Taylor and Stanwyck–The Long Goodbye

The marriage of Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck was an odd one from the start.  They met in 1936 on a blind date just before working together in “His Brother’s Wife.”  There seemed to be a mutual attraction from the start but at this point MGM did not want Mr. Taylor to marry.  They had already scuttled his engagement to Irene Hervey.  Nevertheless the two became close and lived on adjoining ranches.  They were considered a couple.  In January of 1939 Photoplay magazine published a lengthy article about “Hollywood’s unmarried couples,” naming Taylor and Stanwyck, Gable and Lombard and others.

This changed MGM’s mind and the couples were encouraged to marry.  In fact, the Taylor-Stanwyck union was essentially an arranged marriage. The arrangements for their May 1939 wedding were made by the studio and the only say Mr. Taylor had in it all was “I do.”  Whether they would have married on their own is doubtful, although possible. From all reports, Stanwyck’s emotional commitment was far greater than Taylor’s.

Nonetheless, the marriage lasted for nearly twelve years.  It wasn’t a marriage of equals–Stanwyck considered herself Taylor’s teacher and called him Junior.  He called her the Queen.  Given his tremendous dislike of confrontation, she was able to have things her way.

Within two years of the marriage, he had begun to stray with a fling of some sort with Lana Turner.  Stanwyck was devastated and some reports say she cut her wrists to hold onto him.  Robert Taylor continued to see other women during his marriage, included having affairs with Ava Gardner and Eleanor Parker  The fact that the Taylors were separated so much–including his three year stint in the Navy–probably prolonged the marriage.

In 1950 Mr. Taylor spent most of the year in Rome making “Quo Vadis.”  He indulged in an active social life, including a very public dalliance with Italian starlet Lia de Leo.  Stanwyck flew to Rome to confront him and ask for a divorce.  This is widely thought to have been a ruse to hold on to him rather than an actual desire to separate.  In any case, to her horror, he accepted.  Stanwyck stayed in Italy for six weeks, during which they apparently negotiated their future.  The pictures below are from those six weeks, taken in Rome and Venice. Note the Italian couple marching by them as they pose in one shot.

On February 21, 1951 Barbara Stanwyck divorced Robert Taylor.  The divorce became final a year later.  As part of the settlement, she was granted 15% of his gross earnings until she remarried or died.  No one expected him to die first.  The two remained friends despite everything and Stanwyck never remarried.  She did collect her money religiously and by some reports, tried to get more from Mr. Taylor’s estate.  Despite this, she always claimed that he was her one true love.

(This material comes from too many sources to name, but I’ve tried to be accurate.)

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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33 Responses to Taylor and Stanwyck–The Long Goodbye

  1. ralphm1999 says:

    This is very interesting. May I add a bit of trivia. I was standing in for Robert Taylor on The Detectives early 1960s. Both his show and The Big Valley were in production at the same time on the Four Star lot (the former Republic Studios and now called the CBS Studio Center). The Big Valley’s permanent stage was 3 stages away from The Detectives permanent stage in the same row. Often as I entered or left the stage I would see Robert Taylor standing just outside the stage door and Barbara Stanwyck as well standing just outside the door of her stage staring at each other but never getting closer to each other than that (at least while in my view). The stares were so intense I wondered what was going through their minds.

    • giraffe44 says:

      <td style="text-align: left;" align="left"; width="350" height="178" colspan="1" background="cid:top@ed31458861a4fe35efe2882a299a324e"Ralph, this is fascinating.  For them to be so close must have been difficult for both. According to Ursula Thiess’ book, Mr. Taylor was really angry with Stanwyck. She found him one day yelling at the TV when Stanwyck was flogging a young man saying things like, “That’s it, that’s what you like to do.”Do you mind if I pass this on to a couple of friends?Judith Evans Hanhisalo

      • ralphm1999 says:

        Sure pass it on. I should read Ursula’s book. That’s so interesting what you said. That was probably a complicated dynamic in all three of their lives especially considering Bob and Barabara working on the same lot with frequent visits by Ursula to his set and doing occasional parts in the series. I wonder if Ursula mentions any of this in her book.

      • giraffe44 says:

        <td style="text-align: left;" align="left"; width="350" height="178" colspan="1" background="cid:top@26158f89f7f3d2917c17fdba1866690f"Ursula mentions being on “The Detectives.”  She also talks about wanted to establish contact with Stanwyck, invite her to their home etc.  Taylor would never allow it.  She didn’t come there until he was dying when she made one visit.  She also made a fuss at his funeral. As you say, a very complicated relationship.Judith Evans Hanhisalo

  2. ralphm1999 says:

    I’m now thinking my memory is a bit faulty. Looking at IMDB the dates don’t seem to match. Most likely these events occurred during the filming of the Robert Taylor Show a few years later which could overlap with the beginning of The Big Valley. I stood in for him also on that short lived series and the stages were the same.

    • giraffe44 says:

      <td style="text-align: left;" align="left"; width="350" height="178" colspan="1" background="cid:top@45fe70b1852c3bf0124f5699707c0b2f"Whatever happened to that show?Judith Evans Hanhisalo

      • ralphm1999 says:

        According to IMDB:

        Four episodes were filmed but the series was canceled before an episode aired. The series was to be based on official files from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. When NBC realized that the producers had not gotten permission to use the department’s files, the network canceled the series.

      • giraffe44 says:

        <td style="text-align: left;" align="left"; width="350" height="178" colspan="1" background="cid:top@1def7ed27f74c9b95b776b6871745bf2"Careless of them. It sounds like it would have been interesting and different.Judith Evans Hanhisalo

  3. Sheree says:

    I always read that Taylor was a major Mama’s boy, big time Mama’s at that and that his mother lived with he and Stanwyck most of their married life. Can’t you just imagine the stress his doting mother living with them must have caused in their marriage? And of course, Mama always came first with Robert no matter who the lady was in his life. Must have been an awful strain for Barbara trying to compete with his mother for his love, attention, well anything really. Mama always getting in your business and of course on always on Robert’s side even if he is in the wrong! Barbara must have felt like an outsider in her own home. Shame on Robert for putting Barbara in that situation and not giving her the love she needed and deserved. Mama should have been moved out of the home!!! To the guest house or better yet off the property but definitely out of the house so they couldn’t double team Barbara. She must have stayed on pins and needles constantly. I also don’t agree with the comment that this was a one sided relationship. Robert pursued Barbara relentlessly not her him!!!

    • giraffe44 says:

      Robert Taylor’s mother never lived with him and Ms. Stanwyck. Her “uncle” Buck Mack did live with them for several years. Mr. Taylor provided his mother with her own home and had to move in with her after the divorce. I just think that they were very different people, even more different when Mr. Taylor returned from the war. Ms. Stanwyck was an amazing actress but she doesn’t seem to have been especially interested in domestic life. Thanks for writing.

    • TWDfan says:

      Mr. Taylor was very persistent in courting Barbara in the beginning of the relationship, which is discussed in detail in Victoria Wilson’s biography of Ms. Stanwyck. It seems he only started to lose interest after they were married…typical male reaction, ha! I don’t know why he never seemed to be satisfied with her once they married. I think he had very old fashioned ideas about what a wife should be (probably from seeing his parents’ marriage) and Barbara was not the type to give up all she had worked for to please someone else. The second Mrs. Taylor, I guess, didn’t mind doing that. It’s just sad that he found happiness in his personal life but Ms. Stanwyck, no matter how she tried, was always disappointed by those she loved.

      • giraffe44 says:

        I think that Ms. Stanwyck and Mr. Taylor had a genuinely loving relationship at the start. But they were, in my opinion, very different people and the cracks began to show pretty quickly. Robert Taylor was never consumed by his profession and wanted a full life outside of the movies. He was also, as you say, influenced by his parents’ marriage. Barbara Stanwyck, on the other hand, was utterly devoted to her work and didn’t have much left over for family. I think it’s very sad that Ms. Stanwyck didn’t move on with her life after the divorce, attempting to hang on to Mr. Taylor through the alimony. Ursula Thiess didn’t give up anything. She wasn’t devoted to acting and found her personal satisfaction in family life, as have lots of other women. Thank you for writing, your thoughts are very interesting.

      • TWDfan says:

        Yes she should have given up on the alimony after all that time but it may have been that, after many years, it was something that she just didn’t really think about. It probably was all handled by her business manager anyway.
        Mrs. Taylor (Ursula) apparently was satisfied with her family life, which is fine. I’ve read a few passages of her autobiography and she wrote about some episodes where Bob was bitter toward Barbara too. And it sounded like she also harbored some bitterness toward Barbara. Stanwyck, for all her bad points, never said an unkind word about Mrs. Taylor in public or in private (according to the accounts of her close friends).

      • candy carter says:

        Maybe she was so hurt that no one could ever fill that void

      • giraffe44 says:

        Very likely but I think she also liked to tie him to her with the alimony. Thanks for writing.

  4. giraffe44 says:

    Robert Taylor had his foibles about money, as did so many people who lived through the depression. Apparently he worried about “going to the poorhouse” which was also a favorite theme of my mother’s. He was unhappy that his whole salary for “Night Walker” went to Ms. Stanwyck. Despite this, all three of them behaved very well in public–never saying anything negative about the others. In fact, Mr. Taylor always had the highest praise for Ms. Stanwyck as an actress. Nor did she let her bitterness show. Mrs. Taylor hated anything that hurt her husband and he did have some emotional scars. In my opinion, they were all three very fine people and it’s a shame that it couldn’t work out for all of them in the end. I appreciate your comments.

  5. June says:

    Very interesting reading Judith. Must have been posted prior to my discovering your blog as I have not read it before.

  6. giraffe44 says:

    The relationship between Mr. Taylor and Ms. Stanwyck is fascinating. Since they were so discreet we’ll never know it all. There is a story by a man who worked as Mr. T’s TV stand-in that both Mr. T and Ms. S were filming at the same studio and one day he saw them standing outside their individual sound stages just looking at one another not saying a word. Complicated people, both of them.

    • candy carter says:

      I think they loved each other but he wanted to be the man of the house and she had trust issues do to frank fay

  7. Dani says:

    I have read a few books about them. She was not domestic. He wanted a domestic life aside from Hollywood. He was not enthusiastic about marrying her. They should have gone their seperate ways rather than marry. He lost his attraction to her. She seemed to have been somewhat emotionally abusive towards him, maybe because he stopped having sex with her. He did respect her. She claims he was the love of her life. I doubt it. She had no one else to fill that role so she gave it to him. He hunted game often by herding the animals into an area where they could not escape. He and his friends would slaughter them. She hated hunting and she especially hated his style of doing it. She was terrified of flying. He flew planes. What were they ever doing together? The love of her life really was her work otherwise she would have been more of a traditional wife to Taylor. His second marriage by all accounts was happy and successful. Good for him. Good for Stanwyck too for being true to herself.

  8. Dani says:

    True Steel by Victoria Wison

    • giraffe44 says:

      Mr. Taylor did hunt and fish, though not under the circumstances you describe. The only reference to hunting and fishing in that book is on pages 799-800, which talk almost exclusively about skeet shooting. The title, by the way, is “Steel True,” not “True Steel.”

      • sanford943 says:

        I doubt at this point any one might see this. I am reading the Victoria Wilson book now. I have a 120 pages to go so not up to when they got married. However he was in love with her and wanted to marry her. So I don’t know if this was something staged by the studio. Stanwyck had a pretty bad marriage to Frank Fay. The picture A Star is Born is based on their marriage. Fay was much older than Stanwyck. He was a big star went to Hollywood. He was in pictures that were never successful. Stanwyck considered herself a theater person and wasn’t thrilled about going to Hollywood. She began making movies and became a bigger star than Fay. Fay was a drunk, had accidents, spent time in sanatoriums. He turned out strange. I am sure alcohol had something to do with that.

        This bio will eventually be 2 volumes. You certainly learn a lot about Stanwyck and Hollywood.

      • giraffe44 says:

        I like the Wilson book although I don’t think it needed to be so long. There is a lot of padding. Nonetheless she does provide a lot of interesting information. I thought that she, unlike most Stanwyck biographers, was pretty fair to Robert Taylor. Maybe the marriage to Fay made Ms. Stanwyck determined to be the dominant one in her second marriage–I don’t know. I don’t think they were a good fit although both of them tried to make it work. Thanks for writing.

      • sanford943 says:

        Thanks for responding. Since reading your post I reached the point where Wilson wrote about the news paper article about all the hollywood types living together or having affairs. At 69 I thought I knew plenty about Hollywood. But I knew nothing about Robert Taylor, much less knowing he was married to Stanwyck. In fact I don’t think I knew about Fay. So while as you say the book is a little padded I have gained some knowledge about movie stars from the silent and the start of sound that I had not known about. For example I certainly know who Mary Astor is but had no clue about the diary she wrote. Anyway I hope Wilson finishes the 2nd volume before I am gone.

  9. I’m 71 so I know what you mean. Thanks again for writing.

  10. June Alexander says:

    Amazing Judith, you started this blog in 2012 and it is still being read and having responses made to it. How rewarding for you and so interesting to read other comments.

    • Hi, June. Yes, 4 years later and almost 250 followers. I never actually expected anyone to look–I was doing it because I wanted to. Instead, I’ve “met” people from all over the world and found a lot of interest in this wonderful man.You’ve been a big part of it and I appreciate it so much. I’d love to go to the gathering in Nebraska later this month but I can’t. 😦. Thanks for writing–and for being a friend.

  11. Marta says:

    I am a italian fan of Robert Taylor and I know his life and all his film, I think Robert Taylor are not only a beautiful man but also a great man: he was a cultured man, a musicist and a dancer. Sorry for my bad Enghish. , .

  12. marta says:

    Thank you. I think also that Bob Taylor was a actor not estimated. In Quo Vadis the most important role was of Peter Ustinovof,, white was Marco Vinicio the most important role.

  13. Mr. Taylor was always undervalued partly because of his outstanding good looks and partly because of his political views. I think maybe the two biographies and Turner Classic Movies have helped, at least in the USA.

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