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.