We know little about Robert Taylor’s life in the Navy. There were no journalists following him around to record his life and snag interviews. His three years in the Navy seemed to have changed Mr. Taylor profoundly–he went in still something of a boy and came out a man. Robert Taylor was proud to volunteer to serve his country and did so with honor and distinction.
“Taylor passed his general mental classification and his mechanical aptitude tests with the highest grades reported here in many months–all A’s and B’s….And as far as his physical is concerned, he passed his flyer’s physical with a…13–and 14 is as good as you can get.” (LA Daily News, quoted in Charles Tranberg, Robert Taylor: a Biography, Bear Manor Media, 2011, page 160.)
Left to right: Robert Taylor Joins Navy. LA,CA. Film Star Robert Taylor shown as Lt. Wallace Trau administered the oath making the actor a lieutenant (jg) in the Naval Air Force. Taylor will start training as ferry pilot instructor. 2/10/43; physical evaluation; pilot training; receiving his Navy flier’s wings. Left: Commander Paul E. Gillespie; Center Captain Dixie Kiefen, hero of the Battle of Midway. January, 1944.
MGM, however, wanted Mr. Taylor for the picture Song of Russia and he didn’t actually report for duty until August 1943. First he was stationed at the Naval Air Training Base in Dallas for basic training. After this, he went to the Naval Air Station in New Orleans for three months of instructor training. On January 11, 1944 he earned his wings, finishing 5th in his class. Commander R.E. Gillespie commented:
“[Robert Taylor] finished his training with one of the best records among the graduates (St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 9, 1944, quoted in Tranberg, page 165.)
Jan. 27, 1944. Robert Taylor confers with Lt. Gordon F. Chamberlain, chief flight instructor at the Naval Air Station, Livermore, Ca. Taylor reported at Livermore earlier this week for duty as a flight instructor.
As a serving Navy officer, Robert Taylor put aside all traces of the movie star. Joe Love, who served with him, reported:
“[Lt. Taylor] had very dark hair, and he always had a five o’clock shadow…he always looked so clean-shaven in his films. [He was] always gracious to the WAVES who asked him for his autograph.” At a dance, he was “very friendly, and did not act as though he had an ego problem…seemed very affable.” (Quoted in Linda J. Alexander, Reluctant Witness, Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism, Tease Publishing,2008, pages 189-190)
Lt. Taylor became a flight instructor. Elsewhere on this blog you can read the account of one of his trainees (A Dentist’s Brush with Fame, posted July 23, 2012). He also made 17 training films for the Navy, some of which are still used today. Commander Frederick Reeder commented:
“In twenty-minutes we will be able to give the cadets the benefit of hundreds of thousands of hours of work done before them in a particular phase of training by the best men the Navy has.” (Milwaukee Journal, July 31, 1944, quoted in Tranberg, page 166)
Lt. Taylor also narrated the documentary The Fighting Lady, 1944. The film was released in late 1944 and the critics were highly positive. As for Lt. Taylor’s narration, the New York Times called it excellent and the New York World Telegram wrote:
“Taylor’s is a stern, self-effacing voice with no trace of the movie star.” (Quirk, Lawrence, The Films of Robert Taylor, Citadel Press, 1975, page 195).
The Fighting Lady won the Academy Award as the best documentary in 1944.
Press release, July 30, 1944:
To Be in the Movies Again in the Navy. Lt. (jg) Robert Taylor, earstwhile Hollywood celebrity, who will play himself in 17 short motion pictures, running from 20 to 35 minutes long, for showing to young fliers learning to be instructors. Instructor Taylor has been a training student at Livermore, Calif, and was called upon to make the films buy Comdr. Hugh B. Jenkins, Executive Officer at the New Orleans Naval Air Station. The pictures will constitute “a new approach to flight training,” says Cmdr. Jenkins.
Robert Taylor continued to serve in the Navy until his discharge in November 1945. He said at the time:
“It’s good to be home, but it’s rather tough to leave the gang you’ve been with so long. You get that lumpy feeling about where you tie your tie.” (The Evening Independent, November 6, 1945, quoted in Tranberg, page 169.)
Left to right: Receiving his discharge papers; Robert Taylor leaves the service: Lt. Robert Taylor, the movie star and husband of Barbara Stanwyck, returns to civilian life. He is shown just after he received his terminal leave (similar to discharge) at the Naval Armoury at Los Angeles, trying on a reporter’s coat.
Left to right: a woman shows Mr. Taylor a photo of her pilot husband; Robert Taylor (second from right) and Jack Dempsey (fourth from left) during a War Bonds tour. Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson is seated at his desk; fitting in with other sailors.