The Busy Absentee

Hedda Hopper
The Sun, Baltimore, Dec. 2, 1951
The Busy Absentee

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Franchot Tone, Hedda Hopper, Robert Taylor 1937.

I have had many talks with Robert Taylor—on the set, in his home, in the studio commissary, even at the corner drugstore. But rare indeed was my recent interview with Bob while cruising lazily in his twin-engine plane 3,000 feet over Hollywood. It’s no secret that flying is one of his first loves. He builds his whole life around the three A’s—acting, aviation and agriculture.

Somehow it seemed like a different Robert Taylor behind the controls of his plane. Bob always has been pleasant and delightful to talk with; but at the controls of his ship, he is intense, yet relaxed, exciting, yet composed. His eyes have an added sparkle, and he feels confidence unheard of on Mother Earth. The wheels no sooner had left the runway at the airport when Bob began to chat freely about his work, his recent trip to England where he made Ivanhoe, and the future. Within minutes we were over Culver City, and Bob banked his sleek white plane to get a better view of the sprawling motion-picture factory at which he works.

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Robert Taylor with his twin-engine Beechcraft Missy.

You know, Hedda, it doesn’t seem possible that’s been my home for eighteen years,” Bob said.  “You’re not so young as you were when I first met you,” I kidded. “And you’re so right. I’ve passed that mark between middle age and senility, the age of 40,” he added. It does incredible that Bob has tipped his lid to 40 because he never had it so good as right now. His studio has $12,800,000 wrapped up in this plus-40-year-player in three unreleased films—Quo Vadis, Westward the Women, and Ivanhoe.

Although Bob is consistently at work on a picture, we’ve seen little of him in Hollywood for several years. “How long since you made a film at that home lot of yours?” I asked.

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Ava Gardner and Robert Taylor in “The Bribe.”

“Gosh, come to think of it, I haven’t made a picture in Hollywood since the Spring of 1948, That was The Bribe with Ava Gardner,” said Bob. My last six pictures were made away from the home base: Conspirator in England; Ambush in New Mexico, Devil’s Doorway in Colorado, Quo Vadis in Rome, Westward the Women in Utah and Ivanhoe in England.

.As Bob rattled of these titles, it occurred to me that they were all action-packed yarns with heavy, rockum-sockum roles. He hasn’t been a suave, sophisticated playboy-lover type for many moons, yet most of his fans think of him that light. When I asked him how he liked those rough-and-tumble arts, he said:Frankly, Hedda, I’m glad my next one will be a modern story. I’m tired of wigs and beards, though I had more fun making a Western than anything else. Three of my last five pictures are Westerns. I like horses and the guys associated with them.

Realizing that I had him cornered, and that to evade me he would have to bail out, I decided to discuss a sensitive subject—women. “Any dates in England this last time?” Nary a one,” he replied. “In the first place we were too busy. I didn’t have time to look around if I wanted to. There was a three week stretch when I had dinner every night in my hotel room—alone. Sounds silly, but it’s true.”

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Robert Taylor in Missy’s cockpit.

How do American and British girls compare? I continued. “American women compare favorably with anyone,” he said. “There are beautiful women in Britain, but—look, Hedda—let’s compare something else. I’m no Lothario; I haven’t gone with half a dozen girls in the whole industry.” When he threatened me with an inside loop, I changed the subject. “How about a stage play?” I asked, “Ever have a yen to try one?” “Sure,” he said.”But I wouldn’t want a starring role. I’d like to start as a bit player until I knew what I was doing. With the little I know, I’d probably stumble into the orchestra pit.”

Any advice for the young man bent on Hollywood?” I wanted to know. “Simple” said he, “bring along a horseshoe; it’s 80 per cent luck.”
Actually you learn more about Robert Taylor from his friends, fellow workers and fans. They are legion in their praise, whether it concerns his versatility as an actor or his personal conduct as a man. One who knows Bob as well as anyone in Hollywood is Billy Grady, casting director. Billy has been with Bob’s studio for 21 years. Here’s his favorite Taylor anecdote:

Great Britain London Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor in London, early 1950s.

“I’ll never forget one balmy evening fifteen years ago,” Billy relates, “Robbie, Barbara (Stanwyck), and I were driving down Hollywood boulevard. As we passed Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Robbie saw his name in those 3-foot-high letters; he was billed with Loretta Young in Private Number.He said, “Man, I never thought I’d see my name over Loretta Young’s. And almost before he got the words out, Barbara said, “Look, Buster, sometimes it’s easy to get your name up there, but the toughest thing in the world is to keep it there.” Robbie has never forgotten those words; he’s told me many times that it was the best advice ever given him.”

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Robert Taylor and Denise Darcel in “Westward the Women.”

As Bob circled his ship and nosed back toward Inglewood, I asked about the future. It has everything to do with that third A—agriculture.”I’ve got five more years at the studio,” said Bob. “Then I’ll probably buy myself a little farm some place in California. I’ve been looking five years ahead for the past eighteen years. The first year I was here I didn’t think it would last. I’ve got much more traveling to do, too. I’ve been all over the world making pictures, but never had time to see anything. Last year, I spent seven months in Italy and all I saw was a motion picture camera!”

“We were approaching the runway now, coming in for a landing. Bob was steady, cautious, confident. It was a perfect three-point landing. That’s been the story of his life—one three point landing after another.

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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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