Before he became an MGM contract player, Spangler Arlington Brugh had a screen test in 1933 at Sam Goldwyn Studios. The film, Roman Scandals, starred Eddie Cantor and was about a kind hearted young man who is thrown out of his corrupt home town of West Rome, Oklahoma. He falls asleep and dreams that he is back in the days of olden Rome, where he gets mixed up with court intrigue and a murder plot against the Emperor (IMDB).
These pictures show a tall, skinny young man who is obviously terribly self-conscious. The best photo is the full face shot. There the regularity of the Taylor features and the charm of his smile take center stage. In the three-quarter head and shoulders shot, the smile is completely forced and totally unconvincing. He looks thoroughly embarrassed. The full length (with urn) photo is a disaster. Mr. Taylor looks as though he had been carved from marble. His toothpick legs and skinny torso lead the eye to the absolutely rigid set of his shoulders and the unnatural tilt of his head.
LIFE captioned these pictures: This is what Producer Sam Goldwyn saw when he gave Spangler Arlington Brugh a screen test in June, 1933. Mr. Goldwyn’s advice: “Go home and fatten up.”
Fattening up would have been difficult. Following the death of his father in October 1933, Robert Taylor, his mother and grandmother moved to Los Angeles where he could continue to pursue a movie career. He rented a one bedroom apartment. Ruth Brugh and her mother slept in the bedroom. Young Brugh slept on the couch. His initial MGM salary of $35 a week didn’t go far, even back then. Mr. Taylor had run a tab at a local drugstore to have something to eat. When he got his first paycheck he paid off most of his $41.32 balance. (Jane Ellen Wayne, Robert Taylor: The Man with the Perfect Face, N.Y., St. Martin’s Press, 1973, 1987, p. 32).
Robert Taylor was also unimpressive in a screen test at MGM following the Goldwyn disaster. The studio had no idea what to do with him. He was lent out to Twentieth Century Fox for Handy Andy with Will Rogers and to Universal for There’s Always Tomorrow with Binnie Barnes.and Frank Morgan. His first MGM part was in A Wicked Woman with Maidy Christians. Mr. Taylor was very nervous in front of the camera and appeared stiff and awkward. The studio was unhappy
They used him as a “‘test horse,’ an actor who does a day’s work playing opposite potential female stars in their screen tests. Sometimes he was on camera, but more often he was a sound-effects man. [In one test] he was the background noise.” (Wayne, p. 35.)
MGM did not make Robert Taylor a star. Women did. Letters began to come into MGM, especially after he starred in the short subject “Buried Loot.” Women saw a living definition of the phrase “tall dark and handsome,” not to mention charming and sexy–and decent. His integrity showed through the makeup and costumes. The movie going public made Robert Taylor a star and kept him one for three decades. He became a byword for reliability and professionalism.
Robert Taylor never made a successful screen test. But he aced the test that mattered.