Friday, August 05, 2011

Robert Taylor Centennial

One of my all-time favorite actors, Robert Taylor, was born in Nebraska one hundred years ago today.


Taylor's centennial is being celebrated in Beatrice, Nebraska, this weekend. The celebration is being sponsored by the Gage County Historical Society.

Society director Lesa Arterburn says "He was just a good man all the way around. He really cared about the fans watching the movies and was careful about what he did."

Taylor's children, Terry and Tessa, plan to attend the centennial gathering, as well as Taylor's biographers, Charles Tranberg and Linda Alexander. (Note: An AP article incorrectly states that Terry and Tessa's mother was Barbara Stanwyck; their mother was actress Ursula Thiess.)

Saturday Update: Be sure to read "Family of Robert Taylor Visits Beatrice," which includes a photo and interview with Terry and Tessa Taylor. I loved learning there's a Robert Taylor Memorial Highway in Nebraska, a stretch of the 136 which connects Beatrice with Taylor's birthplace, Filley, Nebraska.

Until just a few years ago, I think the only Robert Taylor movies I'd seen were MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS (1963), a Disney film I saw when it was reissued theatrically circa 1970, and FLIGHT COMMAND (1940). I've been making up for lost time over the last few years and have seen a significant number of Taylor films; my favorites are his Westerns and film noir titles. Like other film fans in recent years, I've come to feel that Taylor's work as an actor was quite underrated, and I hope that those who've not yet seen many of his films will enjoy becoming more familiar with his work, as I have.

If I had to pick one Taylor film and performance as my favorite, it would be his role as a wagon train guide in WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), a surprisingly tough, gritty Western directed by William Wellman. Taylor is perfect as a man who unflinchingly does whatever has to be done; the moment where he instantly metes out trail justice to a rapist is almost shocking. Director Wellman, incidentally, said in an interview that Taylor was "one of the finest men I've ever known."

Taylor, an avid outdoorsman off the screen, was very much at home in Westerns. I also especially liked him as the scout in the Calvary Western AMBUSH (1950).

Taylor was also particularly effective in films such as HIGH WALL (1947), ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952), and PARTY GIRL (1958), where his stoic exterior hints at deep turmoil lurking underneath the surface. You won't find better screen acting than the moment in ABOVE AND BEYOND in which he reacts to the dropping of the atom bomb with a single word.

Some of Taylor's most highly regarded performances are still ahead of me to see for the first time, including WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940), JOHNNY EAGER (1942), DEVIL'S DOORWAY (1950), and THE LAST HUNT (1956).

Reviews of additional Robert Taylor movies: WEST POINT OF THE AIR (1935), SOCIETY DOCTOR (1935), TIMES SQUARE LADY (1935), BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (1935), SMALL TOWN GIRL (1936), PRIVATE NUMBER (1936), FLIGHT COMMAND (1940), WHEN LADIES MEET (1941), SONG OF RUSSIA (1944), THE BRIBE (1949), ROGUE COP (1954), MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955), THE POWER AND THE PRIZE (1956), TIP ON A DEAD JOCKEY (1957), SADDLE THE WIND (1958), and CATTLE KING (1963).

For more on Robert Taylor's Nebraska roots, be sure to check out ROBERT TAYLOR OF BEATRICE: THE NEBRASKA ROOTS OF A HOLLYWOOD STAR by E.A. Kral.

Photos of Taylor's former Brentwood ranch home are linked here.

Related posts: TCM Star of the Month: Robert Taylor; Ursula Thiess, Widow of Robert Taylor, Dies at 86.

August 5, 2013 Update: Here are additional reviews of Robert Taylor films: PERSONAL PROPERTY (1937) and THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958).

2016 Update: Here is a review of VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954).

Related post: A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 1.

9 Comments:

Blogger Cliff Aliperti said...

Thank goodness, Laura, with Lucy's 100th looming I didn't think anyone had remembered Robert Taylor outside of Beatrice!

Great pick with Westward the Women, that was a real shocker the first time I saw it--and I think we mean the same scene. You almost don't see that coming because who'd expect that in an old movie! Party Girl too, agreed, very strong performance from Taylor.

I think Johnny Eager is my favorite of the bunch though.

Thanks for remembering this underrated star.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad some of us wanted to remember the Taylor Centennial, Cliff! :) Taylor really hasn't received the appreciation he deserves, but that seems to be turning around a bit if some of the blog posts I've come across over the last couple years are any indication.

Wasn't that scene in WESTWARD THE WOMEN great? Especially the capper to the moment with the assistance of the woman on the train who was especially handy with a gun. As you say, the entire sequence really was a bit of a surprise for an "old" movie.

Thanks for the recommendation of JOHNNY EAGER, I'm looking forward to it -- the more so because the film also features Van Heflin's Oscar-winning Supporting Actor performance.

Best wishes,
Laura

10:03 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Now that I'm set to post here from earlier, here's another one. I didn't know it was Robert Taylor's centennial unti I saw this and the following CATTLE KING entry.

I like Robert Taylor very much too, but will say especially for his 50s films. He is one of those actors who got better as he matured, losing the pretty boy looks of his younger years but gaining in depth.

As it happens, Laura, my attention was first called to your blog by Toby of 50 Westerns of the 50s with reference to an entry you'd written earlier about WESTWARD THE WOMEN. This is a favorite film of mine too--of movies with Taylor it would be close for his best for me among this, PARTY GIRL and THE LAST HUNT.

I'm sure you'll get your chance with THE LAST HUNT before too long. It tends to turn up on TCM often enough so just watch the schedule. But be warned if you are used to Taylor as the hero--he is the villain in this one, startlingly effective in the role and one of the greatest and most disturbing Western villains ever in my view. Stewart Granger is the hero and also great in it; the two roles are equally strong so it was good for both actors. It is one of the harshest visions of the West of any 50s movie, but not cynically so as it would be in the 1970s--it's a redemptive story for the Granger character.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, I'm so glad to know you found my blog via 50 Westerns from the 50s -- one of my favorite blogs! I'm glad to know that you are also a fan of WESTWARD THE WOMEN and PARTY GIRL.

I'm very much looking forward to THE LAST HUNT, well prepared to appreciate Taylor's performance but not his character (grin). I'm a big Stewart Granger fan and also like Debra Paget so I'm sure I'll enjoy it. It's interesting that Taylor and Granger seem to reverse their roles in THE LAST HUNT from ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT, in which Taylor played the straight-arrow brother and Granger was the villain (albeit charming at times).

Best wishes,
Laura

1:27 PM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Hi, Laura - Another fan who has not forgotten Robert Taylor is my mother. For her 90th birthday we gave her a 1938 Photoplay issue (found on eBay) with articles/photos about both Robert Taylor and her other heartthrob, Tyrone Power. She was thrilled! And thank you for the update about Taylor's children - both so handsome and gracious. Jane

1:52 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a fantastic gift, Jane. And such a creative idea to find that for her.

Taylor and Power -- your mother has outstanding taste! They're definitely at the tip top of my favorites list along with names like Grant, Montgomery, and McCrea.

Aren't Taylor's children handsome? I would love to have the opportunity to meet them one day and express my appreciation for their father's work. It's sad that they lost their father when they were so young.

Best wishes,
Laura

3:16 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

The silly way we think #1: A few years ago I was watching "Where Angels Go Trouble Follows" on television. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid, so it wasn't a big memory. Robert Taylor has a cameo appearance when the school stops by a ranch. When he came riding up and I recognized him, I felt very, very happy. That was when I realized what a fan I am.

"Westward the Women" would top my list as well, adding "Devil's Doorway", "Bataan" and "Many Rivers to Cross".

I would do mayhem to get "The Detectives" on DVD.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a great anecdote about Taylor's cameo. Another film I need to see.

Thanks for sharing your favorites! It's great to see how many appreciate Westward the Women. I'm surprised it's not yet out from Warner Archive.

Best wishes,
Laura

7:30 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a great anecdote about Taylor's cameo. Another film I need to see.

Thanks for sharing your favorites! It's great to see how many appreciate Westward the Women. I'm surprised it's not yet out from Warner Archive.

Best wishes,
Laura

7:31 PM  

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