Joan Crawford Talks About Bob Taylor

I recently ran across this on Joan Crawford: the Best of Everything, a site every Joan Crawford fan should visit.  I highly doubt Crawford had anything to do with it.  It reads like a publication of the MGM publicity department, which doesn’t make it any less interesting.

Hollywood Magazine, September 1936

“You have to know Bob to fully appreciate him,” says Joan Crawford. And then she tells of having watched women visitors on the set watching him. They come hoping for a peek at him because he is as handsome off the screen as he is on. One look satisfies them. But after a while they discover there is more to be found out about him.

Taylor and Crawford in “The Gorgeous Hussy,” 1936

They see his easy, graceful naturalness, his thoughtfulness of others, they observe his serious workmanship before a camera, they hear his laugh, and they turn to each other and you see their mouths forming the words, “Say, you know he’s all right!”
Joan can appreciate this tinge of surprise in their attitude because she, in a way, has experienced the same thing herself. She, too, has found that there is a lot more to Bob than a beautiful hairline, a broad pair of shoulders and a distinctive nose.

If you are one of Bob’s fans you can appreciate what Joan Crawford means. There have been hundreds of letters wanting to know what Bob Taylor is really like — whether he is a swell, likable fellow, or whether he is “just good-looking,” with only good looks to recommend him. This suspicion is only natural. All beautiful heroes and heroines come in for it during the early part of their career. It’s a result of the “beautiful but dumb” phase which has been repeated for years. Not knowing Bob, one is quite apt to think: “With so many physical attributes, he can’t have much else!”

“We think even Joan Crawford had this attitude about him at first. We know that some time ago when Joan gave a Sunday afternoon soiree for an important musical personality, Irene Hervey, whom Bob was squiring at the time, was invited but Bob was not. Though Joan had met Bob with Irene it just never occurred to her that he would be interested in a musical gathering of that kind. But that was before they started working together on The Gorgeous Hussy. That was before Joan learned to know him as she does now. Perhaps in her “discovery” of the Bob Taylor behind the Good Looks Taylor, you’ll gain a clearer picture of him too.

“The first day we started to work both of us were extremely nervous,” Joan says. “It was my first costume picture just as it was his. Both of us were trying to adjust ourselves to our costumes and to each other.”

There was a time when Joan Crawford did not dream she and Bob Taylor shared the same interests. Not until she played in a film with him did she learn to know and like the handsome young star.

Her first surprise came when Bob said he didn’t think he was going to like wearing costumes. “I feel too fussed up, too dressed up, too showy — you know what I mean, as though I were on parade. I don’t like being on parade. Do I have to wear these sideburns?” Bob was not pretending. We know, because since that time we have watched him at work in His Brother’s Wife. It’s a story of a doctor’s struggle in the South Seas. Throughout the picture he wears a pair of slacks and a white shirt, open at the neck, sleeves rolled up. His hair is uncombed, tousled. “This is great,” he said. “I don’t have to keep fixing myself up!

But since most actors do like to “fix themselves up” this revelation naturally came as a surprise to Joan and the others on The Gorgeous Hussy set. Point number one in Bob’s favor: a boy who likes to act but who doesn’t like to act like an actor.

Then there was his intense desire to please. Joan and Bob had a difficult scene together the very first day of shooting. As they took their places for a rehearsal, Bob said: “Miss Crawford, I’d appreciate it very much if you would tell me how you’d like me to play this…if you have any suggestions.”

James Stewart, Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor in “The Gorgeous Hussy,” 1936

Startled for a moment, Joan looked at him. Then she smiled, and a memory seemed to flit across her face. “Play it just the way you feel like playing it,” she said. “I know you will do all right.”

Afterwards she explained that years ago when she was making Possessed she had asked exactly the same question of Clarence Brown — her director then, as he is now in The Gorgeous Hussy — and that she had given Bob the same answer Brown had given her. “But I was only beginning when I asked that question,” Joan added.

“You think I’m not now! You don’t know what a beginner I am!” Bob retorted. “Anyway, thank you for giving me the confidence I needed.”

The world says he has “arrived.” Bob says he still has much to learn…that he’s just beginning. This is what you call keeping a balance in the perilously unbalanced Hollywood.

Most of his efforts to please were less obvious and most amusing. Bob Davis, his friend and stand-in, discovered Bob in his dressing room spraying his throat with a mouth wash. “Got a cold?” Davis asked. “No, a love scene with Miss Crawford,” Bob answered quickly. “She doesn’t smoke very much and I do.”

A scene like this from Gorgeous Hussy may arouse the envy of most fans but after all it is just acting! Cast together in this picture, Joan and Bob became fast friends.

Anent Bob’s smoking, a few days later he mentioned that he thought he’d give it up, because he wanted to gain some weight and he had heard that would help. Joan overheard him and the next morning at eleven there was a steaming milk drink at his elbow direct from Joan’s little portable grill. “Your second dose comes at three!” she told him. “Go on smoking. This is what will do the trick! Give your Aunt Joan a chance, and she’ll fatten you up. Look what she did for Franchot!”

Robert Taylor and Joan Crawford in “When Ladies Meet,” 1941

Yet, when we mentioned this to Bob he said, “Why Joan does things like that for everybody. She didn’t just single me out. Did you hear what she did for Mr. Barrymore…” and he was off on an anecdote about Lionel. Point number 3: his natural modesty.

In this respect we might also add that when Bob was talking about all the places he was going to see in New York — Grant’s tomb, the Aquarium, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge — someone said, “You won’t have time for all that! There’ll be so many women waiting to see you.” Bob’s only answer was “You’re kidding!” He thought it was kidding too, until he got there and was mobbed by half the women in Manhattan.

Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor, Greer Garson in “When Ladies Meet,” 1941

Then there was the discovery of Bob’s interest in music. As you know Joan always keys the moods of her scenes with music, and her phonograph is a fixed prop on every Joan Crawford set. One afternoon Joan was searching through one of her many albums — she and Franchot together have 3,200 records — for something appropriate for the next scene. She was having difficulty making a choice until Bob suggested a Brahms symphony which immediately hit the musical spot.

Joan looked at him with new interest but said nothing. The next noon when Bob, James Stewart, Melvyn Douglas and Clarence Brown returned early to the set from lunch, and they were playing some of Joan’s records, they came across one which featured a soprano voice singing an aria from Bellini’s opera Norma.

No one could place the singer. A dozen suggestions were made. Then Bob, who was listening attentively, suddenly spoke up: “You’re all wrong. I recognize that voice. It’s Joan Crawford’s!” And he went at once to find her to make her admit it. Joan looked at him, the second time, in amazement. “How did you know? You’ve never heard me sing! That’s one of my home recordings…it was in that album by mistake. How did you recognize it?”

“I recognized it because it recalled your speaking voice.” And he went on to explain that while he had never studied singing, he had worked under one of the finest cellists in the country, and that had naturally developed his appreciation of tone qualities…to learn a distinction in instruments is the same as learning distinction in voices.

Incidentally Bob sings a little ditty in The Gorgeous Hussy — “But not as a singer singing,” he insists. “Just as a fellow having fun. I wouldn’t want anybody to think I thought I had a voice. It’s a goofy old sea shanty, and as such it really doesn’t require any voice.

If all the world were paper,
And all the sea were ink,
If all the trees were bread and cheese,
What would we do for drink”

That and a couple of more verses like it is all there is to it!

But if Bob doesn’t take his singing seriously, he should at least take his dancing seriously, for he is a beautiful dancer. He and Joan do a Hornpipe together in the picture, but she discovered what an excellent ball room dancer he was when they took a turn or two around the set one day between scenes. And Joan isn’t the only who will attest to this Taylor prowess. Little Eleanor Whitney, who, like Joan, first won her fame dancing, says that he is one of the best she knows.

Robert Taylor’s 29th birthday with Herbert Marshall, Taylor, Joan Crawford and Louis B. Mayer

Still he never talks about any of these accomplishments. Bob Taylor is one of those people you are constantly finding things about — because you have to do literally that, find them out for yourself. He never volunteers. For example, if it hadn’t been for that cooped-up butterfly in Clarence Brown’s car, no one would have ever known that Bob was well schooled in entomology — the study of insects, to you!

Joan says that she discovered the butterfly on Clarence Brown’s steering wheel, and thought it was so beautiful that she caught it with her hat, to examine it closer. She was just about to call the museum and try to find out what species it was when Bob came along. “Oh, that’s a Tatilio Terganus,” he said. “Or sometimes, it’s called an Edward’s Swallowtail. They’re quite rare…bring $7.50 a pair.” Joan realizes that it’s a small point, but indicative. Bob has a keen knowledge on many such interesting subjects.

Naturally you can see where this was leading to…direct to a Sunday evening at Joan Crawford’s house…where Bob went one evening with Barbara Stanwyck. Barbara and Joan have been good friends for years. When Joan was married to Doug Fairbanks, Jr., Barbara and Frank Fay lived right across the street, so they’re really neighbors of long standing. But it wasn’t because Bob is now best beau to Barbara that he was invited to Joan’s. It was because Bob was Bob and because Joan wanted his friendship.

That is the greatest recommendation anyone can have in Hollywood for, as you know, all Joan’s friends have something distinctive about them. They are all busy, doing-things people. They are all “important” people, not in a business or social sense, but important of themselves, because they are worthwhile.

Joan pays her tribute in this way: “I find Bob most considerate and wholly unconscious of his growing popularity. Working with him has been delightful and I should love to make another picture with him. My only regret is that he didn’t have a bigger role in the picture. His part is small but rather than turn it down he said that he welcomes the experience he would gain from it. The only way I feel I can pay him back is by playing leading lady to him. Which I look forward to doing some day!”

An evening out for Franchot Tone, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, 1930s

That, from Joan Crawford, is a lot!

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About giraffe44

I became a Robert Taylor fan at the age of 15 when his TV show, "The Detectives" premiered. My mother wanted to watch it because she remembered Mr. Taylor from the thirties. I took one look and that was it. I spent the rest of my high school career watching Robert Taylor movies on late night TV, buying photos of him, making scrapbooks and being a typical teenager. College, marriage and career intervened. I remember being sad when Mr. Taylor died. I mailed two huge scrapbooks to Ursula Thiess. I hope she got them. Time passed, retirement, moving to Florida. Then in 2012 my husband Fred pointed that there were two Robert Taylor movies that evening on Turner Classic Movies--"Ivanhoe" and "Quentin Durward." I watched both and it happened all over again. I started this blog both for fans and for people who didn't know about Robert Taylor. As the blog passes 200,000 views I'm delighted that so many people have come by and hope it will help preserve the legacy of this fine actor and equally good man.
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