1911 - 1969
Robert Taylor was born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, Nebraska on August 5, 1911. The only child of a farmer/physician father and a possessive mother, Taylor excelled in both athletics and the arts. At Beatrice High School, he ran track, played cello in the orchestra and was a skilled orator. Upon graduation, he pursued courses in musicianship at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska where he studied cello under Professor Herbert E. Gray. Taylor so admired his mentor that he followed him to California and enrolled at Pomona College in Los Angeles after his instructor accepted a position there. Bob joined the campus theater group and was eventually spotted by a MGM talent scout.
According to the Internet Movie Database, Taylor “holds the Hollywood record for the longest contract with one studio (MGM), 24 years from early 1934 to late 1958” in addition to holding the Hollywood record for the lowest initial contract salary of $35 a week (1934). Such were the rewards and disappointments of implicit trust and faith in studio chief Louis B. Mayer. Yet despite the career manipulating Mayer, Taylor credited his years at MGM as the happiest period of his professional life.
Taylor’s breakout film was “Magnificent Obsession” opposite Irene Dunne in 1935. His handsome looks and solid dramatic skills made him an instant star and secured his position as the male romantic lead opposite a succession of the era’s most seductive sirens. In later years, Bob’s acting became darker and edgier, allowing him to transition from the musicals and comedies of his earlier career to more dramatic roles in film noir, combat movies, historical epics and westerns.
1936 was a pivotal year for Bob. Barbara Stanwyck, on the heels of a bitter divorce from first husband Frank Fay, had become a Hollywood recluse and friends Marion and Zeppo Marx were concerned. The couple invited her to accompany them to a dinner party at the Trocadero in Hollywood where Taylor was also a guest. Bob and Barbara hit it off immediately. Taylor admired Stanwyck’s professionalism and she his energetic sense of fun. What began as an industry friendship blossomed into romance during Barbara’s years at Marwyck Ranch. By early 1938, Taylor had invested. $50,000 in a ranch of his own just a few miles to the west with a home designed by architect Burton A. Schutt.
Stanwyck and Taylor made two pictures together during the period of their courtship, His Brother’s Wife (1936) and This Is My Affair (1937).
Barbara and Bob's carefree life in the San Fernando Valley was turned upside down when Kirtley Baskette's article, "Hollywood's Unmarried Husbands and Wives" appeared in the January 1939 issue of Photoplay magazine. Taylor and Stanwyck, along with other actors including good friends Gable and Lombard, were exposed as couples living together in unwedded bliss. The article caused a public scandal for the studios. MGM, which had previously squashed Taylor’s romances in a desire to maintain lucrative box office receipts by keeping him “attainable” to his legions of female fans, insisted that Bob and Barbara wed. The two immediately announced their engagement. The civil marriage ceremony took place in a private residence overlooking San Diego Bay shortly after midnight on May 14, 1939.
Following their marriage, Barbara and Bob divested themselves of their respective ranches and moved back to Beverly Hills. Their careers continued to flourish and they were regulars on the Hollywood social scene. Bob was also an avid sportsman who enjoyed hunting, fishing and flying. He named his private Twin Beech airplane “Missy” after Barbara, despite her distaste for flying in small aircraft. The couple were the first to place joint foot and hand prints along with their signatures in a single cement square at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in June of 1941. During World War II, Bob served as a Lieutenant in the United States Naval Air Corps, where he worked as a flight instructor and appeared in instructional films.
Over the years, rumors of Taylor’s extra-marital affairs plagued Bob’s marriage to Barbara and the couple finally divorced on February 25, 1952. Barbara was devastated. As part of their settlement, Barbara was granted 15% of Bob’s gross earnings until she either remarried or died. Despite the acrimony, the two remained friends, starring in their third and final film together, a psychological horror movie titled “The Night Walker” in 1964.
Taylor married German actress Ursula Theiss in 1954 and fathered two children. He lived out his remaining years on a beautiful 112-acre ranch in Mandeville Canyon, an exclusive Brentwood enclave of Los Angeles. Eventually, Bob’s life-long three pack a day cigarette habit caught up with him and he was diagnosed with lung cancer in October of 1968. He died from the disease on June 8, 1969 at the early age of 57. At his funeral, Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, delivered the eulogy and Barbara Stanwyck was among the mourners.
Robert Taylor’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 1500 Vine Street.