Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner

This is a very strange letter from Barbara Stanwyck. She is obviously answering questions from someone named John, presumably a journalist. The tone starts out matter-of-fact but becomes very angry towards the end. There is no date but it has to be after 1969, when “Big Valley” ended.

No date
Barbara Stanwyck (letterhead)

Dear John,

It is not true that I attempted suicide upon learning of the affair between Robert and Lana Turner. The media tends to blow things way out of proportion. I did find out about this and filed for divorce immediately.

My favorite television program(s) to act in were of course “The Big Valley,” where I won my second Emmy.

William Holden was perhaps my greatest “Male” friend in Hollywood. We shared many wonderful times together.

It is true Robert Wagner and I dated for nearly four years. I found him to be a smart, charming, handsome young man and met him on the set of “Titanic.”

Robert Wagner and Barbara Stanwyck in “Titanic.”

Of all the movies I was allowed to participate in as an actress I would have to say my favorite was probably “The Lady Eve,” which co-starred Henry Fonda.

I have heard that I was considered for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in; “Gone with the Wind,” but I was never given a screen test for the film so it could also be another one of those stories but I was quiet (quite) active at the time so it would only make sense. They must have liked that whore, Vivien Leigh instead. I don’t really give a damn anymore.

Best of Luck and wishes to you and your family.


Barbara Stanwyck (signature)


Robert Taylor and Lana Turner starred together in Johnny Eager, released in 1941. They were rumored to be attracted to one another and they certainly had on-screen chemistry. There are a number of versions of the “affair.”

Jane Ellen Wayne puts it this way:

Scene from Johnny Eager

TNT Turner & Taylor in “Johnny Eager.”

“In 1941 Lana Turner entered Robert Taylor’s life. She was his co-star in Johnny Eager, the story of a gangster who destroys himself when he falls in love with the girl he framed.

Taylor was physically attracted to Miss Turner instantly……[He] remarked that Miss Turner was perfectly proportioned and not as ‘busty’ as her pin-up pictures. ‘Her face was delicate and beautiful. I have never seen lips like hers, and though I was never known to run after blondes, Lana was the exception. I couldn’t take my eyes off her and here were times during the filming of Johnny Eager that I thought I would explode!

‘Her voice was that of a breathless little girl. I don’t think she knew how to talk without being sexy. When she said a simple thing like ‘Good Morning,’ I melted. She was the type of woman a guy would risk five years in jail for rape.”

RT6953Acting daily with Miss Turner fascinated Taylor. He took it as long as he could and when he discovered she was making no effort to ignore his attentions and in fact, was physically drawn to him, he knew he had to be with her alone.

“She became an obsession. I HAD to have her, if only for one night…..” (Robert Taylor: The Man wih the Perfect Face, NY, St. Martin’s Press, pages 107-108).

ist2_3198263-decorative-swirl-motifThe following is excerpted from Linda Alexander, Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism, Tease Publishing, 2008., pages163-165.

“Many of Bob’s extramarital romances could be traced to his film credits.  Movie making was an intense way to get to know somebody, a day-in, day-out world of make-believe.  When a man and a woman were put in a situation where they were supposed to be in love…they were supposed to be in love…….and if the chemistry was there, truth became make-believe and make-believe became truth.

[Lana Turner] knew that Bob was a married man.  At first she didn’t seem to care.  She aggressively went after him and he responded.  He really responded.  Lana was only twenty, and already in the process of a divorce.  Bob was ten years older.  Their relationship was the kind of stuff fan magazines panted over.  In her autobiography, Lana said blatantly that Bob was exactly the sort of guy that attracted her.


Taylor and Turner on the set of “Johnny Eager.”

[She didn’t, however, want to be in the middle of his domestic troubles.] Bob didn’t listen to her.  He went home and told Barbara right out that he was leaving her.  He wanted a divorce.  He wasn’t happy.

Barbara ran away from home and stayed for days with her maid, Harriet Corey…..There were reports of Barbara being taken to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital with a severed wrist.  Official

 Married American actors Robert Taylor (1911-1969) and Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990) sit at a table in a restaurant, wearing formal attire.  Stanwyck wears a cast on her forearm and uses a printed scarf as a sling.

Married American actors Robert Taylor (1911-1969) and Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990) sit at a table in a restaurant, wearing formal attire. Stanwyck wears a cast on her forearm and uses a printed scarf as a sling.

comment said ‘a window fell on her hand and, necessitating many stitches.’ She was seen in public with her forearm and hand heavily bandaged and her arm in a sling.”


The following is from Charles Tranberg, Robert Taylor, a Biography, Bear Manor Media, 2011, page 153).

“The filming of Johnny Eager ….coincided with a trip to the hospital by Barbara on October 7, 1941, suffering from gashes to her arms and wrists.  Bob later explained to reporters that the injuries occurred when Barbara tried to open a sealed window at their Beverly Hills home and broke her hand and arm through the glass.  [Some accounts say it was a suicide attempt after being told by her husband about his passion for Ms.Turner].  From that point forward Turner contends she cooled it with Bob, until he finally understood that they would not have a future together.  There are those who dispute that Taylor and Turner were never lovers and believe that while Taylor was sexually attracted to Turner he wasn’t going to leave Barbara for her.  Whatever the story, according to Turner, Barbara was not the forgive-and-forget type.”

Robert Taylor was never a man to kiss and tell.  The truth will probably never be known, but it’s likely that he and Ms. Turner were, however briefly, lovers.  I believe that Barbara Stanwyck found out, either from Mr. Taylor or someone else and made a symbolic “suicide attempt.”  She was an extremely insecure woman who had already been divorced once and was determined to hang on to Robert Taylor.  I should note, however, that there are those who say that the whole broken glass incident happened earlier and could have not been related to Ms.Turner.  What is certain, however, is that the first paragraph of the letter above isn’t true.  Ms.Stanwyck didn’t sue for divorce until ten years later.

Turner and Taylor in the 1950s;

Turner and Taylor in the 1950s;

Robert Taylor had a facility for staying friends with his former lovers.  The fact that he never gossiped probably contributed to this.  He and Lana Turner were friends for decades.



Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh on the set of “Waterloo Bridge.”

In the last paragraph of the letter, Ms. Stanwyck refers to Vivien Leigh as a “whore.”  It is true that Ms. Leigh was living with Laurence Olivier while he was still married, but I can’t imagine why would this concern Barbara Stanwyck. Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh worked together in two films, A Yank at Oxford and Waterloo Bridge. Ms. Leigh had wanted Mr. Olivier for Waterloo Bridge but the studio disagreed.  Mr. Taylor and Ms. Leigh were friendly but there was no gossip about them.  Mr. Olivier was a frequent visitor to the set.

“[One day] Bob was working late and asked Barbara to visit him on the set.  She had never been on one of Bob’s sets.  She hesitated and said,”Miss Leigh might not like it.”  Bob assured her that Vivien wasn’t like that, that it would be fine.  Barbara agreed to have Bob drive her onto the Metro lot.  She had Bob park his car a short distance from the soundstage where he was shooting.  At the last minute, Barbara thought it better for her to stay in the car and read a book while Bob worked.”  (Victoria Wilson, A Simon & Schuster, 2013, page 847.)

Perhaps Barbara Stanwyck couldn’t bear watching her husband making love to another woman, if only on a soundstage.


Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh in “Waterloo Bridge.”


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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17 Responses to Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner

  1. SusanaG. says:

    I wonder, Judith, if this letter was in fact written by Barbara (or someone on her behalf). In the first place, if she makes reference to Robert Wagner, The Big Valley and her second Emmy, this letter should be dated around 1966 or later.
    How could she tell a lie in that first paragraph when EVERYONE was well aware, then and now, that they divorced ten years later? Or maybe she actually did file for divorce in 1941 and the press, for some reason, never got wind of that?
    I also find odd that she calls Vivien Leigh a whore (apparently, Leigh was still alive, otherwise I don’t think Barbara would have spoken of her on such terms). Was there any *significant* reason why Barbara should call Leigh a whore? We know she didn’t like Turner and Gardner at all, and also understand why. But Leigh???

  2. lizlemon says:

    The letter from Barbara is very obviously a fake. She would never ever say such things in a letter to anyone, much less in what seems to be a fan letter. It gets basic facts wrong; like you mentioned, it was 10 years after the Lana Turner affair (if that’s what it was) that Barbara filed for divorce. She never admitted the Robert Wagner affair publicly. She would NEVER have called Vivien Leigh a whore; she only knew her through her work with Bob. The incident where she hurt her hand happened in 1939, as is documented in the Victoria Wilson biography, so the timing is all wrong for it to have been a suicide attempt because of Lana (which is highly doubtful in any case). Lastly, the letter looks like one that was produced by a word processor, i.e. software like Microsoft Word; it doesn’t look like a letter composed on a typewriter.

    • giraffe44 says:

      I wonder if it’s her signature–I’m not familiar enough with it to know. There could have been divorce talk in 1941–in fact RT wrote to a magazine denying divorce rumors around that time. I’m not trying to malign the woman, but she did drink heavily in her later years and that can do a job on a person. She was quite sharp tongued in some of her interviews with Shirley Eder (who was taping her without permission). And, of course, it may be a complete fraud, but you can’t deny that it’s intriguing.

  3. That letter is a well-known (I thought) fake letter. She would never discuss such private matters. With all that she went through she was obviously a fighter, not one to consider or attempt suicide. She loved life and literally thanked God for it every day.

  4. giraffe44 says:

    I just noticed that the signature does have the two capital B’s. Ms. Stanwyck always wrote Barbara as BarBara. Not proof of anything, but if the second capital B were not there, it would be very telling.

  5. Barbara being a heavy drinker is false. In fact, Barbara could barely handle alcohol as she had a very low tolerance for it. When in night clubs she’d put her glass upside down to avoid having it filled/re-filled. Also, her work came first – hence she wouldn’t be sitting at home drinking during or even in between jobs. I don’t know where you are getting your information from but as a huge fan of Stany I can tell you that you’ve been misinformed. Also about the letter, you can do a LOT in Photoshop. Moving a signature is a piece of cake so it really doesn’t prove anything. The fact that it’s a fake comes from very reliable sources.

  6. I would also just like to point out that there is a typo in the letter “quiet” instead of “quite” a mistake Barbara wouldn’t have made.

  7. giraffe44 says:

    I don’t guarantee the letter’s authenticity–you could be right. The stories about Ms. Stanwyck’s drinking are mostly from the latter part of her life. I am influenced by Ursula Thiess’ recounting of Robert Taylor’s opinion of Ms. S–to me the tone in the letter fits with his deep dislike of her in his latter years. But, as I said, I could be wrong.

    • lizlemon says:

      I wonder why Taylor disliked her so much? I guess I understand being resentful about the alimony but, from what his second wife said, it sounds like it might have gone further than that (I haven’t read her book so I don’t know the details of what she said). I always thought that he and Barbara had remained friends after the divorce, but maybe he just pretended to be okay with her. Considering his second marriage was, by all accounts, a very content one, you would think he could have gotten over the bitterness. Barbara eventually was able to remember her marriage to Taylor with fondness, despite his infidelities and the divorce that she didn’t really want. It’s unfortunate that he maybe didn’t get to that point himself.

  8. giraffe44 says:

    Ursula Thiess recounts an episode where Robert Taylor was yelling at the TV, not knowing she was near. He was watching Ms. Stanwyck on TV in an episode of “Rawhide,” and saying “Okay, lady, do your best. Whip him, humiliate him, squash his ego. I know you enjoy that.” They did stay friends after the divorce. But by the1960s, the date of this episode, he had become very worried about money and his ability to get enough work to support his family, so the 15% Ms.S. was still getting was looming very large. She didn’t need the money and I think it’s a shame she didn’t let go, whatever wrongs there were in the past. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate hearing your views.

  9. eduard says:

    Yes, this letter is fake. Ebay is selling the same one right at this moment. The autograph is slightly different, but it’s the same letter.

    • giraffe44 says:

      Interesting. I wonder why anyone bothered to do it.

      • To make Barbara look like a horrible person. Unfortunately, it seems to have succeeded to a certain extent. It really bothers me for a few reasons, like 1) it perpetuates the myth that she attempted suicide which has been proven to be patently false, and 2) it makes Barbara seem madly jealous. She may have been jealous and apparently had reason to be since Bob cheated on her so often, but she was a professional and would not have lashed out publicly at anyone. And until I read a reliable source stating that Stanwyck was a heavy drinker (and, sorry, but I don’t consider Jane Ellen Wayne or Ursula Thiess to be reliable sources on Barbara), I won’t believe it.

      • giraffe44 says:

        But why would anyone to make Ms. Stanwyck out to be a horrible person? She certainly was not, but she did have emotions like anyone does.
        She did try to hang onto Mr. Taylor by using money she didn’t need (and he did). That’s not horrible, it’s sad. I believe that Ursula Thiess tried to reach out to Ms. Stanwyck but was stopped by Mr. Taylor. At his funeral, she was invited to sit with the family and refused. She was a remarkable actress, a woman who did a lot of private charity work. We’ll never truly understand the Taylor-Stanwyck relationship but I do consider Ms. Thiess reliable. Thanks for writing.

      • I would say that those who didn’t like Stanwyck, like Jane Ellen Wayne, would twist anything to make her look bad. Wayne’s motivation is her obsession with Robert Taylor; there are also those who probably don’t like her because of her politics. Also those who believe that Stanwyck was gay and don’t want to accept that she wasn’t.
        Barbara felt that it wasn’t really her place to be seated with the family so she graciously declined. Ms. Thiess did insist that she come back to the house after the service and spoke privately with her, which was very generous. I would consider Ms. Thiess reliable except that whatever she knew about Miss Stanwyck is what Mr. Taylor had told her. From what you’ve written, he harbored a lot of resentment toward Stanwyck so that would color his opinion.

  10. giraffe44 says:

    You’re right that Robert Taylor had a lot of resentment towards Barbara Stanwyck. An anecdote that I find interesting comes from someone who worked in TV. He said that the two of them were filming shows on separate sound stages in the same facility. This person saw them once, standing outside their respective sound stages (probably smoking), staring at each other, not speaking. I wonder what was going through their minds. Good discussion.

  11. Beata says:

    I decided to take part in this discussion about Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. Recently I have spent some time on reading about their lives and relationship. That brought me to some conclusions I would like to share.
    There is no way in hell that they have ” lavender” marriage or ” white” marriage. or anything even close to that. Their relationship was all about the love, a very difficult love perhaps, but there is no doubt in mu mind that these people truly , madly , crazy loved one another. Yes, one another. They had something very special, some kind of passion that only very few can understand.
    In order to feel so much even years after divorce in a sense of being bitter or angry, one really had to care for someone who still has an impact like this. These two could never stay indifferent towards each other. That says it all. Barbara loved him so much, we all agree on that. But I believe that he loved her very dearly too. He had this very deep conviction that he wasn’t good enough, talented enough. It had to be very hard on him. On a contrary to Ursula Thiess, Stanwyck never visited his sets, didn’t share his passion for hunting and flying….She gave him here a freedom , he might partly enjoy, but she also invited him to form a life away from her. I read that she was too bossy…..Nonsense. She gave him so much space to do his own thing…that eventually she might have loose him because of this. His infidelities was also perhaps some cry for attention, his longing of have his woman close by. Ursula Thiess understood it very well, Barbara did not, because all things aside she was his equal, she had her career too. He did not think of her even this much. He thought she was way better than him and to ease his pay and suit his broken , insecure male pride, he slept around with women that were around , were willing and proved time and time again ,that he was a big star and exceptionally beautiful looking man. And he was, yes he was.
    I get upset when I read that their sexual relationship ceased to exist years before they split out. What a nonsense ! Would any of You suffer so much from breaking relationship which in fact was dead for years? And did we all not read time after time that they were very private couple and never discuss their personal life with anybody really ? I know for myself that if I was in a relationship without sex, I would not go crazy about infidelity of my partner. After all they were hardly 40 years old…, they were still young. How can You mourn a relationship that denies You this very valid part of being together? How can You also stay this way for the rest of your life, like Barbara did. Nonsense. There is so much nonsense, so little intelligence in the way most of these books are written. Common , we should really just use our brains….
    I do believe that Robert Taylor was truly happy in his second marriage. This relationship brought him children that he really longed for. He also had a wife in very traditional meaning of this word. She did not compete with him. She did not let him live his life. She rather stood by his side. So when he was kissing some beautiful actress on the set, in between takes he was his wife watching him. And at the end of the day, he could lay down next to her, he wasn’t alone. But to say that he loved Ursula more than Barbara is like saying what is better apples or peers….
    I do believe that his relationship to Barbara was more crazy, was about becoming Mr. Robert Taylor….or as he often said Mr. Barbara Stanwyck. I think he admired her , he has learned a lot from her and last but not least he has never forgotten her. She and he never really got over each other. Not really.
    I would never get angry at my ex on tv doing anything if I didn’t still care. I would never stare at my ex seeing him anywhere at all. I would never try to be in touch. I would not have a need to say good bye in what I must have known were the last weeks of my life. What for? If I did not care….
    If Barbara Stanwyck would even attempt to be a mother and wife, give him a feeling he meant more, they would always be together. If she didn’t make this big fuss about Italian starlet, it would most likely last longer. The key was not a lack of love. The key was wanting different things in life. And in that sense he found the happiness and she didn’t , because for her was no other man,not really. For him time healed lots of wounds….gave him a beautiful and loving wife. Gave him children he really loved.
    Barbara lost him because she was too good actress and too bad mother and too untraditional wife. At some point of life he really needed it. But to say that these two people did not love each other, or to say that she loved him, but he did not feel the same way back is just plain wrong.
    I have a great respect for Robert Taylor second marriage. I have a very great respect for Ursula Thiess. She was a very smart cookie and she have chosen love for her family as this was the most important thing in her life. And even though I value their relationship, I disagree that was by definition the greatest love in Robert Taylor life. I think aside his second wife, and aside his beloved children, the greatest love of his life was most definitely Barbara Stanwyck.
    She said once about them ” I spoke with Bob yesterday and I know what I know. He knows what he knows. Other people don’t ”
    All I know is that they loved each other. Didn’t make it, nevertheless , love each other.

    PS Please excuse me for my simple and often broken English. I am Polish and my English has its limits. Thank You for reading. Best regards to all You Robert Taylor fans. I consider myself to be one of them as well.

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