By publishing this, I hope to illustrate the extraordinary level of venom spewed by the Taylor haters for decades after Mr. Taylor’s death. They despised the fact that Robert Taylor’s career wasn’t destroyed by his HUAC* testimony. His award for “World’s Favorite Actor” at the Golden Globes in 1953 must have been gut wrenching. The 1961 Life Article, “Robert Taylor at 50” must have enraged them by showing
the actor happy and at peace with himself. Mr. Taylor himself believed that he had been denied some roles because of his conservative politics, but the fact remains that the public loved him and his colleagues liked and respected him all his life. Now, 45 years after his death, Robert Taylor is regaining his popularity through Turner Classic Movies, Warner Archive, some fine books** and the internet, especially You Tube.
Richard Schickel is a film critic with a high opinion of himself:
“Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism—and its humble cousin, reviewing—is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.” (Schickel, “Not Everybody’s a Critic,” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2007).
“And all three (critics he has been discussing) wrote for intelligent readers who emerged from their reviews grateful to know more than they did when they started to read, grateful for their encounter with a serious and, indeed, superior, mind.” (Ibid.)
Mr. Schickel was a film critic for Time Magazine from 1972-2009. He now writes for the Marxist leaning website Truthdig. He is a member of the self-appointed left-wing elite who like to tell the rest of us what to do and what to think. Note that the masses are instinctive, not thoughtful like Mr. Schickel and his confreres. This group is, of course, threatened by the internet because it has emerged that you don’t need Mr. Schickel’s pretensions to write reviews and therefore, why pay him the big bucks?
Mr. Schickel, now 81, is what used to be called a parlor pink. These are people who defend far left causes, including Stalinism, because everyone in their group does so. Because they only talk, they are not dangerous, merely annoying. Schickel is of medium height, fat and sports a bad comb over. These physical attributes might partially explain his extraordinary rancor against Robert Taylor. The opportunity for a homely person to attack one who defined tall, dark and handsome might have been irresistible.
1990 was a good year for Robert Taylor haters. A small group of lefty sitcom scribes got Mr. Taylor’s name removed from a building in Hollywood. At the same time, in an article for Architectural Digest, April 1990, Mr. Schickel unleashed his vitriol. The title of the article is “Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor: Ranch Living and Beverly Hills Glamour from the Stars of Stella Dallas and Ivanhoe,” Although the article is supposedly about the Taylors’ home, it soon strays far afield. The late film star is attacked on three fronts: his looks; his acting; his politics.
On Robert Taylor’s looks Mr. Schickel has the following to say:
“It is hard to determine what they (Taylor and Stanwyck) saw in each other. Perhaps perfect beauty on the one hand, drive, energy, ambition on the other. The irony is that the former quality belongs to the male, the latter ones to the female.” (Ibid. p. 215)
“As age softened Taylor’s once firmly chiseled profile…..” (Ibid, p. 216)
This is his opinion of Mr. Taylor’s acting:
“Taylor’s handicaps were more prosaic: a silly original name—Spangler Arlington Brugh—and a profoundly provincial birthplace—Filey, Nebraska. He studied the cello, learned what little he knew about acting at Pomona College and remained something’s of mama’s boy even after he signed his first MGM contract.” (Ibid.)
Camille: “His Armand, smitten by Garbo’s courtesan, was curiously touching. This figure, trying to maintain a dignity that was beyond his years while sustaining a passion that was beyond his bourgeois experience, is not an easy one to play persuasively. But Taylor’s untutored awkwardness as an actor perfectly suited his untutored awkwardness as a young lover. No one trusted him with such subtleties thereafter, and he did not press for them.
“For a few years his career continued to prosper. He was still the center of such popular spectacles as Quo Vadis and Ivanhoe. But his screen manner seemed to grow more querulous with the effort of keeping up appearances, and he began to look for such solace as younger women could offer.” (Ibid.)
“The following years were not terribly kind to either of them, but they were tougher on Taylor. Character work was beyond him; he remained cruelly trapped in leading roles, in effect trying vainly to play his younger self.” (Ibid.)
Our elite critic really lets go on politics:
He [Taylor] assured history’s contempt by appearing as a “friendly witness” at the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into Hollywood Communism, truculently naming names. (Ibid)
I have noted elsewhere on this blog that Mr. Schickel’s accusation about the HUAC are false and have documented that at some length. To find this information, search for “HUAC” on this blog. Linda J. Alexander discusses the situation in much more length in her book listed below.
Many people, critics included, think that if you like and admire Barbara Stanwyck as an actress, and she deserves both, you have to hate Robert Taylor. I believe that the personal lives of actors should be separate from their performances. Both Ms. Stanwyck and Mr. Taylor were fine performers, although in entirely different ways. Ms. Stanwyck was driven and intense. She lived for her career and had little balance in her life. Mr. Taylor, as I explained in “Robert Taylor and Spangler Arlington Brugh” on this blog kept his life stable and manageable by holding on to the values of his early years.
What is especially noticeable about Mr. Schickel’s diatribe is its childishness. What on earth do so-called “silly names” or “provincial” birthplaces have to do with an actor’s performances? Mr. Schickel sounds like a small boy screaming insults in the schoolyard. Even more infantile is his condemnation of Mr. Taylor as a namer of names. The whole notion of a “snitch” belongs only in grade school. Had the unabomber’s brother, for instance, not turned him in,significantly more people would have died.
**Alexander, Linda J. Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood, and Communism. Tease Publishing, 2008. This is the book that is changing peoples’ minds by telling the truth about Mr. Taylor and the HUAC.
Thiess, Ursula. But I Have Promises to Keep: My Life Before, With, and After Robert Taylor. Xlibris Corporation, 2007. Ursula Thiess Taylor’s personal story of her life with the film star.
Tranberg, Charles and Taylor, Terry (Preface). Robert Taylor: A Biography. Bear Manor Media, 2010. Both Mr. Taylor’s films and his life are thoroughly examined in this book.