Robert Taylor and Spangler Arlington Brugh

Robert Taylor was born in 1934. He sprang fully formed from the head of Louis B. Mayer.*

Robert Taylor as Armand Duval in "Camille," 1936

Robert Taylor as Armand Duval in “Camille,” 1936

His name was chosen by Ida Koverman, Mayer’s secretary. He was tall, dark and handsome with sparkling blue eyes and black hair. His eyebrows were tweaked and his hair restyled to bring out the widow’s peak. Mr. Taylor liked parties and night clubs and often wore tuxedos or white tie and tails. He moved elegantly, danced beautifully and flirted with beautiful ladies. Robert Taylor had an aura of sexuality but not dangerously so. Young women wanted to bed him. Older women wanted to mother him and then to bed him.

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Robert Taylor and Loretta Young in “Private Number,” 1935.

As the years passed, Mr. Taylor hardened, playing more rough and tumble roles. In 1943 he completely transformed into a doomed soldier in “Bataan.” After World War II he played a greater variety of roles, some villains included. In 1950 he was transformed into an epic hero in parts like “Quo Vadis,” ”Ivanhoe,” “Knights of the Round Table,” and “Quentin Durward.” According to the Golden Globes, he was the world’s most popular actor in 1953 (in a tie with Alan Ladd).

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Robert Taylor as Marcus Vinicius, “Quo Vadis,” 1951.

Robert Taylor stayed with his creators, MGM, for the longest time of any star. When he left their protection in 1959, he was on his own.  Realizing that the great days of the big screen were over, Mr. Taylor reinvented himself as a corporation, owning 50% of his TV show, “The Detectives.” In the 1960’s he continued as a movie star, never dropping to secondary billing. Robert Taylor died, still working, in 1969.

Spangler Arlington Brugh was born in 1911 to a rural Nebraska doctor and his wife. He was a fragile child who nearly died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Mrs. Brugh coddled him and made him dress in Little Lord Fauntleroy clothes** for school. Nonetheless, he grew up loving the outdoors, horseback riding, games and guns. Although no scholar, he read a great deal, mostly adventure stories. Arly Brugh had numerous girlfriends in high school and became interested in acting at that time as well as playing the cello.

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Spangler Arlington Brugh at 7 weeks 1911.

Arlington Brugh followed his music professor to Pomona College in Claremont, California, 40 miles from Los Angeles. He joined the drama society and acted in many plays, mostly as the lead. Most accounts have it that he was spotted in a college play by an MGM talent scout and Robert Taylor was created soon afterward.

Arly Brugh continued to exist until the cameras rolled. Then the glamorous Robert Taylor took over. Arly lived on a ranch and grew alfalfa. He bred horses and wore jeans, boots, plaid shirts and cowboy hats. He loved hunting and fishing. When people met him, they were impressed by his lack of ego and pretentiousness. In 1939 MGM decreed that he marry Barbara Stanwyck, a fellow movie star. He cared for her and she loved Robert Taylor. Ms. Stanwyck was a city girl. She raised horses as a business but didn’t love them the way her husband did.

High School senior S.A. Brugh, 1929.

High School senior S.A. Brugh, 1929.

In 1950 Robert Taylor/Arly Brugh asked for his freedom and he and Ms. Stanwyck were divorced in 1951. Mr. Taylor began to live a transcontinental celebrity life with numerous female companions. In 1954 he married the German actress and model Ursula Thiess and found happiness. Ms. Thiess wanted to be a wife and mother and had no career ambitions. She loved Arly Brugh and Robert Taylor. They became the parents of two children and lived happily on an 113 acre farm. Robert Taylor made as few public appearances as he could. Ursula Thiess noted his ability to shift from one personality to the other. “[In Thailand, 1968] I noticed Bob’s weariness more than ever. He avoided most of the touring trips…..But the previously scheduled events of tournaments, dinners and especially the meeting with the handsome young king of Thailand, found him present and at his showmanship best.”

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The Taylors, probably early 1960s.

Arly Brugh took his wife back to Nebraska to his roots and his old friends. She fit in with the ordinary lives they led. She was compatible with such people as the Tysers, the Eyths and Shimerdas. She loved the country and became a good rider and a crack shot. She preferred jeans to gowns while looking great in both. She traveled extensively with her husband and supported him at every turn.

In no way am I suggesting any kind of schizophrenia here. Robert Taylor stopped using the Brugh name in the thirties, except for his military service during World War II. My point is that Robert Taylor survived and prospered for thirty five years in the dream factory by holding on to the values and morals of his Nebraska background. He was honest, decent, patriotic and brave. Mr. Taylor didn’t drink to excess or do drugs. His life was a complete contrast to those actors who commit suicide, even now, in their twenties and thirties because of career pressures and drug abuse.

Robert Taylor ca. 1968

Robert Taylor ca. 1968

The saddest part is that despite his stability Mr. Taylor constantly self-medicated with nicotine and caffeine. You rarely see a photo of him without a cigarette. He knew he was sabotaging himself but couldn’t stop. Robert Taylor died of lung cancer at the young age of 57. Ursula Thiess called his last months “his greatest performance.” Reporters were gathered outside the hospital to hear about the famous actor’s condition while Arly Brugh died in his wife’s arms.

*This is a reference to the Greek myth of the birth of Athena.  Zeus developed the mother of all headaches. He howled so loudly it could be heard throughout the earth. The other gods came to see what the problem was. Hermes realized what needed to be done and directed Hephaestus to take a wedge and split open Zeus’s skull. Out of the skull sprang Athena, full grown and in a full set of armor.  (J.M.Hunt)

tumblr_lyzl7fmq3T1qbkn6io1_500**The mention of such suits in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1885-1886 novel Little Lord Fauntleroy would soon cause a fashion phenomenon that would have little boys everywhere suffering through close to a decade of being dressed up as living Little Lord Fauntleroy dolls.  (Ye Old Fashion Blog.)

 

Sources:

Alexander, Linda J. Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism. Tease Publishing, 2008.

Kral Beatrice , E.A. “Robert Taylor: A Golden-Era Hollywood Movie King from Nebraska.” Beatrice Daily Sun Supplement, 1993.

Kral, E.A. & Wayne, Jane Ellen. Our Star. Beatrice Daily Sun Supplement, 1994

Thiess, Ursula. But I Have Promises To Keep: My Life Before, With & After Robert Taylor. Xlibris Corporation, 2007.

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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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8 Responses to Robert Taylor and Spangler Arlington Brugh

  1. dianne345 says:

    A beautiful summary of the life of this wonderful man who died far too young, but continues to live in the memories of his fans through the wonders of modern technology – TV, cable, satellite, DVDs, VHS tapes, the internet. And he is just as much THERE on the screen as the latest episodes of today’s TV shows or current pay-per-view movies, and much more worth watching than the majority of them. Thanks so much for your blog that helps to keep him alive in the often appalling culture of today.

  2. giraffe44 says:

    You’re so right. When I was first in love with Mr. Taylor, I had to stay up until all hours to watch his movies on late night TV. I stuffed a towel under my bedroom door to kill the light from the TV but my mother found out some times anyway. She never realized that watching Robert Taylor was more important than getting up for school. 🙂 Now people have all kinds of access. Good to hear from you.

  3. SusanaG says:

    Hi Judith,
    Changing the real name of movie stars, or rising stars, was a common practice during the golden age of Hollywood (and outside Hollywood, too). I’m not sure if still is.
    What I always wondered however is, did they change their names by other different names—is this legally acceptable in the US? Or, they actually added/merged the artistic name to/with their real name? Remember the way Ronald Reagan called RT in his eulogy—Robert Spangler Arlington Brugh Taylor. Would this mean he didn’t drop his name at birth completely? The fact he used it during his stint in the Navy could be an indication that, indeed, he didn’t.

    • giraffe44 says:

      Name changing isn’t as common today although I don’t know if Spangler Arlington Brugh would make it even now. In the USA you can change your name any time you want to, as long as it isn’t for criminal purposes (at least theoretically). Ruby Stevens and S.A. Brugh changed their names legally to Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor in 1943. This may have been after he joined the Navy. He did drop his birth name except on legal documents like his will where it might cause confusion. There he used both. I do think that, in his heart, he stayed Arly Brugh. I think that Mr. Reagan was just making a point using all of the names. Think of the problems for Barbara Stanwyck–she was simultaneously Ruby Stevens, Ruby Fay, Ruby Taylor, Mrs. Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck. It must have made the paperwork horrendous. Thanks for writing.

  4. V.E.G. says:

    Well done, Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck. Rest in peace.

  5. REAL FULL NAME =Spangler Arlington Brugh Taylor-

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