Remembering Nancy Reagan and a Great Friendship

Nancy Reagan’s death this week brought to mind the close friendship between Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Robert Taylor and Ursula Thiess.

Nancy+Reagan4

Nancy Reagan in 1986

Ronald Reagan and Robert Taylor lived parallel lives for decades.  Both were midwesterners, both college educated, both successful actors.  Each man had two marriages to actresses.  Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman were married from 1940 to 1949.  They had a daughter Maureen and adopted a son, Michael.  Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck were married in 1939 and divorced in 1951.  They had no children together.  Both men’s first marriages were interrupted by World War II.  Mr. Reagan served in the United States Army Reserves from 1937 to through 1945.  Mr. Taylor served in the United States Naval Reserves from 1943 to 1945.  Both men were subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947.

Dancing to the music or a Spanish musical group at Rory Calhoun's garden party in Beverly Hills Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, left, are seen beside Robert Taylor and his actress-wife Ursula Thiess, August 1958.

Dancing to the music or a Spanish musical group at Rory Calhoun’s garden party in Beverly Hills Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, left, are seen beside Robert Taylor and his actress-wife Ursula Thiess, August 1958. (original caption)

After their divorces, both eventually remarried.  Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married in 1952.  Robert and Ursula Taylor married in 1954.  Each of the women gave up their screen careers to take care of their husbands.  Both marriages were fruitful.  The Reagans had a daughter, Patti and a son Ron.  The Taylors had a son Terence and a daughter Tessa.  Both were godparents to the others’ children.  Robert Taylor specified in his will that if he and Ursula were both gone, the Reagans should care for their children.

1958 Nancy Reagan was a controversial figure.  She was praised and vilified while she was First Lady.  She could be difficult as both of her children commented at her funeral.  Nancy Reagan was also loyal both to her husband and to her friends.  When her friends were in difficulty, she was there for them.

Celebrating Ronald Reagan's birthday together.

Celebrating Ronald Reagan’s birthday together.

The following is quoted from Linda J. Alexander, Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor Hollywood and Communism.  Tease Publishing 2008, pages 350 and 351.  I think it says a lot about Nancy Reagan.

“Nancy Reagan had flown into Los Angeles from Sacramento as soon as she heard the news [that Robert Taylor was dying].  Her daughter, Patti, was already at Bob’s bedside.  Nancy stayed for the day and when she left that evening, she told Ursula she’d see her in a few days.  ‘I got out in the hall, and something made me turn back,’ she remembered.  ‘I returned to his room and kissed him on the cheek.

RT5107“The news that ‘Robert Taylor is dead,’ was broadcast before Ursula could get home that day from the hospital.  In those early morning hours directly before Bob’s death, Ursula was taken care of by Manuela and Art Reeves [ranch foreman].  Art had always been there for Bob, for her, for the kids.  He became their rock, somehow more than ever before.  They also received support from Ronnie and Nancy and Art’s wife Barbara.

Robert Taylor stumps for Ronald for Governor of California

Robert Taylor stumps for Ronald Reagan  for Governor of California, 1967

“Nancy was Ursula’s emotional support, coming in and taking over when Ursula finally collapsed.  The funeral had to be taken care of and thankfully Bob  had planned the entire process down to the last detail.  True to his living persona, in death he didn’t want any fanfare.  When his obituary was printed on the front page of the New York Times, an unheard of honor at that time, The Times ran his picture with the tagline, “Death Ends an Era.”

11 Jun 1969, Glendale, California, USA --- Original caption: Glendale, California: Ursula Thiess, widow of actor Robert Taylor (C) is comforted by her daughter, Manuela Thiess (L), as they leave the Church of the Recessional following funeral services for Taylor. In background is California Governor Ronald Reagan who delivered the eulogy. With the governor is Mrs. Nancy Reagan. Man between Gov. Reagan and Mrs Reagan is unidentified. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

11 Jun 1969, Glendale, California, USA — Original caption: Glendale, California: Ursula Thiess, widow of actor Robert Taylor (C) is comforted by her daughter, Manuela Thiess (L), as they leave the Church of the Recessional following funeral services for Taylor. In background is California Governor Ronald Reagan who delivered the eulogy. With the governor is Mrs. Nancy Reagan. Man between Gov. Reagan and Mrs Reagan is unidentified. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Well done, Mrs. Reagan.  Rest in peace.

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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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