age of 57.

Early life[edit]

Born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, Nebraska, he was the son of Ruth Adaline (née Stanhope) and Spangler Andrew Brugh, who was a farmer turned doctor.[1][2] 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.[3]

As a teenager, Brugh was a track star and played the cello in his high school orchestra. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska.[4] While at Doane, he took cello lessons from Professor Herbert E. Gray, a man whom he admired and idolized. After Professor Gray announced he was accepting a new position at Pomona College in Los Angeles, Brugh moved to California and enrolled at Pomona.[5] He joined the campus theatre group and was eventually spotted by an MGM talent scout in 1932 after production of Journey's End.[citation needed]


He signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with an initial salary of $35 a week, which rose to $2500 by 1936.[6] The studio changed his name to Robert Taylor.[7] He made his film debut in the 1934 comedy, Handy Andy, starring Will Rogers (on a loan-out to 20th Century Fox). His first leading role was in an MGM short subject called Buried Loot. Irene Dunne requested him for her leading man in Magnificent Obsession. This was followed by Camille, opposite Greta Garbo.[8]

Taylor and Jean Harlow, 1937

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. 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 opposite Lana Turner. After playing a tough sergeant in Bataan in 1943, Taylor contributed to the war effort by becoming a flying instructor in U.S. Naval Air Corps.[9] 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 and High Wall. In 1949, he co-starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Conspirator. In 1950, Taylor landed the role of General Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis, opposite Deborah Kerr. The epic film was a hit, grossing US$11 million in its first run.[8] The following year, he starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor 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. 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 in 1955 co-starring Eleanor Parker called Many Rivers To Cross. In 1958 he shared the lead with Richard Widmark in the edgy John Sturges western, The Law and Jake Wade. In 1958, he left MGM and formed his own production company, Robert Taylor Productions, and the following year, he starred in the ABC hit television series The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (1959–1962). Following the end of the series in 1962, Taylor continued to appear in films and television including A House Is Not a Home and two episodes of Hondo.

Robert Taylor received the 1953 World Film Favorite – Male, award at the Golden Globes (tied with Alan Ladd).[10]

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, and Warner Brothers studio boss Jack Webb sold the network a replacement series, Temple Houston, starring Jeffrey Hunter as frontier lawyer Temple Lea Houston, an actual historical figure. WB had only six weeks to get the first episode of Temple Houston on the air, and the pilot was unusable. The series ran for only 26 weeks.[11]

In 1964, Taylor co-starred with his former wife, Barbara 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.[12] Taylor would remain with the series until his death in 1969.

Personal life[edit]

Marriages and children[edit]

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 matron of honor and her godfather, actor Buck Mack, was Taylor's best man.[13] Stanwyck divorced Taylor (reportedly at his request) in February 1951.[14] The couple had no children.[15]

Taylor met German actress Ursula Thiess in 1952. They married in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on May 23, 1954.[16] They had two children together, son Terrance (born 1955) and daughter Tessa (born 1959). Taylor was also stepfather to Thiess' two children from her previous marriage, Manuela and Michael Thiess.[17][18] On May 29, 1968, shortly before Taylor's death from lung cancer, Ursula Thiess found her son Michael's body in a West Los Angeles motel room.[19] He died from what was later determined to be 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 natural father with insecticide.[20][21]


Robert Taylor in 1957

In February 1944, Taylor helped found the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.[22] In October 1947, Taylor was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities regarding Communism in Hollywood.[23][24] He did this reluctantly, regarding the hearings as a "circus" and refusing to appear unless subpoenaed.[25] 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", becoming the first witness to "name names" by singling out actors Howard Da Silva and Karen Morley.[26] Taylor alleged that at meetings of the SAG, Da Silva "always had something to say at the wrong time", and these remarks ultimately resulted in Da Silva being hounded out of Hollywood and blacklisted on Broadway and New York radio,[27] while Morley never worked again after her name surfaced at the hearings.[28] Taylor went on to declare that he would refuse to work with anyone who was even 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".[29] Taylor also labeled screenwriter Lester Cole "reputedly a Communist", while adding, "I would not know personally".[30] In consequence, Cole was sent to prison and was never able to write again under his own name.[31] After the hearings, Taylor's films were banned in Hungary and in Czechoslovakia and there were calls to boycott his films in France.[32]


In 1952, Taylor starred in the film Above and Beyond, a biopic of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets.[33] 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.


Taylor owned a 34-room home 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 $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 took from New Stream Capital.[34][35]

In November 2012, The Robert Taylor ranch was put up for auction by the trust that owned it. The Ranch was purchased for $12 million by a Chicago buyer in December 2012.[34][35]


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.[36] 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.[15][37]

Taylor's funeral was held on June 11 at the Church of Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.[38] 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, and Taylor's ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck.[39]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Robert Taylor has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.[4]


1934Handy AndyLloyd Burmeister
1934The Spectacle MakerThe Duchess's ParamourShort subject
1934There's Always TomorrowArthur WhiteAlternative title: Too Late for Love
1934A Wicked WomanBill Renton—Rosanne's Love
1934Crime Does Not Pay #1: Buried LootAl DouglasShort subject
1935Society DoctorDr. Ellis
1935Times Square LadySteven J. "Steve" Gordon
1935West Point of the Air"Jasky" Jaskarelli
1935Murder in the FleetLt. Randolph
1935Broadway Melody of 1936Robert Gordon
1935La Fiesta de Santa BarbaraHimselfShort subject
1935Magnificent ObsessionDr. Robert Merrick
1936Small Town GirlDr. Robert "Bob" DakinAlternative title: One Horse Town
1936Private NumberRichard Winfield
1936His Brother's WifeChris Claybourne
1936Gorgeous Hussy, TheThe Gorgeous Hussy"Bow" Timberlake
1936CamilleArmand Duval
1937Personal PropertyRaymond Dabney aka FergusonAlternative title: The Man in Possession
1937This Is My AffairLt. Richard L. Perry
1937Lest We ForgetHimselfShort subject
1937Broadway Melody of 1938Stephan "Steve" Raleigh
1938Yank at Oxford, AA Yank at OxfordLee Sheridan
1938Three ComradesErich Lohkamp
1938Crowd Roars, TheThe Crowd RoarsTommy "Killer" McCoy
1939Stand Up and FightBlake Cantrell
1939Lucky NightBill Overton
1939Lady of the TropicsWilliam "Bill" Carey
1939Remember?Jeffrey "Jeff" Holland
1940Waterloo BridgeRoy Cronin
1940EscapeMark PreysingAlternative title: When the Door Opened
1940Flight CommandEnsign Alan Drake
1941Billy the KidBilly Bonney
1941When Ladies MeetJimmy Lee
1942Johnny EagerJohn "Johnny" Eager
1942Her Cardboard LoverTerry Trindale
1942Stand by for ActionLieutenant Gregg MastermanAlternative title: Cargo of Innocents
1943BataanSergeant Bill Dane
1943Youngest Profession, TheThe Youngest ProfessionCameo
1944Song of RussiaJohn Meredith
1944The Fighting LadyNarratorCredited as Lieut Robert Taylor USNR
1946UndercurrentAlan Garroway
1947High WallSteven Kenet
1949Bribe, TheThe BribeRigby
1949ConspiratorMajor Michael Curragh
1950AmbushWard Kinsman
1950Devil's DoorwayLance Poole
1951Challenge the WildernessHimselfShort subject
1951Quo VadisMarcus Vinicius
1951Westward the WomenBuck Wyatt
1952IvanhoeSir Wilfred of Ivanhoe
1952Above and BeyondLieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets
1952The HoaxtersNarrator
1953I Love MelvinHimself
1953Ride, Vaquero!Rio
1953All the Brothers Were ValiantJoel Shore
1953Knights of the Round TableLancelot
1954Valley of the KingsMark Brandon
1954Rogue CopDet. Sgt. Christopher Kelvaney
1955Many Rivers to CrossBushrod Gentry
1955Adventures of Quentin Durward, TheThe Adventures of Quentin DurwardQuentin Durward
1956Last Hunt, TheThe Last HuntCharlie Gilson
1956D-Day the Sixth of JuneCaptain Brad Parker
1956The Power and the PrizeCliff Barton
1957Tip on a Dead JockeyLloyd Tredman
1958Law and Jake Wade, TheThe Law and Jake WadeJake Wade
1958Saddle the WindSteve Sinclair
1958Party GirlThomas "Tommy" Farrell
1959The HangmanMackenzie Bovard
1959House of the Seven Hawks, TheThe House of the Seven HawksNordley
1960Killers of KilimanjaroRobert Adamson
1963Miracle of the White StallionsColonel PodhajskyAlternative title: The Flight of the White Stallions
1963Cattle KingSam BrassfieldAlternative title: Cattle King of Wyoming
1964House Is Not a Home, AA House Is Not a HomeFrank Costigan
1964The Night WalkerBarry Morland
1966Johnny TigerGeorge Dean
1966Savage PampasCaptain Martin
1967The Glass SphinxProf. Karl Nichols
1968The Day the Hot Line Got HotAndersonAlternative title: Hot Line
1968Where Angels Go, Trouble FollowsMr. Farriday – The 'In' Group
1958The Thin ManHimselfEpisode: "The Scene Stealer"
1959–1962The Detectives Starring Robert TaylorDet. Capt. Matt Holbrook97 episodes
1963The Dick Powell ShowGuest hostEpisode: "Colossus"
1966–1969Death Valley DaysHost77 episodes
1967Return of the GunfighterBen WyattTelevision film
1967HondoGallagher2 episodes



  1. ^ Wagner, Laura. "Robert Taylor: Matinee Idol." Films of the Golden Age. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  2. ^ Wayne 2005, p. 165.
  3. ^ Kral, E. A. "Robert Taylor of Beatrice: The Nebraska Roots of a Hollywood Star". Nebraska History Quarterly, Vol. 75, 1994, pp. 280–290. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Torgerson, Dial. "Hollywood Star Walk: Robert Taylor." Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1969. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  5. ^ Wayne 2005, p. 166.
  6. ^ Hall 1937, p. 42.
  7. ^ Wayne 2005, p. 167.
  8. ^ a b Griffith, Benjamin. "Robert Taylor." St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture, 2002. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  9. ^ "Robert Taylor ends Navy duty." "The Free Lance-Star, November 6, 1945, p. 2. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  10. ^ "1953 World Film Favorite." Golden Globes. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  11. ^ Hathorn, Billy. "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967." West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89, 2013, p. 106.
  12. ^ Witbeck, Charles. "Taylor sparks 'Death Valley Days'." The Modesto Bee, April 7, 1967/ Retrieved: January 23, 2013.
  13. ^ "Barbara Stanwyck weds Robert Taylor on coast." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 15, 1939, p. 1. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  14. ^ "Calm Barbara Stanwyck divorces Robert Taylor." Eugene Register-Guard, February 21, 1951, p. 1. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  15. ^ a b "Lung cancer claims life of actor Robert Taylor." Edmonton Journal, June 9, 1969, p. 9. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  16. ^ "Robert Taylor, Ursula Thiess wed." Times Daily, May 24, 1954, p. 4. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  17. ^ "Boy is born to German actress, Robert Taylor." Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 19, 1955, p. 14. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  18. ^ "Robert Taylor father of girl." Lakeland Ledger, August 17, 1959, p. 6. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  19. ^ "Robert Taylor's stepson dead." The Bulletin, May 28, 1969, p. 7B. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  20. ^ "Actress discovers son dead." The Leader-Post, May 28, 1969, p. 6. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  21. ^ Wayne 2005, p. 192.
  22. ^ Ross 2002, p. 197.
  23. ^ Imwold et al. 2005, pp. 188–189.
  24. ^ "Reds are blasted by Robert Taylor." The Montreal Gazette, October 23, 1947, p. 2. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  25. ^ Alexander 2008, pp. 193–235.
  26. ^ Slide 199, p. 1.
  27. ^ Balio 1985, p. 499.
  28. ^ "Karen Morley, 93, blacklisted actress." Sun-Sentinel, April 21, 2003. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  29. ^ Madsen 2001, p. 250.
  30. ^ Humphries 2008, p. 83.
  31. ^ "Lester Cole, blacklisted in `Hollywood 10`." The New York Times, August 19, 1985.
  32. ^ Mayhew 2005, p. 90.
  33. ^ "Brig-Gen Paul Tibbets." The Telegraph, November 2, 2007. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  34. ^ a b Groves, Martha. "Actor Robert Taylor's former ranch is set to go on auction block." Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2012. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  35. ^ a b Groves. Martha. "Robert Taylor ranch sells for $12 million to Chicago buyer." Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2012. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  36. ^ "Taylor has cancer." Herald-Journal, December 4, 1968, p. 24. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  37. ^ Wayne 2005, p. 191.
  38. ^ Robert Taylor at Find a Grave
  39. ^ "Gov. Reagan hails Taylor at funeral." The Spokesman-Review, June 11, 1969, p. 25. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.


  • Alexander, Linda J. Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism. Twentynine Palms, California: Tease Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-934678-64-0.
  • Balio, Tino. The American Film Industry. Madison Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.ISBN 0-29909-874-5.
  • Hall, Gladys. Robert Taylor's True Life Story. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1937.
  • Humphries, Reynold. Hollywood's Blacklists: A Political and Cultural History. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. ISBN 0-7-4862-456-2.
  • Imwold, Denise, Andrew Brettell, Heather von Rohr and Warren Hsu Leonard.Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Hauppauge, New York: Barrons Educational Series, 2005. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
  • Madsen, Axel. Stanwyck. Lincoln Nebraska: iUniverse, 2001. ISBN 0-595-19398-6.
  • Mayhew, Robert. Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood. Lanham Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005. ISBN 0-81085-276-4.
  • Quirk, Lawrence J. The Films of Robert Taylor. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1979. ISBN 978-0-8065-0495-7.
  • Ross, Steven J. Movies and American Society (Blackwell Readers in American Social and Cultural History). Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. ISBN 0-631-21960-9.
  • Slide, Anthony. Actors on Red Alert: Career Interviews with Five Actors and Actresses Affected by the Blacklist. Lanham Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1999. ISBN 0-81083-649-1.
  • Tibbets, Paul W. Mission: Hiroshima. New York: Stein & Day, 1985. ISBN 0-8128-8169-9
  • Tranberg, Charles. Robert Taylor: a Biography. Albany, Georgia, Bear Manor Media, 2011. ISBN 978-1-59393-615-0
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Leading Men of MGM. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7867-1475-9.
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Life of Robert Taylor. New York: Warner Paperback Library, 1973. ISBN 978-0-446-76103-1.

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