In his position as a public figure, Robert Taylor was well aware of the importance of looking good. While working and in public he was always impeccably dressed. Mr. Taylor enjoyed good clothes and took a personal interest in his wardrobe. In private, however, he was a typical westerner, wearing jeans, plaid shirts, cowboy boots and hats.
There is an anecdote about the young Robert Taylor and clothes that I think is appropriate here. It has been repeated endlessly. In the mid 1930s German born actress Luise Rainier was seated next to Robert Taylor at a Hollywood luncheon. Somewhat condescendingly, Ms. Rainier asked Mr. Taylor to sum up his aspirations in life in a few words. Tongue firmly in cheek, Robert Taylor replied that he dreamed of owning ten perfectly tailored suits. For decades Ms. Rainier repeated the story to illustrate American materialism and crassness, never understanding that her leg had been firmly pulled.
The two letters here, however, are about clothing to be worn on the screen. In Clark Gable’s contract for 1935, article 14 states:
The Artist shall provide at his own expense such modern wardrobe and wearing apparel as may be necessary for any and all roles to be portrayed by the Artist hereunder, it being agreed however that should so called character or period costumes be required the Producer shall supply the same. The costumes, apparel and other articles furnished or paid for by the Producer pursuant to the terms of this agreement or otherwise shall be and remain the property of the Producer and shall be returned promptly to it. (Lyn Tornabene, Long Live the King: a Biography of Clark Gable, NY, G.P.Putnam’s sons, 1976, p.378).
This business of supplying your own clothes was apparently not universally enforced. “Universal was withholding a check for $2,000 until Taylor returned the six made-to-order suits, dress coat, slacks and tuxedo coat and vest he’d worn making Magnificent Obsession,” not a costume film. (Victoria Wilson, A Life of Barbara Stanwyck, NY, Simon & Schuster, 2013, p. 481)
ROBERT TAYLOR (Letterhead)
September 15 [1956?]
Alas, the hours are killing me. We start work at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and work until 10 at night. Just why they’ve adopted this kind of schedule I don’t honestly know, except for the fact that nobody eats dinner here until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. For an old “country boy” who’s accustomed to getting up early and eating dinner around 7 PM it’s rough.
This note is simply a kind of “warning.” There is still a possibility that I might have to come back to Spain right after Xmas for another picture in which I’ll need the Navy-type uniform we talked about before. Actually I’d be playing the “Captain” of a luxury yacht [House of the Seven Hawks?]. If this deal works out we’d only be able to fit and make the suit between December 1st and Christmas.
But—I’d suggest that you get material either in a Navy Blue Gabardine, Serge, or Sharkskin (medium weight in any case)—and have it on hand so you can start cutting the minute I let you know. Details as to braid, decorations, etc.I’ll get as soon as I possibly can and will let you know about that too.
As I see it now it would either be a double-breasted uniform coat or an “Eisenhower” type jacket, depending again how [unclear] they want me. If it’s the latter I’d want it with an action back and breast pockets with flaps.
For now though, just get the material and I’ll write again with full details at a later date. OK?
Take care Frank, I’ll see you soon. As ever–
The situation regarding who provides clothes for actors onscreen is complicated. The following quotation is from Ralph M., author of the wonderful blog In Another Time: Memories that were fun to make; Fun memories in the making. I had asked him about extras in the 1930s.
I don’t know about the 1930s. During my time (1950s) the studios supplied all costumes that were not a current fashion. Whereas today, we are expected to have enormous selections of clothes. Until I retired I maintained 3 closetfulls of clothes which even included period tuxedos. I would think though in the 1930s movies were so new that the extras would be expected to supply their own costumes. In this massive current clothes selection I also had police uniforms, doctor and nurse costumes. There is a costumiere in the valley that specializes in police uniforms for extras for a very cheap price. Of course the cloth is not the same material as the official LAPD uniform. I was able to get a shirt pants and hat costume for $60. (used by permission).
The following is the seller’s description of this item when it was for sale on eBay:
“This buckle measures 3.2 x 2.5” and will accommodate up to a 1.5” belt. There was a tradition at Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors that included buckles being requested by the star clientele and then presented back to Nudie to display as samples together in a sort of museum near the cash register. This one was Robert Taylor’s and features a hunter/jumper with the inscription “Nudie You Make Great Coffee 1952.” On the back it is stamped “ “Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, Sunset Trails, Silver Plate.” I haven’t attempted to polish these buckles—the patina was all collected when the store was open. This is a rare piece of Hollywood history.”
The letter below is from 1966 or 1967. It is quoted in Jane Ellen Wayne, Robert Taylor: the Man with the Perfect Face, NY, St Martin’s Press, 1973, 1987, page 248. Used by permission.
Dear Nudie et al–
Urgent Smoke Signal from Gen. Franco’s little hunting preserve! It looks likely that I’ll be making a “pilot” film in Argentina for the Winchester-Western folks. We hope to shoot boar, puma, stag and maybe do some fishing. It ain’t wrapped up all neat yet so this info is on the confidential side until I get home? OK?
Need two pairs of frontier pants made out of cotton twill with rivets but don’t finish off the bottoms until I have a fitting. Also two shirts of the same material, but cut them a shade fuller, short sleeved and with the” action back.”
And since these suits would be used pretty much on safari, I would also suggest that you send the material outta be washed and pre-shrunk before they are made. Where I might be goin’ it is inevitable that they will be washed rather than dry cleaned.
This whole caper started out as a real SNAFU* but it’s slowly beginning to take shape. At least I’m reasonably sure of getting all my money this time!
It appeared for a while Ursula would not be able to find a “reliable” to leave at home with the children, so she canceled her reservations. But I talked to her this morning and she has found someone (a German lady who’s old enough to know better!) so I’m expecting her late this week. I ain’t no Casanova any more—and ain’t seen anything in Spain which would raise my temperature too much, but fun’s fun and somebody to come home to at nite is mighty important in these twilight years.
As soon as I get home I’ll be out for a fitting and since under normal circumstances I can’t hit my ass with both hands without a gun, shooting without a Nudie suit would be a complete disaster. I might ruin my whole film career and never get another job in my life!
P.S. If you were paid on the last statement and if the check bounced, it’s only because the bank couldn’t read Ursula’s handwriting. The money’s there fore sure so don’t fret yourself.
*After this post was published a kind reader sent me some photos of Robert Taylor at the SNAFU he discusses in this letter. Here they are: