Robert Taylor

Biography

Spangler Arlington Brugh -- for such was the impressive name with which Robert Taylor was born -- was already displaying a diversity of talents in his youth on the plains of Nebraska. At Beatrice High School he was a standout track athlete, but also showed a talent for using his voice, winning several oratory awards. He was a musician and played the cello in the school orchestra. After graduating he thought of music as a vocation and started studying music at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, but he was lured westward in the early 1930s - not to Hollywood, as might be thought, but to study medicine at Pomona College. This was not unusual, either, for his remarkable father was a doctor, and had in fact chosen that career for the express purpose of curing his wife of childhood invalidism. Prophetically, it was at Pomona (from which he graduated in 1933) that young Taylor also joined the campus theater group and found himself in many lead roles because of his decidedly handsome features. He was inspired to go on to the Neely Dixon Dramatic School, but about a year after graduating from Pomona, he was spotted by an MGM talent scout and given a contract in 1934. That same year he appeared in his first movie, on loan-out to Fox for a Will Rogers entry, Handy Andy (1934). He also did an MGM short, Crime Does Not Pay Series No. 1 Entitled 'Buried Loot' (1935) for its "Crime Does Not Pay" series that provided good exposure. However, the next year he did even better by being cast as the lead-- again on loan out, this time to then-struggling Universal Pictures -- in Magnificent Obsession (1935) with Irene Dunne. The story of a happy-go-lucky party guy who inadvertently causes blindness to the young lady he wishes to impress and then becomes a doctor to cure her, the film was particularly symbolic to Taylor because of his own parents' relationship. The movie was a big hit, and Taylor had a taste of instant box-office stardom (it's also interesting to note his film resume only contains a single uncredited role, indicative of MGM's early awareness of his star potential). The public was not wrong, either; besides his smashing good looks, Taylor already showed solid dramatic skill. However, as was often the case with actors who were considered "too good-looking", critics took a biased view of him as a no-talent flash-in-the-pan (a charge levied at his closest contemporary comparison, Tyrone Power over at Fox). He had to endure some brutal and often unfair reviews through his first years in Hollywood, but he was too professional - already praised as a cooperative and dedicated actor - and too busy to pay attention to such sniping, which would soon fade away. In 1935 alone he appeared in seven films, and by the end of the year he was at the top of his form as a leading man and being offered substantial scripts. The next year he appeared with Greta Garbo in Camille (1936), and for the remainder of the decade MGM's vehicles for him - not to mention a pantheon of top actresses - clicked with audiences. On a personal level, despite his impressive family background and education, Taylor would often strike those who met him as a mental lightweight -- intellectually-inclined actress Luise Rainer was shocked when she struck up a conversation with him at a studio function in 1937, when, after asking him what his goals were, he sincerely replied that his most important goal was to accumulate "a wardrobe of ten fine custom-tailored suits." That he usually comes across on screen as having a confident, commanding presence is more of a testimony to his acting talent than his actual personality. He held rigid right-wing political beliefs that he refused to question and when confronted with an opposing viewpoint, would simply reject it outright. He rarely, if ever, felt the need to be introspective. Taylor felt blessed to be working behind the walls of MGM, then the premier studio on earth. His affection for the studio would blind him to the fact that boss Louis B. Mayer masterfully manipulated him for nearly two decades, keeping Taylor's salary the lowest of any major Hollywood star. But this is also indicative of how much trust he placed at the hands of the studio's leaders. Indeed, Taylor remained the erstwhile MGM company man and would be rewarded by remaining employed there until the demise of the studio system in the late 1950s, outlasting its legend, Clark Gable. Though not quite considered treasures to be locked away in film vaults, Taylor's films during the first five years of his career gave him the opportunity to explore a whole spectrum of romantic characters, playing young officers or doctors more than once. Some noticeable examples of the variety of roles he took over a year's time were his chip-on-the-shoulder Lee Sheridan in A Yank at Oxford (1938), ladies' man/boxer Tommy McCoy in The Crowd Roars (1938) and cynical southern gentleman Blake Cantrell in Stand Up and Fight (1939). Taylor would truly become a first-rate actor in the following decade. By the 1940s he was playing edgier and somewhat darker characters, such as the title roles in Billy the Kid (1941) and smooth criminal Johnny Eager (1942). With the arrival of the war, Taylor was quick to make his contribution to the effort. As an actor, he made two memorable combat movies: Stand by for Action (1942) and the better known (and for the time, quite graphic) Bataan (1943). From 1943-46 he was in the US Naval Air Corps as a lieutenant, instructing would-be pilots. He also found time to direct two flight instruction training films (1943) and other training films for the Navy. Rather didactic in his ultra-conservative political beliefs, he became involved as a "friendly witness" for the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating "Communist subversion" in the film industry. Anyone who knew Taylor knew he was an arch conservative, but would doubt if he could articulate why -- at least without a script. He publicly stated that his accepting a role in Song of Russia (1944) was bad judgment (in reality it was against his nature to balk at any film assignment while at MGM) and that he considered the film "pro-Communist." He also -- rather unwittingly, but still unforgivably -- fingered fellow actor Howard Da Silva as a disruptive force in the Screen Actor's Guild. Although he didn't explicitly accuse Da Silva of being a Communist, his charges of "disruption" had the same effect, and the veteran actor found himself blacklisted by the studios for many years. After the war and through the remainder of the decade, Taylor was getting action roles to match his healthy box office draw, but there were fewer of them being offered. He was aging, and though he had one of his best known roles as the faith-challenged Gen. Marcus Vinicius in the hit Quo Vadis (1951), he was now being seen more as a mature lead (significantly, he would divorce Barbara Stanwyck and 'Louis B. Mayer' would be ousted during its production). Still, he had his dashing good looks -- but also a few extra "laugh lines". MGM, now under the aegis of Dore Schary, made a decisive move to move a significant amount of production to England as a cost-cutting move and opted to film several big-budget costume epics there starring Taylor. With Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1952) he was back (as once before in 1949) with the dazzling young Elizabeth Taylor, pining for him as the exotic young Jewish woman, Rebecca, effectively pulling off a role ideally suited for an actor a decade younger. With a great script and lots of action (forget about the mismatch of some matte backdrops!), the movie was a smash hit. He had a new look -- rakish goatee and longer hair -- that fit the youthful illusion. The movie did so well that MGM opted for a sequel -- for want of a better word -- based on the King Arthur legend, Knights of the Round Table (1953). It was not quite as good, but Taylor had the same look -- and it worked. To his credit, Taylor continued to push for challenging roles in his dramatic output -- the old "pretty face" stigma still seemed to drive him. He played an intriguing and most unlikely character in Devil's Doorway (1950) -- an American Indian (dark-stained skin with blue eyes!) who won a Medal of Honor for heroism in the Civil War and comes home to his considerable land holdings but still encounters the continued racial bigotry and envy of his white neighbors. It contained pushing-the-envelope dialog with many thought-provoking scenes dealing with the social plight of the Indian. Taylor did several noteworthy pictures after this film: the edgy Rogue Cop (1954) and was even more swashbuckling in one of the lesser known of Sir Walter Scott's romantic novels-- and again successful in a younger man role -- Quentin Durward (1955). Though his contract with MGM expired in 1958, he accepted a few more films into the 1960s. He put on some weight in his 50's and the effects of heavy chain smoking began to effect his looks, but Taylor successfully alternated between starring film roles and television, albeit at a somewhat reduced pace. He founded his own Robert Taylor Productions in 1958 and moved comfortably into TV work. From 1959 to 1962 he was the star of TV series "The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor" (1959), and when good friend Ronald Reagan bowed out of TV's popular western anthology "Death Valley Days" (1952) for a political career, Taylor took over as host and sometime actor (1966-68), until his death from lung cancer at only age 57. Jane Ellen Wayne wrote a biography "Robert Taylor: The Man with the Perfect Face." No doubt he would have cringed at that title.

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Birth Name

Spangler Arlington Brugh

Birth Date

8/5/1911

Death Date

6/8/1969
Known For
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Beat Street

Lee Kirkland

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D-Day the Sixth of June

Capt. Brad Parker

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The Law And Jake Wade

Jake Wade

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Karawane der Frauen

Buck Wyatt

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Party Girl

Thomas 'Tommy' Farrell

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The Night Walker

Barry Morland

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Die letzte Jagd

Charlie Gilson

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Devil's Doorway

Lance Poole

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Miracle of the White Stallions

Col. Podhajsky

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Focus

McEwen

Starring In
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Into the Ashes

Frank Parson

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Boogaloo Shrimp Documentary

Himself

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Don't Tell

Robert Brewster

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Turkey Shoot

Ramrod

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Healing

Vander

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Islander

Additional Fisherman

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Hercules

Kiron

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Focus

McEwen

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First Daughter

Mason

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Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life

Himself (before HUAC) (archive footage) (uncredited)

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Thorn Birds - The Missing Years

Jack Cleary

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The Last Bullet

Sgt. Caldwell

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Rosens Broderskab

Pollux

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Hôtel Terminus

Sgt., Army Counter-Intelligence, retired

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Beat Street

Lee Kirkland

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That's Entertainment Part 2

Clip from 'Broadway Melody of 1936' (archive footage)

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The Day the Hot Line Got Hot

Nichelson

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Hondo and the Apaches

Gallagher

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Heisse Colts in harten Fäusten

Ben Wyatt

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Die Gläserne Sphinx

Prof. Karl Nichols

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A House Is Not a Home

Frank Costigan

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M-G-M’s The Big Parade of Comedy

Raymond Dabney in 'Personal Property' (archive footage)

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The Night Walker

Barry Morland

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Miracle of the White Stallions

Col. Podhajsky

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Cattle King

Sam Brassfield

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The Hangman

Mackenzie Bovard

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Code of the Saddle

Steve Sinclair Double S Owner

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Party Girl

Thomas 'Tommy' Farrell

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The Law And Jake Wade

Jake Wade

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Die letzte Jagd

Charlie Gilson

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D-Day the Sixth of June

Capt. Brad Parker

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The Adventures of Quentin Durward

Quentin Durward

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Valley of the Kings

Mark Brandon

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Rogue Cop

Det. Sgt. Christopher Kelvaney

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Ride, Vaquero!

Rio

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All the Brothers Were Valiant

Joel Shore

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Above and Beyond

Lt. Col. Paul W. Tibbets 509th Composite Group CO (pilot of Enola Gay)

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Karawane der Frauen

Buck Wyatt

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Devil's Doorway

Lance Poole

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The Bribe

Rigby

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The Fighting Lady

Narrator (voice) (as Lieut Robert Taylor USNR)

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The Youngest Profession

Robert Taylor

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Her Cardboard Lover

Terry Trindale

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Johnny Eager

John 'Johnny' Eager

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When Ladies Meet

Jimmy Lee

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Flight Command

Ens. Alan Drake

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Three Comrades

Erich Lohkamp

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A Yank at Oxford

Lee Sheridan

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Broadway Melody of 1938

Steve Raleigh

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This Is My Affair

Lieutenant Richard L. Perry

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Broadway Melody of 1936

Bob Gordon

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His Brother's Wife

Chris Claybourne

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Private Number

Richard Winfield

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Murder in the Fleet

Lt. Tom Randolph

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Times Square Lady

Steve Gordon

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