Robert Taylor (actor)

Robert Taylor (born Spangler Arlington Brugh; August 5, 1911 – June 8, 1969) was an American film and television actor who was one of the most popular leading men of his time.

Robert Taylor
Taylor in Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Spangler Arlington Brugh

(1911-08-05)August 5, 1911
DiedJune 8, 1969(1969-06-08) (aged 57)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
ResidenceRobert Taylor Ranch
Other namesLieut Robert Taylor USNR
Alma materDoane College
Pomona College
Years active1934–1968
Barbara Stanwyck
(m. 1939; div. 1951)

Ursula Thiess (m. 1954)

Taylor began his career in films in 1934 when he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He won his first leading role the following year in Magnificent Obsession. His popularity increased during the late 1930s and 1940s with appearances in A Yank at Oxford (1938), Waterloo Bridge (1940), and Bataan (1943). During World War II, he served in the United States Naval Air Corps, where he worked as a flight instructor and appeared in instructional films. From 1959 to 1962, he starred in the series The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. In 1966, he took over hosting duties from his friend Ronald Reagan on the series Death Valley Days.

Taylor was married to actress Barbara Stanwyck from 1939 to 1951. He married actress Ursula Thiess in 1954, and they had two children. A chain smoker, Taylor was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 1968. He died of the disease on June 8, 1969 at the age of 57.

Early life

Born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, Nebraska, Taylor was the only child of Ruth Adaline (née Stanhope) and Spangler Andrew Brugh, a farmer turned doctor.[1][2] During his early life, the family moved several times, living in Muskogee, Oklahoma; Kirksville, Missouri; and Fremont, Nebraska. By September 1917, the Brughs had moved to Beatrice, Nebraska, where they remained for 16 years.[3]

As a teenager, Taylor was a track and field star and played the cello in his high school orchestra. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska.[4] While at Doane, he took cello lessons from Professor Herbert E. Gray, whom he admired and idolized. After Professor Gray announced he was accepting a new position at Pomona College in Claremont, Taylor moved to California and enrolled at Pomona.[5] He joined the campus theater group and was eventually spotted by an MGM talent scout in 1932 after a production of Journey's End.


He signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with an initial salary of $35 per week, which rose to $2500 by 1936.[6] The studio changed his name to Robert Taylor.[7] He made his film debut in the 1934 comedy Handy Andy, starring Will Rogers (on a loan-out to 20th Century Fox).

His first leading role came by accident. In 1934 Taylor was on the M-G-M payroll as "the test boy," a male juvenile who would be filmed opposite various young ingenues in screen tests. In late 1934, when M-G-M began production of its new short-subject series Crime Does Not Pay with the dramatic short Buried Loot, the actor who had been cast fell ill and could not appear. The director sent for the test boy to substitute for the missing actor. Taylor's dramatic performance, as an embezzler who deliberately disfigures himself to avoid detection, was so memorable that Taylor was immediately signed for feature films.

In 1935, Irene Dunne requested him for her leading man in Magnificent Obsession. This was followed by Camille with Greta Garbo.[8]

Throughout the late 1930s, Taylor appeared in films of varying genres including the musicals Broadway Melody of 1936 and Broadway Melody of 1938, and the British comedy A Yank at Oxford with Vivien Leigh. In 1940, he reteamed with Leigh in Mervyn LeRoy's drama Waterloo Bridge.

After being given the nickname "The Man with the Perfect Profile", Taylor began breaking away from his perfect leading man image and began appearing in darker roles beginning in 1941. That year, he portrayed Billy Bonney (better known as Billy the Kid) in Billy the Kid. The next year, he played the title role in the film noir Johnny Eager with Lana Turner. After playing a tough sergeant in Bataan in 1943, Taylor contributed to the war effort by becoming a flying instructor in the U.S. Naval Air Corps.[9] During this time, he also starred in instructional films and narrated the 1944 documentary The Fighting Lady.

After the war he appeared in a series of edgy roles, including Undercurrent and High Wall. In 1949, he co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in Conspirator. In 1950, Taylor landed the role of General Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis with Deborah Kerr. The epic film was a hit, grossing US$11 million in its first run.[8] The following year, he starred in the film version of Walter Scott's classic Ivanhoe, followed by 1953's Knights of the Round Table and The Adventures of Quentin Durward, all filmed in England. Taylor also filmed Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1954.

By the mid-1950s, Taylor began to concentrate on westerns, his preferred genre. He starred in a comedy western Many Rivers to Cross in 1955 co-starring Eleanor Parker. In 1958, he shared the lead with Richard Widmark in the edgy John Sturges western The Law and Jake Wade. Also in 1958, he left M-G-M and formed his own production company, Robert Taylor Productions, and the following year, he starred in the hit television series The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (1959–1962). Following the end of the series in 1962, Taylor continued to appear in films and television shows, including A House Is Not a Home and two episodes of Hondo.

Robert Taylor received the 1953 World Film Favorite – Male, award at the Golden Globes (tied with Alan Ladd).[10]

In 1963, NBC filmed, but never aired, four episodes of what was to have been The Robert Taylor Show, a series based on case files from the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The project was suddenly dropped for lack of coordination with HEW.

In 1964, Taylor co-starred with his former wife Barbara Stanwyck in William Castle's psychological horror film The Night Walker. In 1965, after filming Johnny Tiger in Florida, Taylor took over the role of narrator in the television series Death Valley Days when Ronald Reagan left to pursue a career in politics.[11] Taylor would remain with the series until his death in 1969.

Personal life

Marriages and children

After three years of dating, Taylor married Barbara Stanwyck on May 14, 1939 in San Diego, California. Zeppo Marx's wife Marion was Stanwyck's matron of honor and her godfather, actor Buck Mack, was Taylor's best man.[12] Stanwyck divorced Taylor (reportedly at his request) in February 1951.[13] The couple had no children.[14]

Taylor met German actress Ursula Thiess in 1952. They married in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on May 23, 1954.[15] They had two children together, son Terrance (born 1955) and daughter Tessa (born 1959). Taylor was also stepfather to Thiess' two children from her previous marriage, Manuela and Michael Thiess.[16][17] On May 26, 1969, shortly before Taylor's death from lung cancer, Ursula Thiess found her son Michael's body in a West Los Angeles motel room.[18] He died from what was later determined to be a drug overdose. One month before his death, Michael had been released from a mental hospital. In 1964, he spent a year in a reformatory for attempting to poison his natural father with insecticide.[19][20]


In February 1944, Taylor helped found the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.[21] In October 1947, Taylor was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities regarding Communism in Hollywood.[22][23] He did this reluctantly, regarding the hearings as a "circus" and refusing to appear unless subpoenaed.[24] In his testimony concerning the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), delivered on October 22, 1947, Taylor stated: "It seems to me that at meetings, especially meetings of the general membership of the Guild, there was always a certain group of actors and actresses whose every action would indicate to me that, if they are not Communists, they are working awfully hard to be Communists." [25] Two people already under investigation by the FBI, Karen Morley and Howard Da Silva, were mentioned as troublemakers at SAG meetings. Taylor alleged that at meetings of the SAG, Da Silva "always had something to say at the wrong time." Da Silva was blacklisted on Broadway and New York radio,[26] and Morley never worked again after her name surfaced at the hearings.[27] Taylor went on to declare that he would refuse to work with anyone who was suspected of being a Communist: "I'm afraid it would have to be him or me because life is too short to be around people who annoy me as much as these fellow-travelers and Communists do".[28] Taylor also labeled screenwriter Lester Cole "reputedly a Communist", adding "I would not know personally".[29] After the hearings, Taylor's films were banned in Communist Hungary and in Czechoslovakia, and Communists called for a boycott of his films in France.[30]


In 1952, Taylor starred in the film Above and Beyond, a biopic of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets.[31] The two men met and found that they had much in common. Both had considered studying medicine, and were avid skeet-shooters and fliers. Taylor learned to fly in the mid-1930s, and served as a United States Navy flying instructor during World War II. His private aircraft was a Twin Beech called "Missy" (his then-wife Stanwyck's nickname) which he used on hunting and fishing trips and to fly to locations for filming.


Taylor owned a 34-room home situated on 112 acres (0.45 km2) located in Mandeville Canyon in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Dubbed the Robert Taylor Ranch, the property was sold to KROQ-FM founder Ken Roberts in the 1970s. Roberts remodeled the home and put it back on the market in 1990 for $45 million. He later reduced the price to $35 million, but the ranch failed to attract a buyer. In 2010, the ranch was seized by New Stream Capital, a hedge fund, after Roberts failed to pay back a high interest loan he had taken from them.[32]

In November 2012, the Robert Taylor ranch was put up for auction by the trust that owned it. It was purchased for $12 million by a Chicago buyer in December 2012.[33]


In October 1968, Taylor underwent surgery to remove a portion of his right lung after doctors suspected that he had contracted coccidioidomycosis (known as "valley fever"). During the surgery, doctors discovered that he had lung cancer.[34] Taylor, who had smoked three packs of cigarettes a day since he was a boy, quit smoking shortly before undergoing surgery. During the final months of his life, he was hospitalized seven times due to infections and complications related to the disease. He died of lung cancer on June 8, 1969, at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.[14][35]

Taylor's funeral was held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. Long-time friend Ronald Reagan (who was then the governor of California) eulogized Taylor. Among the mourners were Robert Stack, Van Heflin, Eva Marie Saint, Walter Pidgeon, Keenan Wynn, Mickey Rooney, George Murphy, Audrey Totter and Taylor's ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck.[36]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Robert Taylor has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.[4]


Year Title Role Notes
1934 Handy Andy Lloyd Burmeister
1934 The Spectacle Maker The Duchess's Paramour Short subject
1934 There's Always Tomorrow Arthur White Alternative title: Too Late for Love
1934 A Wicked Woman Bill Renton—Rosanne's Love
1934 Crime Does Not Pay #1: Buried Loot Al Douglas Short subject
1935 Society Doctor Dr. Ellis
1935 Times Square Lady Steven J. "Steve" Gordon
1935 West Point of the Air "Jasky" Jaskarelli
1935 Murder in the Fleet Lt. Randolph
1935 Broadway Melody of 1936 Robert Gordon
1935 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara Himself Short subject
1935 Magnificent Obsession Dr. Robert Merrick
1936 Small Town Girl Dr. Robert "Bob" Dakin Alternative title: One Horse Town
1936 Private Number Richard Winfield
1936 His Brother's Wife Chris Claybourne
1936 The Gorgeous Hussy "Bow" Timberlake
1936 Camille Armand Duval
1937 Personal Property Raymond Dabney aka Ferguson Alternative title: The Man in Possession
1937 This Is My Affair Lt. Richard L. Perry
1937 Lest We Forget Himself Short subject
1937 Broadway Melody of 1938 Stephan "Steve" Raleigh
1938 A Yank at Oxford Lee Sheridan
1938 Three Comrades Erich Lohkamp
1938 The Crowd Roars Tommy "Killer" McCoy
1939 Stand Up and Fight Blake Cantrell
1939 Lucky Night Bill Overton
1939 Lady of the Tropics William "Bill" Carey
1939 Remember? Jeffrey "Jeff" Holland
1940 Waterloo Bridge Roy Cronin
1940 Escape Mark Preysing Alternative title: When the Door Opened
1940 Flight Command Ensign Alan Drake
1941 Billy the Kid Billy Bonney
1941 When Ladies Meet Jimmy Lee
1942 Johnny Eager John "Johnny" Eager
1942 Her Cardboard Lover Terry Trindale
1942 Stand By for Action Lieutenant Gregg Masterman Alternative title: Cargo of Innocents
1943 Bataan Sergeant Bill Dane
1943 The Youngest Profession Cameo
1944 Song of Russia John Meredith
1944 The Fighting Lady Narrator Credited as Lieut Robert Taylor USNR
1946 Undercurrent Alan Garroway
1947 High Wall Steven Kenet
1949 The Bribe Rigby
1949 Conspirator Major Michael Curragh
1950 Ambush Ward Kinsman
1950 Devil's Doorway Lance Poole
1951 Challenge the Wilderness Himself Short subject
1951 Quo Vadis Marcus Vinicius
1951 Westward the Women Buck Wyatt
1952 Ivanhoe Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe
1952 Above and Beyond Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets
1952 The Hoaxters Narrator
1953 I Love Melvin Himself
1953 Ride, Vaquero! Rio
1953 All the Brothers Were Valiant Joel Shore
1953 Knights of the Round Table Lancelot
1954 Valley of the Kings Mark Brandon
1954 Rogue Cop Det. Sgt. Christopher Kelvaney
1955 Many Rivers to Cross Bushrod Gentry
1955 The Adventures of Quentin Durward Quentin Durward
1956 The Last Hunt Charlie Gilson
1956 D-Day the Sixth of June Captain Brad Parker
1956 The Power and the Prize Cliff Barton
1957 Tip on a Dead Jockey Lloyd Tredman
1958 The Law and Jake Wade Jake Wade
1958 Saddle the Wind Steve Sinclair
1958 Party Girl Thomas "Tommy" Farrell
1959 The Hangman Mackenzie Bovard
1959 The House of the Seven Hawks Nordley
1960 Killers of Kilimanjaro Robert Adamson
1963 Miracle of the White Stallions Colonel Podhajsky Alternative title: The Flight of the White Stallions
1963 Cattle King Sam Brassfield Alternative title: Cattle King of Wyoming
1964 A House Is Not a Home Frank Costigan
1964 The Night Walker Barry Morland
1966 Johnny Tiger George Dean
1966 Savage Pampas Captain Martin
1967 The Glass Sphinx Prof. Karl Nichols
1967 Return of the Gunfighter Ben Wyatt
1968 The Day the Hot Line Got Hot Anderson Alternative title: Hot Line
1968 Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows Mr. Farriday – The 'In' Group
Year Title Role Notes
1958 The Thin Man Himself Episode: "The Scene Stealer"
1959–1962 The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor Det. Capt. Matt Holbrook 97 episodes
1963 The Dick Powell Show Guest host Episode: "Colossus"
1966–1969 Death Valley Days Host 77 episodes
1967 Hondo Gallagher 2 episodes

Radio appearances

1946Suspense"The Argyle Album"
1946SuspenseThe House in Cypress Canyon[37]
1952Lux Radio TheatreWestward the Women[38]
1953Theater of StarsMail Order[39]



  1. Wagner, Laura. "Robert Taylor: Matinee Idol." Archived 2009-04-12 at the Wayback Machine Films of the Golden Age. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  2. Wayne 2005, p. 165.
  3. Kral, E. A. "Robert Taylor of Beatrice: The Nebraska Roots of a Hollywood Star". Nebraska History Quarterly, Vol. 75, 1994, pp. 280–290. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  4. Torgerson, Dial. "Hollywood Star Walk: Robert Taylor." Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1969. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  5. Wayne 2005, p. 166.
  6. Hall 1937, p. 42.
  7. Wayne 2005, p. 167.
  8. Griffith, Benjamin. "Robert Taylor." St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture, 2002. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  9. "Robert Taylor ends Navy duty." The Free Lance-Star, November 6, 1945, p. 2. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  10. "1953 World Film Favorite." Golden Globes. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  11. Witbeck, Charles. "Taylor sparks 'Death Valley Days'." The Modesto Bee, April 7, 1967/ Retrieved: January 23, 2013.
  12. "Barbara Stanwyck weds Robert Taylor on coast." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 15, 1939, p. 1. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  13. "Calm Barbara Stanwyck divorces Robert Taylor." Eugene Register-Guard, February 21, 1951, p. 1. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  14. "Lung cancer claims life of actor Robert Taylor." Edmonton Journal, June 9, 1969, p.j 9. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  15. "Robert Taylor, Ursula Thiess wed." Times Daily, May 24, 1954, p. 4. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  16. "Boy is born to German actress, Robert Taylor." Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 19, 1955, p. 14. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  17. "Robert Taylor father of girl." Lakeland Ledger, August 17, 1959, p. 6. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.]
  18. "Robert Taylor's stepson dead." The Bulletin, May 28, 1969, p. 7B. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  19. "Actress discovers son dead." The Leader-Post, May 28, 1969, p. 6. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  20. Wayne 2005, p. 192.
  21. Ross 2002, p. 197.
  22. Imwold et al. 2005, pp. 188–189.
  23. "Reds are blasted by Robert Taylor." The Montreal Gazette, October 23, 1947, p. 2. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  24. Alexander 2008, pp. 193–235.
  25. Slide 1999, p. 1.
  26. Balio 1985, p. 499
  27. "Karen Morley, 93, blacklisted actress." Sun-Sentinel, April 21, 2003. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  28. Madsen 2001, p. 250.
  29. Humphries 2008, p. 83.
  30. Mayhew 2005, p. 90.
  31. "Brig-Gen Paul Tibbets." The Telegraph, November 2, 2007. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  32. Groves, Martha. "Actor Robert Taylor's former ranch is set to go on auction block." Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2012. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  33. Groves. Martha. "Robert Taylor ranch sells for $12 million to Chicago buyer." Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2012. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  34. "Taylor has cancer." Herald-Journal, December 4, 1968, p. 24. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  35. Wayne 2005, p. 191.
  36. "Gov. Reagan hails Taylor at funeral." The Spokesman-Review, June 11, 1969, p. 25. Retrieved: January 28, 2015.
  37. "Suspense-- 'The house in Cypress Canyon'(12-5-46)." YouTube. Retrieved: November 18, 2015.
  38. Kirby, Walter. "Better radio programs for the week." The Decatur Daily Review, December 28, 1952, p. 36; via Retrieved: June 5, 2015.
  39. Kirby, Walter. "Better radio programs for the week." The Decatur Daily Review, March 8, 1953, p. 46; via Retrieved: June 23, 2015.


  • Alexander, Linda J. Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood and Communism. Twentynine Palms, California: Tease Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-934678-64-0.
  • Balio, Tino. The American Film Industry. Madison Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.ISBN 0-29909-874-5.
  • Hall, Gladys. Robert Taylor's True Life Story. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1937.
  • Humphries, Reynold. Hollywood's Blacklists: A Political and Cultural History. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. ISBN 0-7-4862-456-2.
  • Imwold, Denise, Andrew Brettell, Heather von Rohr and Warren Hsu Leonard.Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Hauppauge, New York: Barrons Educational Series, 2005. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
  • Madsen, Axel. Stanwyck. Lincoln Nebraska: iUniverse, 2001. ISBN 0-595-19398-6.
  • Mayhew, Robert. Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood. Lanham Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005. ISBN 0-81085-276-4.
  • Quirk, Lawrence J. The Films of Robert Taylor. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1979. ISBN 978-0-8065-0495-7.
  • Ross, Steven J. Movies and American Society (Blackwell Readers in American Social and Cultural History). Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. ISBN 0-631-21960-9.
  • Slide, Anthony. Actors on Red Alert: Career Interviews with Five Actors and Actresses Affected by the Blacklist. Lanham Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1999. ISBN 0-81083-649-1.
  • Tibbets, Paul W. Mission: Hiroshima. New York: Stein & Day, 1985. ISBN 0-8128-8169-9
  • Tranberg, Charles. Robert Taylor: a Biography. Albany, Georgia, Bear Manor Media, 2011. ISBN 978-1-59393-615-0
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Leading Men of MGM. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7867-1475-9.
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Life of Robert Taylor. New York: Warner Paperback Library, 1973. ISBN 978-0-446-76103-1.
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