11 February, 2009
Robert Taylor was an American actor.
Born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, Nebraska, he was the son of Ruth Adaline (née Stanhope) and Spangler Andrew Brugh, who was a farmer turned doctor. As a teenager, he was a track star and played the cello in his high school orchestra. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Doane College to study music.
While at Doane, he took cello lessons from Professor E. Gray, a man whom he admired and idolized. After Professor Gray announced he was accepting a new position at Pomona College in Los Angeles, Brugh moved to California and enrolled at Pomona. He joined the campus theater group and was eventually spotted by a MGM talent scout in 1932 after production of Journey's End.
After Brugh signed a seven-year contract with MGM for $35 a week, his 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 Broadway Melody of 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. After playing a tough sergeant in Bataan 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 and The Adventures of Quentin Durward, all filmed in England.
By the mid-1950s, Taylor's career began to wane. He starred in a comedy western in 1955 co-starring Eleanor Parker called Many Rivers To Cross. In 1958, he formed his own production company, Robert Taylor Productions, and the following year, he starred in the ABC 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 including A House Is Not a Home and two episodes of Hondo. 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. Taylor would remain with the series until 1969 when he became too ill to continue working.
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".
On June 8, 1969, Taylor died of lung cancer at the age of 57 and was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.