The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: Robert Taylor

Table of Contents

Robert Taylor (August 5, 1911June 8, 1969), was an American actor.

Born Spangler Arlington Brugh August 5, 1911(1911-08-05)
Filley, Nebraska Died June 8, 1969 (aged 57)
Santa Monica, California Spouse(s) Barbara Stanwyck (1939-1951)
Ursula Thiess (1954-1969)


After signing a seven-year contract with MGM for $35 a week, Brugh’s name was changed to Robert Taylor. He made his film debut in the 1934 comedy, Handy Andy, opposite Will Rogers (on a loan-out to 20th Century Fox). After appearing in a few small roles, he appeared in one of his first leading roles in Magnificent Obsession, with Irene Dunne. This was followed by Camille, opposite Greta Garbo.

Throughout the late 1930s, Taylor appeared in films of varying genres including the musicals Broadway Melody of 1936 and 1938, and the British comedy A Yank at Oxford with Vivien Leigh. In 1940, he reteamed with his A Yank at Oxford co-star Vivien Leigh in Mervyn LeRoy‘s drama Waterloo Bridge. In 1941, Taylor began breaking away from his perfect leading man image and began appearing in darker roles. 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 opposite Lana Turner. In 1943, Taylor contributed to the war effort by becoming a flying instructor in Naval Air Corps. During this time, he also starred in instructional films and narrated the 1944 documentary The Fighting Lady.

In 1950, Taylor landed the role of General Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis, opposite Deborah Kerr. The film was a hit, grossing USD$11 million. The following year, he starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor in the film version of Walter Scott’s classic Ivanhoe, followed by 1953’s Knights of the Round Table.

Pre-McCarthy era controversy

Taylor was among the Hollywood conservatives who took part in the formation of the right-wing Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals in February 1944. In October 1947, Taylor testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Originally considered a “reluctant witness”, he wrote a letter to J. Parnell Thomas to tell him he thought the entire event a “circus.” He was reclassified as a “friendly witness” and subpoenaed to appear in front of the cameras. He said he appeared in the film Song of Russia against his personal beliefs and desires but at the urging of not only MGM but also the United States government.

When Taylor was asked during the hearings: “Mr. Taylor, these people in the Screen Actors Guild who, in your opinion follow the Communist Party line, are they a disrupting influence within the organization?,” he responded that ” . . . it always occurs that someone is not quite able to understand what the issue is and the meeting, instead of being over at 10 o’clock or 10:30 when it logically should be over, probably winds up running until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning on such issues as points of order, and so on.”

The questioning persisted, “Do you recall the names of any of the actors in the guild who participated in such activity?”

Taylor responded, “Well, yes, sir; I can name a few who seem to sort of disrupt things once in awhile. Whether or not they are Communists I don’t know.”

Yet he was under subpoena, and the questions persisted, “Would you name them for the committee please?”

“One chap we have currently, I think, is Mr. Howard Da Silva. He always seems to have something to say at the wrong time. Miss Karen Morley also usually appears at the guild meetings.”

He did go on to say, ” “… I must confess that I objected strenuously to doing Song of Russia at the time it was made. I felt that it, to my way of thinking at least, did contain Communist propaganda.”

In 1951, Taylor starred in the film Above and Beyond, a biopic of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets. 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” (wife Stanwyck’s nickname) which he used on hunting and fishing trips. She complained that he spent all his time polishing his guns and aircraft, but when airborne could “do anything a bird could do, except sit on a barbed wire fence”.

Filmography (pre 1950)


Short Subjects:

  • The Spectacle Maker (1934)
  • Crime Does Not Pay #1: Buried Loot (1935)
  • La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935)
  • Lest We Forget (1937)
  • Hollywood Goes to Town (1938)
  • Screen Snapshots Series 18, No. 9 (1939)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Recreations (1940)
  • Primary Flight Instruction: Stearman N2-S (1943)

Some of the Best (1949)


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