Robert Taylor Died on June 8, 1969

Robert Taylor died on June 8, 1969, On June 9, the New York Times published this obituary, starting on the front page. This is copyright the New York Times and I am claiming no rights to it.

ROBERT TAYLOR, 57, IS DEAD OF CANCER

Robert Taylor, a Hollywood star for more than 30 years, died this morning of lung cancer at St. John’s hospital. He was 57 years old. With him was his wife, the German actress Ursula Thiess.

RT5028Hollywood’s studio-sponsored star system created one of its most durable luminaries in Robert Taylor, who in 70 feature films, personalized the glamorous leading man adored by movie fans between the two World Wars.

Despite a shock of black, wavy hair, complete with an eye-catching widow’s peak, a trim, 6-foot frame and classically handsome featured that verged on prettiness and often overshadowed his roles, he was a painstaking professional, if unspectacular, artisan quietly dedicated to his work.

Some 32 years after he made his film debut in 1934, he confided in a rare interview that he had “no complaints.” “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, or rather have done,” he said. “I’m just as nervous the first day of a picture as I was at the beginning, but perhaps I calm down a little faster. I’m still like a race horse when a picture starts. I can’t wait to get going.

Richard Thorpe, who directed Mr. Taylor in six films at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which first signed him and where he was under contract for more than a quarter of a century, said he was a no-nonsense, un-temperamental actor who efficiently and quickly learned his lines. “Bob is a really nice guy,” he said, “and it comes through on screen.”

Shelley Winters, with whom Mr. Taylor appeared in the 1964 film “A House Is Not a Home,” was equally complimentary. “Like Ronald Colman, he was the sweetest man to work with,” she said. “By that I mean he was cooperative and understanding in contrast to most leading men today, who try either to elbow you out of camera range or are off in a corner somewhere practicing “Method” acting.

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“Camille,” 1936, with Greta Garbo.

Mr. Taylor’s personal evaluation of his ability to maintain is star status over the years he was self-effacing. “Darned if I know,” he told a reporter in 1957 while he was still at M-G-M. “I’ve been wondering about it myself for years. I guess the most important thing is to get a good picture once in a while. Acting is the easiest job in the world and I’m the luckiest guy.”

The pictures, among them some good, big and spectacular ones such as “Camille,” “Quo Vadis” and “Billy the Kid” began coming his way a few years after he signed with M-G-M as a handsome, largely untried 23-year-old actor from Nebraska.

He was named Spangler Arlington Brugh by his parents, Dr. Spangler Andrew Brugh and Ruth Adelia Stanhope Brugh. He was born on Aug. 5, 1911 in Filley, Nebraska, a village the family left for Beatrice, Neb., where the youth received his high school education and learned to play the cello. He also was a member of the track team and won the state oratorical championships.

After his freshman year at Doane College in Crete, Neb., he followed his music teacher to Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. Where he added to his academic and music studies roles in such Pomona collegiate plays as “Camille” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” An M-G-M talent scout saw his performance in the starring role of Captain Stanhope in the World War I drama “Journey’s End” and signed him to a seven-year contract starting at $35 a week.

After graduation young Brugh, whose name was changed by the studio, was farmed out to

"Magnificent Obsession," 1935 with Irene Dune.

“Magnificent Obsession,” 1935 with Irene Dune.

the Fox studio, where he made his movie debut in a small supporting role in “Handy Andy,” a comedy starring Will Rogers. Within three years, starting with the lead in an M-G-M “crime-does-not-pay” short subject called “Buried Loot” Mr. Taylor appeared in 18 features, among them the 1937 “Camille,” in which he played the love-smitten Armand to Greta Garbo’s Camille.

“Robert Taylor is surprisingly good as Armand,” The New York Times critic said, “a bit on the juvenile side at times, perhaps, but certainly not guilty of the traditional sin of many Armands of the past-callowness.”

Among the other films in which he appeared, and which helped boost his salary into the $5,000 a week class, were “There’s Always Tomorrow,” “Society Doctor,” “West Point of the Air,” and the musical “Broadway Melody of 1936, in which he was the romantic lead, with Eleanor Powell and Jack Benny. However, it was his role opposite Irene Dunne in the tear-stained 1936 drama, “Magnificent Obsession,” for which he had been lent to Universal to Studios, that made him a top star.

He attended the President’s Birthday Ball in Washington with Jean Harlow. Fans mobbed him in public places for several years thereafter and likened him to the late Rudolph Valentino as the movies’ major matinee idol. His popularity was on a par with that of Clark Gable, Shirley Temple and the team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the box-office favorites of the period.

But as a serious actor who yearned for artistry in his craft, Mr. Taylor managed eventually

"Waterloo Bridge," 1940

“Waterloo Bridge,” 1940

to escape the glamor boy classification by playing more muscular roles. These included the tough title character in the 1940 “Billy the Kid,” the officer-gentleman opposite Vivien Leigh in “Waterloo Bridge,” the hard-bitten prize fighter in “The Crowd Roars,” and the noble killer in “Johnny Eager.”

Critical opinions were varied about some of his subsequent performances. Commenting on “Her Cardboard Lover,” a 1942 drawing-room comedy, in which he starred opposite Norma Shearer, Bosley Crowther said in The Times,” Mr. Taylor, who has finally gotten somewhere as an actor, is back…..compelled to make the most inane remarks.” A year later, in his review of “Bataan,” Mr. Crowther called the Taylor portrayal of the ill-fated sergeant “believable even though though he does rush about a bit too much with a dark scowl.”

World War II put the actor’s flying ability to use. An experienced amateur pilot, he was sworn as a lieutenant in the Navy’s air transport division but was deferred until he completed” Song of Russia” at M-G-M. He was then assigned to duty as a flight instructor. He also directed 17 Navy training films and did the narration for “The Fighting Lady,” a documentary about an aircraft carrier. The commentary, one critic noted, was done in “a stern self-effacing voice with no trace of the movie star.”

"Quo Vadis," 1950.

“Quo Vadis,” 1950.

Several years after the war Mr. Taylor testified before a visiting House Un-American Activities subcommittee that he considered “Song of Russia” pro-Communist. The film, which was released in 1944 and in which he starred as an American conductor who falls in love with a Russian girl, was labeled “a honey of a topical musical film” by Mr. Crowther. He added, “Mr. Taylor makes a very good impression as a young American caught in Russia by love and war.”

The postwar years brought roles marked bu steadfast professionalism. There were serious, workmanlike stints as a secretive mental patient in “High Wall” (1947) and as a Secret Service Man in “The Bribe” (1949). And there were variations in the Western genre in “Ambush,” he played a brusque frontiersman guiding the cavalry against the Apaches, and in “Devil’s Doorway,” he was a Shoshone Indian Medal of Honor winner who lost his fight against encroaching white settlers.

As one of the stars, along with Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn and Peter Ustinov he spent much of 1950 working in Italy on the $7-million remake of “Quo Vadis.” Mr. Taylor played a decided second fiddle to the super-spectacle of Nero’s Rome. Like the other principals in this moneymaker, the actor, cast as Marcus, the Roman centurion who falls in love with the captive early Christian portrayed by Miss Kerr, was “anything but inspired” according to the The Time’s critic.

Following the pattern set by other film stars, Mr. Taylor also was featured in his own

"His Brother's Wife," 1936 with future wife Barbara Stanwyck.

“His Brother’s Wife,” 1936 with future wife Barbara Stanwyck.

television series, the 1959-62 “The Detectives.” As the upstanding, no-nonsense sleuth, he reminded viewers that he also had played a hard-fisted venal detective in the 1954 film “Rogue Cop.” He also appeared on other TV shows, including “Death Valley Days.”

Off-screen Mr. Taylor lead a singularly unglamorized, scandal-free life. He married

Barbara Stanwyck in May, 1939 in San Diego. They had made two films together, the

1936 “His Brother’s Wife” and the 1937 “This Is My Affair.” They were divorced in February, 1951, but remained friends and co-starred again in 1965 in “The Night Walker,” a light-weight suspense thriller.

In May 1954 Mr. Taylor married Ursula Thiess in Jackson, Wyo. The actress, who had been divorced from George Thiess, a German director, had been featured in several American films before their mag]marriage but later abandoned her screen career.

The Taylors lived on a 113-acre ranch, stocked with horses, cattle and chickens, in Los Angeles Mandeville Canyon section. There they enjoyed a quiet, bucolic retreat from the hectic schedules of films and television.

Mr. Taylor underwent surgery on Oct. 8 for the removal of his right lung. He returned to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. In November for further surgery.

Ursula Thiess, Manuela Thiess, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan at Robert Taylor's funeral.

Ursula Thiess, Manuela Thiess, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan at Robert Taylor’s funeral.

Besides his widow, he is survived b their son, Terrance, 13, and daughter, Tessa, 9 and by Mr. Taylor’s child by her first marriage, Manuela, 25. Mrs. Taylor’s son, Michael, 23, was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment last month, possibly, the police said, from an overdose of drugs.

A funeral service for Mr. Taylor will be held at 11:30 A.M. Wednesday at the Forest Lawn Church of the Recessional in nearby Glendale. Gov. Ronald will deliver the eulogy and the Rev. Gary Demarest will conduct the service.

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Robert Taylor’s grave at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

 

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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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10 Responses to Robert Taylor Died on June 8, 1969

  1. Mario says:

    Rest in peace Mr. Taylor and God bless your soul for all the memories and happiness you gave us forever with your work as an actor. Thanks.

  2. SusanaG says:

    While I may not remember the exact day, I do have vivid recollections of catching my family talking about Robert Taylor’s death, which is an indication of how hard the sad news had impacted on them. I also remember wondering myself, in my pure innocence of a 10 year old child, if with Capt. Holbrook now gone I’d still see him appear in The Detectives, a show I enjoyed very much back then.
    In a way, I can say I grew up with Robert Taylor and, on and off, he’s been part of my life ever since. Thank you Judith for this post. It’s good people remember him after 45 years and pay their respects by keeping his memory alive.

  3. giraffe44 says:

    I remember Mr. Taylor’s death very well. It was sad that he went so young. I had been a fan for years and had put together these huge scrapbooks. I mailed them to Ursula Thiess hoping that someday she might enjoy them. Since there was no return address, I don’t know what happened to them but perhaps they got to her. It’s impressive that the NYT gave the obit so much space and on the front page. They weren’t huge fans in their reviews and this is surprising but good. I had another post ready about his “renaissance” but decided to save it for his birthday in August and use this instead. Good to hear from you.

  4. dianne345 says:

    I remember his death very well too. Having been a fan since the first time I saw “Quo Vadis” when I was 12, it felt like losing a member of my family. I have continued to watch his movies on TV whenever possible during all the years since, first on local stations & later on TNT & TCM. And I have many of his movies on DVD & VHS, including quite a few I recorded myself. The New York Times obituary did not give him the praise he deserved, but it is significant that it was on the front page.

  5. giraffe44 says:

    I thought that it was very significant that the obit was on the front page and that it was so long. It continues on an inside page and runs for several columns. They finally gave him the respect he deserved if not the praise. Better late than never, I guess. At least Ursula and the kids could take satisfaction in the obit. It’s good to hear from you.

  6. dianne345 says:

    I actually bought that NYT issue the next day at a news stand on my way to work. I kept it intact for a long time in a box but eventually just cut out the article.

  7. giraffe44 says:

    Oh my, do you still have it? I bought a digital copy from the Times. What a treasure.

  8. dianne345 says:

    Yes, but I wish I had kept the full front page.

  9. giraffe44 says:

    I think you can order a replica of any front page. It wouldn’t be the same, but it is a possibility.

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