The Taylor Haters (II): Robert Taylor Unperson

RT3034

Late 1940s.

Robert Taylor knew exactly what he was getting into when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.  The haters had come after him the previous May when he had met with investigators in what he had been told was a private session.  In fact, the committee leaked his remarks  to the press instantly. Now the left’s venom would be further unleashed.  The following is from the official transcript of Mr. Taylor’s Testimony before the HUAC on Oct. 22, 1947:

Richard Nixon: Mr. Taylor, as a result of your appearance before the Subcommittee on Un-American Activities in Hollywood a few months ago, you were subject to considerable criticism and ridicule from certain left-wing quarters, were you not?

Robert Taylor: I am afraid so, yes sir, It didn’t bother me, however.

Mr. Nixon: And as the result of your testimony and your appearance before this committee today and the stand you have taken on this issue you will be the subject of additional ridicule and criticism from those quarters, will you not?

Mr. Taylor: I suppose so. However, any time any of the left-wing

In Italy with Barbara Stanwyck, 1950.

In Italy with Barbara Stanwyck, 1950.

press or individuals belonging to the left wing or their fellow-traveler groups ridicule me, I take it as a compliment because I really enjoy their displeasure.

Mr. Nixon: You realize, however, that your success as an actor, your livelihood as an actor, depends to a great extent on the type of publicity you receive?

Mr. Taylor: Yes, sir.

Mr. Nixon: And that ridicule and abuse heaped on you has a much more serious effect than it would have on a person who does not depend upon public acceptance of what he does? Yet you feel under the circumstances it is your duty as an American citizen to state your views on this matter?

Mr. Taylor: I most assuredly do, sir.

Mr. Nixon: As far as you are concerned, even though it might mean that you would suffer possibly at the box office, possibly in reputation or in other ways for you to appear before this committee, you feel you are justified in making the appearance

France, 1947. Photo by Barbara Stanwyck.

France, 1947. Photo by Barbara Stanwyck.

and you would do so again if you were requested to do it?

Mr. Taylor: I certainly would, sir. I happen to believe strongly enough in the American people  to think that they will go along with anybody who prefers America and the American form of government over any other subversive ideologies which might be presented and by whom I might be criticized. (Loud applause)

ist2_3198263-decorative-swirl-motifMuch of the early reaction by the public to Mr.Taylor’s testimony was positive:

“It is good to hear a young American uncontaminated by the graceless ‘isms’ of the day, speak, as an American, to Americans, for America.” Omaha World Herald, Oct. 24,1947.

The public mobbed Mr. Taylor wherever he went. “Drinks were sent over to his table in restaurants and the senders always followed up with a visit to his table.  ‘I didn’t mind this

Fans followed him everywhere. 1950, Rome, with Stanwyck

Fans followed him everywhere. 1950, Rome, with Stanwyck

type of adoration, if that’s what you could call it.  Folks would come over and talk to me about how they felt concerning world problems or about a relative who had been killed in the war.  I sat over many a cold steak, but being admired for just standing up for what I believed was right, seemed normal to me–but a big thing to them. (Jane Ellen Wayne, Robert Taylor: the Man with the Perfect Face, NY, St. Martin’s Press, 1973, 1987, page 134.)

ist2_3198263-decorative-swirl-motifHowever, from the beginning, the left leaning mainstream media  was hostile. The San Jose News (May 16, 1947), the Sydney Morning Herald (May 20, 1947), The Examiner, Tasmania (Oct. 24, 1947), the Montreal Gazette (Oct. 23, 1947), the St. Petersburg Times (FL) ( Oct. 23, 1947), LIFE Magazine (November 24, 1947), the Miami News (Oct. 22, 1947) and many others published similar articles in which both Robert Taylor and the whole idea of Communist influence in Hollywood were ridiculed.

abcAs the years passed, Mr. Taylor continued to pay a price for his honesty and courage.
The Communists themselves were quick to jump aboard the hate bandwagon. From an

He won the award for "World's Favorite Actor" at the Golden Globes for 1953.

He won the award for “World’s Favorite Actor” at the Golden Globes for 1953.

article by N. A. Daniels in The New Masses, a communist publication, on June 3, 1947:

Robert Taylor, the MGM clothes-horse, was a star for a day. He “revealed” that his commission in the Navy had been “held up” by “Washington” while it dispatched a “special agent” to force the reluctant Mr. Taylor to appear in a pro-communist film, Song of Russia.

The use of quotation marks here is, of course, a way of saying you don’t believe any of it and ridiculing the speaker. Cherry-picking a word or phrase here or there is a familiar technique by people who want to twist the meaning of something.

Robert Taylor signs an autograph for a little girl after leaving the HUAC hearings.

Robert Taylor signs an autograph for a little girl after leaving the HUAC hearings.

Isvestia, the Soviet publication, said this:

“There was a time in America when it was the vogue to sympathize with the Soviet Union.  Quite a big business was done on this and Robert Taylor did it also.  But other times set in, and under the influence of definite laws, it becomes fashionable to renounce one’s sympathies ‘to expose.” One may think that on this as well, Robert Taylor has done quite a job.  Mr. Taylor is without bravery or stable views.” (Quoted in Jane Ellen Wayne, Robert Taylor: the Man with the Perfect Face, NY, St. Martin’s Press, 1973, 1987, page 134).

ist2_3198263-decorative-swirl-motifIn 1987 Burt Lancaster narrated a made-for-TV documentary called Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist. Producer Judy Chaikin said: ”Taylor is the only one on film actually naming names. When people see it, it takes their breath away: THE star who named names.” She was reported as saying that the reason today’s filmmakers don’t want to honor Mr. Taylor is: America doesn’t like finks.” It’s hard to imagine a more juvenile or reprehensible comment. There would be a lot less violent crime in America if people didn’t protect criminals for fear of becoming “finks.” (Quotation from the essay by E.A. Kral: “Robert Taylor: His Patriotism, His Critics and His Enduring Fame,” Supplement to the Beatrice, Nebraska Daily Sun, October 3, 1994, page 5)

ist2_3198263-decorative-swirl-motif

"Ivanhoe" was a huge money maker in 1952.

“Ivanhoe” was a huge money maker in 1952.

In a previous post I published William F. Buckley’s column on the removal of Robert Taylor’s name from a building at the former MGM. When asked why this was done, Producer Stan Berg said: “We felt uncomfortable working in a building named after a man who was responsible for blacklisting writers and actors.” Sitcom scribe and Taylor hater Stan Zimmerman added: In this age of Jessie Helms and other right-wing noisemakers, we decided to take action.” (Kral, Ibid.) This last statement is probably the truth—the actions of these two and others were straight politics, the same politics of hate we have today. The building only survived until 1991.

abcSome writers were more fair minded. New York Post columnist Eric Breindel said: “If Taylor—or someone like him in a different industry—had cooperated with the pre-war congressional inquiry into the activities of the (then entirely legal) German-American Bund, even to the point of identifying particular individuals as probable Bund sympathizers, would there be a parallel controversy today?” (New York Post, January 11, 1990). Mr. Breindel concluded that there would not.  (Kral, Ibid.)

abcOn February 27, 1990, The Washington Times published an article called “Robert Taylor, unperson.” In it, Edward Dmytryk, a member of the “Hollywood Ten”*   said that Lorimar’s action in removing Mr. Taylor’s name from the building was “a small, mean-spirited, picayunish thing to do” and that what “bothers me more than anything is that these people have not been able to put this thing behind them…Mostly the producers (who instituted the blacklist) are responsible for that, not Robert Taylor—or any of the guys who spoke on either side, as a matter of fact.” (Kral, Ibid)

abcE. A. Kral, Taylor scholar and writer wrote in 1994:

My own view is this: The radical critics, like most humans and

A second marriage in May 1954 brought lasting happiness with Ursula Thiess.

A second marriage in May 1954 brought lasting happiness with Ursula Thiess.

most groups in any walk of life, twisted the facts to fit their theories instead of the reverse.  In November 1989, when the Germans and Czechs  ended Communist rule, they finally had to admit after decades of erroneous belief that they had lost out in the marketplace of ideas, made even worse later in the fall of 1991 when the Soviets themselves ousted their Communist rulers.

So they chose to vent their frustrations on Robert Taylor posthumously because it was convenient and because they could get away with it.  In the process, they publicly exposed their own character and ethics, not to mention their own reasoning. (Ibid)

I should also note that records that have become available since the fall of the Soviet Union have proved that the Hollywood communists were consistently in touch with Moscow and were by no means independent progressives. (Jack R. Fischel, “Reds and Radicals In Hollywood”  Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2014 and other sources)

abcAccording to Robert Taylor’s assistant and close friend Ivy Mooring, he would never discuss his experiences with the HUAC. “‘It was a closed book.’ But he did see communism as a real threat.  He did feel that certain writers put propaganda in their scripts.  He did feel that ‘Senator McCarthy was a brute, but that it had to be done and McCarthy was the one doing it.’ ” (Charles Tranberg, Robert Taylor: a Biography, Bear Media, 2011, page 189)

abc

"The Law and Jake Wade," 1958.

“The Law and Jake Wade,” 1958.

Mr. Kral finished his essay with the following quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.”

abc*Refers to artists blacklisted by the Hollywood studios after their HUAC testimony. They were also prosecuted by the Federal government and imprisoned for a year.

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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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4 Responses to The Taylor Haters (II): Robert Taylor Unperson

  1. b&wmovienut says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve always felt it was unfair that Robert Taylor always gets pointed at as naming names when he wasn’t the only Hollywood figure who testified for HUAC. He was just made a convenient scapegoat. And also thank you for mentioning Ursula Thiess, who was a much more worthy spouse to him than Barbara Stanwyck, who couldn’t be bothered to give up her career to support her husband as any good wife would. It’s no wonder he cheated on her so blatantly…I just hope he didn’t do that to Ursula, although I guess we’ll never know.

    • giraffe44 says:

      I hope people will begin re-evaluating Mr. Taylor’s role in the HUAC farce now that Linda Alexander’s book, “Reluctant Witness” handles it so well. I’ve tried to add here to the material in her book. Ursula was one smart lady. She went on location with him on almost every film. Mr. Taylor had no reason to look elsewhere when she was right in front of him. I really think he was faithful to Ursula because she gave him the life he wanted. Thanks for writing

  2. dillybaby says:

    I am a huge fan of Robert Taylor and I am just sick about the unprecedented way the “haters” have attempted to erase him from Hollywood history. I would have been proud to know him as an American and as a person. Hollywood should look again and ‘Take him for all in all.’

    • giraffe44 says:

      I do so agree with you. I wish the Academy would give him a posthumous lifetime award. There are a number of films Mr. Taylor should have been nominated for and this would at least acknowledge his work. Thanks for writing.

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