Modern Screen, March 1969
The Faith That Is Helping Me Conquer Cancer
Robert Taylor and His Wife Tell of the Greatest Battle of His Life
by Frank Dunne
(The first photo is original to the article. I added the rest.)
A harsh sob caught in the woman’s throat as she fought to control her emotions. Then she regained her composure…and a noticeable burst of pride banished any threat of tears.
“My husband is giving a beautiful performance…the greatest of his lifetime,” said lovely Ursula Thiess. Then the German-born actress, wife of Robert Taylor, described the greatest one man performance Hollywood has seen for many years.
You see, Ursula’s tough and courageous husband is starring in a horrible real-life drama. That drama is his own personal battle against cancer. He has chosen to play this role with an amazing display of bravado, guts and courage.
“He’s putting on a brave front for me and the children,” his wife explained. “He’s just not the kind of man to cry the blues. Then, as if to prove that I was hearing was not just a terrible nightmare, Robert Taylor, the hero of fifty  movies, showed just what a real-life hero was truly like.
“Oh, sure,” he told me in a quiet and even voice, “it’s cancer all right, lung cancer.” The words dropped like a bombshell. Until then, his agent, manager and doctor had told the world that Taylor had gone to the hospital to be treated for a disease commonly known as “valley fever.” It is a fungal infection which can be treated surgically…and thus the story was plausible.
Robert Taylor was admitted to the hospital last October 8. His doctors performed a massive operation which resulted in the removal of his right lung. At that time, the real nature of his illness was still kept secret from the general public. Of course, there was the usual speculation that follows any major surgery. But his agents persisted in saying: no trace of cancer. He went back into the hospital after slight complications, but soon after that he was discharged. I had my suspicions, and decided to speak to Robert himself this time.
Robert Taylor told me—and the outside world—for the first time that he was battling the dread disease of cancer. His tone was unbelievably light. He spoke the same way someone would talk about battling the common cold.
“I don’t think there’s any use in keeping it a secret,” Robert told me. “Anyway one thing’s for sure, it wasn’t valley fever—it was cancer. I was listening to the same quiet voice that won millions of film fans, speaking nonchalantly about the fight against this terrible killer. Yes, it was the same Robert Taylor, with the same classic good looks, widow’s peak and good-natured smile. Yet he was a different man. The disease had taken its toll.
“I’m pretty weak, I must confess,” Bob said. But his face, which showed no trace of a frown, and his spirits revealed only the greatest kind of strength and faith. “Boy is my weight low,” he threw in. “I’ve lost about thirty pounds. But I guess that sort of thing is to be expected. Anyway, I think I’ve got it beaten. Then he added, as if not to tempt fate, “Of course, you can never tell with these things.
After Modern Screen’s reporter first revealed that the famous star was fighting lung cancer, newspapers all over the world splashed the story with an urgency usually accorded presidents and prime ministers. Reporters from Australia, England and South America were ordered to follow up the story.
“Gee, I really can’t see what the fuss is all about,”Taylor said in his genuinely unassuming manner. “People really have been wonderful, and I appreciate everyone’s concern. But you have to be very philosophical about this thing. Anyway, tell everyone I’m very happy about my progress and I’m optimistic.”
The optimism was in his voice when I spoke with him. Bravely he conceded, “Yeah, sure I feel pretty awful. This has knocked the heck out of me. I have to take it real easy. I putter around the house, get a lot of sleep and take in the sunshine.”
The one thing that has gone out of his life is cigarettes. “You bet,” he said. “I used to smoke 60 a day…but never again! However I can have an occasional drink if I want—hard stuff, that is,” added with laugh. “I never did go in much for soft drinks anyway.”
Reminded that John “Duke” Wayne has successfully beaten cancer after his left lung was removed, Taylor’s voice became enthusiastic. “It’s the one John Wayne role nobody wants,” he jibed. “I guess this thing I have is something like John’s. I sure hope I can make as good a recovery as he did.”
What does a man do when he is told that he is face to face with cancer? This was Robert Taylor’s first reaction when he heard that ugly, frightening word: “Naturally, I was pretty shocked. You can imagine how I felt. Just the word is enough to send shivers down your spine. You know, it actually sounds terrible. But then I just placed myself in the hands of the doctors. I had a lot of faith in them. I have faith in my wife, too. That’s why the first thing I did after the doctor told me the bad news was to tell her. We have a great partnership. I have leaned heavily on her through this awful ordeal and she has been just great.”
When reminded that he sounded almost offhand about the long ordeal he had ahead of him, Taylor seemed puzzled. “That’s the way I am. Why, am I supposed to sound as if I am on my last legs?” A less cheerful Ursula added quietly, “He’s a very strong, a very brave man.”
The ailing-56-year-old  star is awkward about being the center of attention. And yet since 1935, when Bob hit it really big in the picture Jackpot [???What the heck—Mr. Taylor never made any such picture.), he has constantly been in the limelight. In 1937 he made headlines time and time again by becoming a steady duo with the glamorous Barbara Stanwyck—his co-star of two pictures. In 1939, their romance culminated in marriage. Then, in 1951, after twelve years of marriage, the Taylor-Stanwyck marriage ended in divorce.
Bob’s second marriage, to German-born actress Ursula Thiess, took place on May 24, 1954. It has been a difficult marriage in many respects, one that has been trouble-ridden. However, the Taylors themselves have been very happy together.
Bob is a totally unselfish man and has a given a lot to his second marriage to insure his family’s well-being. Nevertheless, both his stepdaughter, Manuela, and his stepson, Michael, who were born to Ursula in Germany during her first marriage, have given the soft-spoken star a lot of grief. Manuela, a tempestuous beauty, gave Taylor one trying time after another while she was growing out of her teens into womanhood. And Michael, also, has given him—as well as his own father—many heartaches.
Both Michael and Manuela now have grown up and seem to be on the road to maturity and success. But no sooner has the family been relieved of one problem than tragedy has struck again. Taylor, the man who so doggedly fought the problems and battles of his family, has now been stricken with this terrifying problem of his own.
True to the form of the quiet hero he has played in so many movies, Taylor would rather be concerned about the problems of others rather than his own. “Today the young actors have a tremendous problem,” he said. “The industry is now so unprofessional. It’s not fair to the young actors of today the way some productions, particularly those on television, are slapped together. And it’s not fair to the paying public.”
This kind of criticism comes from a man who truly knows what he’s talking about—for Robert Taylor rose to stardom during the golden age of Hollywood. He was at the peak of his career when actors and actresses were “the beautiful people”…and Hollywood was their own private kingdom. One could not help but be flooded with nostalgia as Taylor talked of a golden, lost era.
“I wasn’t a very good actor,” he said.“Frankly, it’s possible I was one of the worst. [I hate it when he says stuff like this.] But I was professional…and so was the entire industry. Working opposite Greta Garbo was a tremendous thrill. Do you think she’d ever be late for work? Never. She was a real pro. Hollywood today has been sadly deglamorized. When elegantly dressed and groomed actresses like Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Vivien Leigh stepped out, you knew you were looking at real stars. Today in comparison some members of the acting fraternity look like bums.
Robert Taylor is the essence of the “old Hollywood.” He is a handsome, romantic, dignified actor. He is the man who won millions of fans in beautiful films like Camille, Magnificent Obsession, A Yank at Oxford and Waterloo Bridge. Taylor, one of the all-time greatest screen lovers, recalled with a laugh how 30,000 women nearly rioted when he arrived in London to film A Yank at Oxford. It was good to hear him reminisce about the romantic Hollywood of old. Then one remembered with a cold chill why we were talking to Taylor. Unselfish to a fault, he had made us forget about his problem. “Yes,” he said, “those were the days…but nothing is forever.”
“Bob is a calm guy,” reflected a friend of his from his old Hollywood days. “While the rest of us were biting our nails worrying about movie parts, Bob would just play a quiet waiting game.” Today, he is still playing the same waiting game. But this time it is to see if he’s beaten cancer—he’s waiting to see if he has been given a reprieve on his life.
Face-to-face with a touch and go future, Robert Taylor’s courage, faith and dignity are not an act. Talking about the future, Taylor said, “First of all I’m going to beat this thing that has knocked me out. It’s a darn nuisance not being able to go out hunting and fishing, but I just have to take things slowly. After it’s over,” he continued, “I’d like to go back to work—in television. And I would like to make at least one good picture.”
Ursula had the last word: “We are not a deeply religious family, but an optimistic one led by a wonderful man. A man who has the courage and strength to beat this thing.”