Hollywood, Feminism and Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor just out of college in 1933.

Robert Taylor just out of college in 1933.

I found this truly strange but not unconvincing article online. Although Robert Taylor’s photo is at the beginning, along with Clark Gable’s, he isn’t mentioned much in the article.  Despite this, I think it’s relevant to Mr. Taylor’s life so here it is.  It was probably written in 1935 when he was still not as well known as he would become.

If Ms. St. John is correct in this article, that Hollywood had developed a “new sex” of rich, self-reliant, female stars who approached men in the way men traditionally approached women, imagine the situation for Robert Taylor.

He arrived in Hollywood straight from college. He went to college straight from a conservative mid-west background. This “new sex” must have been a shock. Mr. Taylor was said to be pursued by Irene Hervey, Virginia Bruce, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Eleanor Parker, Virginia Grey, Linda Darnell, Pat Nixon, Yvonne De Carlo and Barbara Stanwyck, among others. Some of it is even true. Barbara Stanwyck caught him but in the long run, she wasn’t what he wanted.

Stanwyck overwhelms Taylor during World War II.

Stanwyck overwhelms Taylor during World War II.

Barbara Stanwyck was the ultimate symbol of the “new sex.”  She wasn’t under contract to a studio, managed her own career and in 1944 was the highest paid woman in America. (Wikipedia).  Mr. Taylor stayed with the same studio for a quarter of a century and, while he made a good salary, never equaled Stanwyck financially.  She met Robert Taylor on a blind date and didn’t look back until they were married. After their divorce she stayed single saying he had been the only man for her.

The right one at last--Ursula Thiess.

The right one at last–Ursula Thiess.

After divorcing the emasculating Stanwyck, Robert Taylor looked for a traditional woman who put being a wife and mother before her career.  He found her in German actress Ursula Thiess.  They married in 1954, had two children, and were very happy together until his death in 1969.

Ms.St. John isn’t interested in the effect  this “new sex” might have on men.  Nonetheless, this is a unique look at Hollywood. I’ve edited it for length.

Pursuit of the Hollywood He-Man

Adela Roberts St. John
Photoplay June 1936

It started, this idea, about the time Clark Gable and his wife separated. And about the time Robert Taylor became the rage on the screen. I first encountered it at a dance party where a world famous psychologist said to me that all Hollywood females were predatory in the extreme and that they pursued the Hollywood he men much more than they were pursued by them. Not being too sure about “predatory,” when I got home that night I sought my biggest “Webster’s” where I found that predatory is defined as: of, or pertaining to, or characterized by plundering.”

Taylor, Stanwyck & Gable golfing--probably taken by Carole Lombard.

Taylor, Stanwyck & Gable golfing–probably taken by Carole Lombard.

That upset me quite a good deal. Then I made a flight out to Hollywood from New York, where I had been working, and became aware that there was a good deal of gossip going on that might check with the eminent professor’s idea. His idea, simply stated, was that sex selection in Hollywood was done by the woman stars, the great screen beauties, and that the poor man didn’t have much of a chance. The Hollywood whispers were that half a dozen world renowned screen sirens had suddenly noticed young Robert Taylor, as he emerged from obscurity into the hearts of American women and that they were hot upon his trail.

All this startled me a little. I had never thought much about it one way or the other, but it had always seemed to me that the glamorous women of Hollywood, and they were the most fascinating women on earth—were pursued by the men, that they were sought by men and admired by them and wouldn’t have the slightest trouble getting any man on earth they wanted. Yet it was whispered to me across teacups and luncheon tables that the moment the beautiful Rhea Gable left her husband, a dozen Hollywood stars had marked him for their own and had set out to capture him.

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Did Ava Gardner catch Robert Taylor? Yes, according to her memoirs.

But the stories of the pursuit of Gable and Taylor—they seemed at the moment to be the two most sought after males in Hollywood—convinced me of a lot of interesting things about that most fascinating place. For Hollywood has become very fascinating again. After a rather drab and commercial era, while we were all scared to death after the advent of the talkies, it is full of opera stars and foreigners and temperament again, and love affairs and glamor. I left it, a few years ago, because nobody was having fun anymore. But they are having plenty of fun now.

And the thought of Carole [Lombard] made me realize that Hollywood is about the only place I know on the map today where men and women are really equal. Stop and think for a moment and you will see that this is true. Therefore, if the men all pursue Marlene Dietrich and the women pursue Clark Gable and Robert Taylor, all it means is that they are actually equals and that either way it is done is quite all right with everybody.

In spite of our much vaunted women’s freedom and the equality of sexes that is exploited so much these days, certain inequalities and certain Eve like tendencies have persisted in most women. Girls wait for the boys to telephone and ladies wait for the gentleman to ask them for dinner, and proposals, honorable and otherwise, are supposed to come from the men. I don’t say that the women don’t pull the strings and do a bit of finagling now and then. But that’s the basic principle.But Hollywood is and must be different. When I began to think about it, I discovered that I had actually seen a good deal of what my friend the professor calls the predatory female of Hollywood. I began my Hollywood career some seventeen years ago and I have watched the parade ever since.

Taylor and Irene Hervey were engaged but MGM didn't want him to marry.

Taylor and Irene Hervey were engaged but MGM didn’t want him to marry.

Perhaps young Mr. Robert Taylor is having somewhat the same experience now. The rumor around the clubs, which I haven’t been altogether able to confirm, is that young Mr. Taylor really prefers Irene Hervey to all the other women there are, but that there are several irresistible ladies who render his choice difficult.

As for Gable! I remember a producer telling me in the days when Clark had just registered his sky-rocket success that he had completely disrupted the lot. I asked why and the producer said he had a file of demands, impassioned requests and tears from practically every female star on the lot to have Gable in her next picture as leading man. Now most female stars do not wish to be overshadowed by a startling young man who is just hitting his peak. So there may—I didn’t say there was—but there may have been, in a few cases at least, something a little personal in those requests. But Clark was in love with his wife—I think he still is—and escaped unscathed.

But to come back to the idea which all this suggested to me that only in Hollywood is there real and actual equality between the sexes. In the first place, those so-called predatory females of Hollywood who pursue the he-men, are in every possible way complete and independent units on their own accounts. More so than any women I know anywhere else in the world. They are famous. They are all with exception either beauties or great personalities or—well, at least they have something that attracts millions of people up to a little window to pay money to see them.They earn as much,–often more—money than the men.

Irene Dunne wanted Robert Taylor for "Magnificent Obsession."

Irene Dunne wanted Robert Taylor for “Magnificent Obsession.”

Carole Lombard, for instance, has one of the most beautiful houses in Hollywood. Her parties are famous. As a hostess she has no superior in the brilliant film colony. She earns a huge salary; she is admired by millions; she has a life of her own and is a complete individual herself. Therefore, it isn’t at all strange that she acts about as a man would when personal matters engage her attention.

The false pride, the feeling of insecurity, the general feminine feeling that she must wait to be sought, isn’t present and can’t be present in women who have already conquered half the modern universe. They naturally assume that people are going to Ike them and they proceed along those lines.

Norma Shearer wanted him for "Her Cardboard Lover."

Norma Shearer wanted him for “Her Cardboard Lover.”

There is, as a matter of fact, a “new sex” today. The independent and famous woman who makes her own living, pays her income tax, is sought after and run after, who has to compete with other famous women—her outlook on life cannot possibly be the same as that of the average woman. And I can tell you now that it jolly well isn’t.

There is another angle to be considered where motion pictures are concerned. One of them, who for ten years has been at the top of the list, once told me that she absolutely had to make the advances where men were concerned. “If I didn’t,” she said, laughing, “I wouldn’t ever have a beau.” It isn’t difficult to understand that. The average man, who doesn’t like being overshadowed, isn’t as a rule seeking a love affair or marriage or anything else with a woman who is more famous and has a greater earning capacity than he has.

The average man wouldn’t, for instance, think of attempting to date up Garbo, or Dietrich, or Carole Lombard, or Katherine Hepburn. Even in Hollywood, these ladies seem somewhat inaccessible. Their glamor burns very brightly Men are afraid of them, for many reasons which my friend the eminent psychologist explained to me. They are afraid of being turned down, of being laughed at, of being inadequate. That’s quite understandable. So, as this famous star said to me, she has to make the advances. She has to break down the barriers that her fame places between her and most of the men she meets, even other screen stars. They are, after all, but men—these he-men of Hollywood and I have seen them as tongue-tied and fascinated in the presence of these glamorous ladies as any other men would be.

Eleanor Parker was another strong woman.

Eleanor Parker was another strong woman.

I don’t think Hollywood women are predatory exactly. I admit they pursue. I admit they select. But I think they do it simply because they regard themselves quite naturally as being on exactly the same footing as men. They have had to discard the protection and privacy and the helplessness of woman. They have had to complete for place and success, and most of them have done it alone. They have met the world face to face. Isn’t pretty natural that they should neither ask nor give quarter? They aren’t the happiest women in the world, this new sex. The struggle between their feminine instincts and their trained equality is pretty great sometimes. They have, the majority of them, masculine minds and outlooks, and feminine emotions and instincts. They get torn apart.

But personally I’m not worried about the he-men. I guess they’re having a pretty good time and getting a break at that.

Robert Taylor with a gallery of strong women who may have done the pursuing.

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Zsa Zsa Gabor, Virginia Bruce, Romy Schneider, Loretta Young.

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Ginger Rogers, Eva Gabor, Esther Williams, Claudette Colbert.

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Deborah Kerr, Greta Garbo, Maureen O’Sullivan.

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Carole Lombard, Eleanor Parker.

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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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