He was one of the biggest stars of the 1930s and 40s. And yet today many people have no idea who Robert Taylor was and how successful a career he had.
Here he is (above) during his early years when he started as a handsome “juvenile” lead. He developed into an ultra-handsome Hollywood figure — known informally as “the man with the perfect profile” — and one of MGM’s most prominent leading men.
Still in all, Taylor remains a bit off-putting. He often comes across as an overly manicured and wooden actor, perhaps a slightly senior version of an early Gregory Peck (five years younger than Taylor).
Offsetting that impression, however, is the range of roles the actor took on. Especially in some very good crime dramas, notably the film noir High Wall opposite Audrey Totter.
Did you know that he was notoriously underpaid at MGM even during his peak years?
Why? Well, Taylor liked his job and, as improbable as this sounds today, also liked his studio bosses. He was pretty much a happy camper. (Would the same could be said for Taylor’s first of two wives, Barbara Stanwyck, pictured below.) He remained at MGM for a remarkably long period, 24 years from 1934 to 1958.
Although his manicured good looks made him a star, his glossy appearance seemed to get in his way as an actor. To his credit, he took on some tough roles as well as all those costume dramas (eg. 1952’s Ivanhoe and 1953’s Knights of the Round Table).
Late in his career he put on some weight, which helped in his role as Captain Matt Holbrook on the successful television series, The Detectives, which ran on ABC from 1959 to 1962. Appearing in the cast were Adam West and Ursula Theiss, Taylor’s second wife.
Some Robert Taylor tidbits:
— Yes, Taylor’s had the good looks and scrubbed manner of a classic British stage actor. But he was anything but. He was born Spangler Arlington Brugh in 1911 in the plains of Nebraska, and always described himself as a proud Cornhusker.
— As mentioned above, Taylor’s first marriage was to Barbara Stanwyck. It lasted from 1939 to 1952.
— Taylor and fellow MGM stalwart Clark Gable got along well. They were lifelong friends, and Taylor was a pallbearer at Gable’s funeral in November 1960.
— Taylor’s personal favorite of his movies was 1940’s Waterloo Bridge, a classic melodrama about a World War I soldier and a fallen ballet dancer. Taylor’s costar is Vivien Leigh. Worth a look.
As as often happens with handsome leading men, Taylor (as did Peck) got better as he got older. His career was a long one, nearly 80 movie and tv credits over a 35-year span. And Taylor had considerable success starring in various roles in war movies, elaborate costume dramas, noirs and even as an American Indian fighting in the Civil War.
By all accounts Taylor disliked the “pretty boy” tag that dogged him throughout much of his career, and often pushed for challenging parts. The evidence is that he succeeded both in the movies and later on television. A heavy smoker, Taylor died young in 1969 of lung cancer at age 57 .