Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

ROBERT TAYLOR (1911-1969)

Robert Taylor

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A film and television star from 1934 to 1969, Robert Taylor achieved renown as one of the most handsome leading men in Hollywood and distinction as one of the most professional actors of his time. Born Spangler Arlington Brugh on August 5, 1911, in Filley, Nebraska, he attended public school in nearby Beatrice, where his father was an osteopath and his mother was an intelligent but ailing housewife. Nicknamed Arly as a youth, he rode a pony, took private cello lessons in Lincoln, participated in drama and music activities, learned to dance, won a state oratorical contest, and made the honor roll. In 1929 he attended Doane College and continued his drama and music interests. For two summers he also performed as part of a musical trio on kmmj radio in Clay Center, Nebraska. Brugh then followed his cello teacher to Pomona College in Claremont, California, where he graduated in 1933, and was discovered by a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout.

During his career, the versatile Taylor appeared in more than eighty motion picture and television films and earned acclaim for his romantic, swashbuckling adventure and Western roles. The first American actor to appear in a film made in England and the first major Hollywood contract star to appear on television, he also set the Hollywood record for longest contract with one studio (twenty-four years with MGM). As a matinee idol in the 1930s, he ranked as the decade's eighth top box office attraction. He was the narrator of Academy Award–winning feature-length documentaries in 1944 and 1948 and the recipient of a Golden Globe Award in 1954. Taylor also starred in his own weekly television series, The Detectives, from 1959 to 1962 and was host and occasional star of Death Valley Days from 1966 to 1968.

Offscreen he flew an airplane, served in the United States Navy from 1943 to 1946, disliked Communists, liked steak, and wrote letters. An avid outdoorsman, he rented a cabin near Buffalo, Wyoming, fished on the Rogue River in Oregon, and hunted in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Manitoba. In 1954 he received the first Outdoorsman of the Year Award presented by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. A gentleman with the many ladies he dated during his Nebraska and Hollywood years, he had no major scandals, though he had brief, discreet involvements with Lana Turner and Ava Gardner during his first marriage, from 1939 to 1951, to Barbara Stanwyck. In 1954 he was remarried at Jackson Lake, Wyoming, to German-born actress Ursula Schmidt Thiess, a Life cover girl who bore his son Terence and daughter Tessa. Robert Taylor died of lung cancer on June 8, 1969, in Santa Monica, California. His close friend Ronald Reagan delivered the eulogy.

Taylor was posthumously inducted in 1970 into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and reviews of the 1,000 best movies in Magill's American Film Guide (1983) included seven films in which he starred: Magnificent Obsession (1935), Camille (1937), Three Comrades (1938), Waterloo Bridge (1940), Johnny Eager (1962), Quo Vadis (1951), and Ivanhoe (1952). In 1988 Lorimar Telepictures renamed the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Administration Building after Taylor. In 1994 the Nebraska State Highway Commission designated the twelve-mile portion of U.S. Highway 136 between Filley and Beatrice as the Robert Taylor Memorial Highway, and the Gage County Historical Society established a permanent exhibit on Taylor.

E. A. Kral Wilber, Nebraska

Kral, E. A. "Robert Taylor of Beatrice: The Nebraska Roots of a Hollywood Star." Nebraska History 75 (1994): 280–91.

Quirk, Lawrence J. The Films of Robert Taylor. Secaucus NJ: Carol Publishing, 1975.

Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Life of Robert Taylor. London: Robson Books, 1987.

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