This letter arrived this morning in the form of a comment by Martha Crawford Cantarini, long-time stuntwoman.
“What a treat this web site is. I am thrilled to have found it. It is a beautiful tribute to a most deserving person.
“I met Robert Taylor when I was doubling his leading lady on The Law and Jake Wade. Not too long after we finished the film he had to relocate his three horses and the head wrangler on the film suggested I take them at my place. I had nice stalls, a riding ring and 5 acres. I had the horses from late 1957 into 1959 when Bob moved from Pacific Palisades to the Mandeville Canyon Ranch. Tommy was a beautiful light dapple grey horse and boy are they hard to keep clean! So typical of his caring ways, he never came to see them without first calling to warn me he was coming. Most of the time, Ursula came with him. What a delight she was and such a grand compliment to this extraordinary man. They both were fascinated with the mud hole I had made for Ursula’s horse to stand his front feet in. He had some foot issues and the mud would draw the heat from his feet. I also had Buck the old horse that Bob so loved. He said he had ridden him in his first western film. Eventually, Buck died from complications of colic. He died with his head in my lap and what a traumatic day it was. Bob left it up to me whether we had to put him down and it was the hardest decision I have ever made. I have wonderful memories of the time I spent with Bob and Ursula. I have to chuckle now and then when I think of Bob arriving at Christmas time with a ten pound box of chocolates tucked under his arm.
“I have great memories, too, of being invited to their home for Ursula’s homemade Cabbage Rolls. She was an extraordinary cook and hostess. They were still at the San Remo house and it was so delightful and you were as comfortable in jeans as in dress clothes. They were proud of the gorgeous furniture that George Montgomery had made for them. Montgomery has many pieces in the Palm Springs Museum and they tour several times a year throughout the country. The dining room ceiling was a huge wagon wheel . . . spokes and all. All of that and Ronald Reagan for my dinner partner made for an unforgettable evening. I cherish the memories.
“What an extraordinary human being Robert Taylor was. I have many years behind me now and I have met many, many people. I was raised around the film colony with my father being a professional polo player and so many of them interested in polo in those days. However, though I knew many . . . beyond a doubt, Robert Taylor was the nicest person I have ever met. And, I say again, Ursula was a sweetheart and the perfect complement to him. They were the proverbial cup and saucer fit.
“Re Barbara Stanwyck: I have never doubted for one minute that the marriage was a PR move by the studios. I will tell you what guides my thoughts . . . other than the fact they had not one iota in common and it was so common place. The studios molded stars the way they wanted them to appear to the fans. I saw it time after time.
“If you look at Robert Taylor’s face and you listen to all the glowing thoughts people had about him, you will know that this honest, honorable man would never, ever, have lived a bachelor’s life as he did while married to Stanwyck had it been a true marriage. Of all the men in the world who would have stood by their vows it was Robert Taylor. His word meant everything to him. He was a very rare human being and his character was reflected in his face.
“Re Eleanor Parker: I doubled Eleanor in 4 films including going to Hong Kong to do the long shots while she stayed home (The Seventh Sin). Robert Taylor was the nicest man I ever met. Jean Simmons was the nicest lady I ever met and Eleanor Parker was the classiest. She was a sweetheart too but boy could she get what she wanted when she wanted it. One time on the King and Four Queens ‘someone’ had mistakenly sent another girl to double her. By this time I was considered ‘the only one’. She threw some kind of a fit and the studio charted a Western Airlines DC4 to bring me to St George, Utah. I am sure the crew to this day are saying, “who the h— is that?” I only had an hour’s notice to get ready when the limo arrived to take me to the Burbank airport. Wow. What wonderful memories.
“Well, I thank you again for all you are doing and apologize for the long epistle but seldom do I have a chance anymore to share the memories with those who have the same loves as I.”
Thank you again,
Martha Crawford Cantarini
From A Fan: Ms. Cantarini,
Thank you for sharing your reminisces of Mr. Taylor. However, I must respectfully disagree re: your comments on his marriage to Barbara Stanwyck. I knew Miss Stanwyck personally and I can attest to her honesty and her integrity. Even if the studios encouraged something, she would never have gone through with the marriage if she hadn’t wanted to. In speaking with her periodically over the years and hearing her talk about Mr. Taylor (though I didn’t know her well enough for her to share deep feelings), she genuinely loved him. I don’t know what was in his heart but, at least from Miss Stanwyck’s point of view, their marriage was for real. She was a lovely person, inside and out. I read this blog from time to time and enjoy hearing about the man who Miss Stanwyck loved so much.
Ms. Cantarini to A Fan: Yes I have no doubt that she was very fond of him and in reality he must have been fond of her. I too have heard what a grand person she was. My best friend doubled her in all her horse work. I remember one time she had finished a film requiring a lot of stunts and Barbara gave her a gorgeous set of Safire cuff links. Takes a big lady to do that. I remember too when my friend doubled Gail Davis in the Annie Oakley series and Gail gave her a deck of cards. What a difference in people! Re the marriage: I was so close to so many of the PR moves made by the studios that that is the way I saw it and still do.
From me: Ms. Cantarini, may I publish this on the blog as an actual post? I know that all Robert Taylor fans would enjoy reading it as much as I have. I’m so glad you like the blog. Thank you so much for writing. Judith
From Ms. Cantarini: Yes of course. I would be honored! BTW I forgot to add that my favorite Robert Taylor picture was Broadway Melody of 1936. Though Bob was just in his twenties there are so many glimpses of the Bob I knew in it that it was very unique for me to see it. I watch it often.
From me: Ms. Cantarini, thank you so much. I’ll publish it today. I’ve just started your book and am enjoying it very much. I also love Broadway Melody of 1936, especially the scenes where Mr. Taylor decks Jack Benny.
From Ms. Cantarini. Hahahahahaha -I’ll bet they had fun with that shot!
Al Perry says:
What a wonderful post Ms. Cantarini and what a great career you had as well. But I’m a little confused about what you wrote about “Buck” being the horse that Bob said he rode in his “first” western film which would have been Billy the Kid released in 1941. He may have but I couldn’t see Buck in any of the trailers on Youtube that shows Bob riding a buckskin in that movie ~ but I did see him mounted on one in his “second” western called “Ambush” released in 1950.
I once worked part time for Bob on his Ranch in Mandeville Canyon from early 1962 until shortly after his death in 1969. The first thing I’d always see every time I went into the tack room was a beautifully framed large color photo portrait of Bob mounted on top of Buck with what appeared to be the Alabama Hills in the background. To me, that was the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen but I never knew the history of Buck. Your very tender recollection of his passing with his head lying on your lap just about put a very large lump in my throat when I read it and I’m so grateful that you posted it. Bob’s horse “Tommy” was always very easy to work with and so was Mrs. Taylor’s horse “Bobby” which was a beautifully colored dark “chestnut” as I recall. Bob and Ursula were two of the finest people I’d ever had the pleasure of knowing and I’m so grateful that those all too brief 7 years that I had with them also provided me with more than 45+ years of wonderful memories.
On a slightly different note ~ I was wondering if you might also remember one of the stuntmen in The Law and Jake Wade named Jack N. Young? He called himself “BlackJack Young” back then and also doubled for Bob on Westward the Women in 1951. Jack Young and I are “friends” on Facebook.
From Ms. Cantarini: Hi Al –
What fun to chat with you. Yes, I too was confused about the Buck and Billy the Kid connection. Bob was so adamant about it but I too have never seen a bit of him re the film. Perhaps it was cut out or perhaps Bob meant, “one of my first Westerns.” I know that Buck was an old horse. My vet who later became the California State Veterinarian said he was dying of pain when I called Bob to tell him. The autopsy showed he had a tumor the size of a basketball. Poor poor baby. What a dear he was. And, yes I can certainly agree with you that Tommy was easy to work with. He was the last horse trained by the great California reinsman M.R. Valdez. He was the greatest of all trainers of western horses. It was when he closed his stable that Bob’s horses were sent to me. The picture of me they used for the program re the Golden Boot Awards was of me sitting on Tommy.
And, no I did not know Jack Young. But so seldom do stunt people work together that it is not unbelievable that I would not have met him. On the Law and Jake Wade Henry Wills doubled Bob. So many years have passed that it is seldom I find someone to share the memories with.
Thanks for writing.
Al Perry Says
You’re right Martha, it is a pleasure to chat with someone who remembers and personally knew Bob and Ursula. They were two people so much in love at the time and had so much respect for one another that even a blind person could sense it. They started out as two very different people who were almost suddenly melted together to form “one” of a kind. Each of them starting out from two very different walks in life even though both were “actors” but eventually coming together not unlike the same way my own parents once did so many decades earlier.
It is also probably why I was so eager to become even just a small part of who they were when the opportunity arose for me to begin working for them on their ranch and if the truth be known I would have gladly worked on that ranch for nothing ~ just simply for the experience of being in the outdoors and playing a very small part in the real life of Robert Taylor and his wife. Ursula was always Mrs. Taylor to me and I never even thought to call her by her first name even though I always knew she wouldn’t mind. But nevertheless, I always had that much respect for her and I never wanted to compromise that.
From almost the very beginning when I started working at the ranch, Bob knew how much I loved photography and asked me one day if I would mind taking some candid portraits of Ursula and Tessa who was only about 2 or 3 at the time. I felt so honored but also somewhat unsure of myself about doing it at first but I just suddenly blurted out ~ “sure, I’d be glad to!”. Mrs. Taylor was pleased with the results but it wasn’t until decades later when I discovered just how much Ursula had liked one of the shots I had taken of her and Tessa together when she included her “favorite” one in her book ~ “…but I have promises to keep” ~ at the top of page 129. That personal photo shoot was a very memorable (but also very nervous) moment in time for me that I will never forget.
Some time later in that same decade my wife and I divorced but I always had
“visitation” every weekend. My 3 young children more often than not always came with me to the ranch to “help” their Daddy with ‘chores’ if and whenever I could lure them away from playing and having fun with Tessa and Terry. I always knew where they were and never worried about them and so ~ Daddy would always somehow manage to find a way to do “chores” all by himself but somehow too we all still managed to also have just as much ‘fun’ doing what we were all doing by “ourselves” just the same. I had/still have 2 daughters and a son.
But it wasn’t until just a few short years ago that my youngest daughter Carolyn (who is now in her early 50’s) revealed to me for the first time that she once thought that it was she who might have caused the ‘death’ of Robert Taylor. Both her and Tessa were about 5 or 6 at the time and really making a lot of ‘noise’ one day playing in Tessa’s room when Bob suddenly burst in and shouted out ~ “Hey you two ~ keep it down in here ~ I’m trying to get some sleep!”.
That happened in the early Summer of 1969 after Bob had one of several operations on his lungs and not long before when Bob finally died. For the longest time my youngest daughter always harbored the “guilt” that it was only because of the “noise” that both she and Tessa were making that finally caused the death of Tessa’s father after he angrily burst into Tessa’s room. She never said anything to me about it then so I never had a chance to console or try to council her about it. Is it any wonder even today how the precious mind of a young child could be so influenced about something they have absolutely no control over ~ and yet still assume complete responsibility for it?
Art Reeves, Bob’s full time ranch foreman was also with him at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica just a few moments before he died.. Bob motioned to him to come closer and later Art told me what he had said ~ “Art, I wish I would have quit sooner.” Both Art and I knew exactly what he meant because the two of us were also very heavy smokers at the time and soon after that we were both motivated enough to finally quit smoking ourselves ~ whether or not it was out of respect for Bob or how poorly he looked after those horrible operations he had to endure it didn’t matter. Robert Taylor, the man, had a tremendous affect upon both of our lives and each of us in our own ways after that always tried to live up to some of Bob’s own “values” and standards in life.
Not long before I had to leave my “job” at the ranch, Art Reeves and I loaded Bob’s prized stallion “Show Bars” into a horse trailer and drove him up to Santa Barbara where Bob’s best friend and his wife once lived. Bob had ‘willed’ Show Bars to his best friend Ronald Reagan and although this was not the first time I had met him, it was the first time I ever had the Governor of the State of California and future President of the United States “assist” me in the removal of a large load of horseshit that Show Bars had unceremoniously deposited on the Governor’s well manicured front lawn immediately after we backed him out of his trailer.
Art was still doing something inside the horse trailer and I sheepishly looked over at Governor Reagan and to this day I still don’t know what in the hell ever possessed me to suddenly blurt out ~ “Well, you want to shovel or rake”? A burst of laughter suddenly came from the house where Mrs. Reagan (Nancy) was standing in the doorway and the Governor burst into laughter just as loud and said ~ “Well, suppose you shovel and I’ll rake”. Unforgettable and simple moments in time like that no matter how simple or how old will never be forgotten by a simple man like me and I will always treasure it for as long as I live.
The trip up from Mandeville Canyon to Santa Barbara by the way took several hours and I’m convinced that Show Bars somehow knew that he was being transported to a new owner and the sooner he established who was the “boss” at wherever he was being dropped off at ~ the sooner this new “owner” of his would realize it. I don’t know what ever happened after that but I do remember Art once telling me the first day I started working at the Taylor ranch to “never” turn my back on the stallion if I’m working in his yard. Art pointed to a short 2X4 lying on the ground just in front of “his yard” and told me if “he ever” does decide to take me on and test me and give me any kind of trouble to just walk over to it, pick It up and then walk back into “his” yard and show him who’s really “in charge” ~ but don’t ever hit him with it ~ just show him you’ve got it and that always just calms him down and he’ll generally just let you in there to clean up or whatever else it was I had to do.
It was almost 7 years I had to work with that stallion and I was never quite able to figure out just who in the hell was boss over who but eventually we both somehow managed to tolerate one another just the same. He sure as hell was a handful to get out of the stall to lead him out to “his yard” in the beginning but eventually he learned not to piss me off so much that I’d just leave him inside for the rest of the day otherwise. In those earlier days that only happened a few times but he soon got the “message” that if he wanted to go outside at all ~ he’d better start cooperating.
He really was truly a magnificent looking stallion and later on a whole lot of “fun” to work with. He’d challenge me and I’d always come back and challenge him (without even having that 2X4 in my hand) and I’d always wind up being the winner. I think it became just some sort of “horse” game of his with me after a while but we always both then just came away actually kind of enjoying it.
Martha, I would so much love to be able to see “Tommy” once again as you mentioned in your post where you said you were sitting on him at one of the Golden Boots Awards. I don’t think photos can be posted on here but if you have the ability to post the URL web address that may have covered that event with you and Tommy together I would be ever so grateful. Tommy and me (and Bobby too) spent almost 7 years together and I miss those 2 old horses almost as much as I miss the two unforgettable people who once rode them, up that long dusty trail just in front of the bunkhouse on their own property in Mandeville Canyon on their way up to do whatever it is that two people like them still in love do on such trips. I forget both of their names now but Bob’s two golden retrievers also use to accompany them on occasion and I’ll never forget those moments.
Those were 7 of the most memorable years of my much younger life but the worst of it now is ~ I never get to talk about any of this with anyone who has even the slightest interest in hearing about such things and perhaps even worse, trying to explain to a much younger generation who an actor named Robert Taylor is or even use to be. But then again, I suppose that happens with every new generation.
From Ms. Cantarini: Mornin’ Al –
You write so beautifully I can just see myself in your stories. Whoa – the stallion. I have never been fond of stallions. Give me a well trained gelding anyday! I know what you mean by the generation gap. I did a three hour class at our local college recently and was please to see all seniors so at least they would know who I was talking about when I said, “Clark Gable – Robert Taylor – Gregory Peck.” The class was on Hollywood in the 50’s. It was fun. BTW you can email me:
mjcatsecondrunningdotcom and I will send you a picture of Tommy. I am holding him and he looks so great. The one for my Golden Boot Award is on the main page of this site thanks to Judith but there is little of Tommy to be seen. I was sitting at the back gate waiting to go in the ring for a horse show.
Interview with Stunt Double Martha Crawford Cantarini – Part One and Part Two by John Greco. https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/interview-with-stunt-woman-martha-crawford-cantarini-part-one/