WEIRDLAND: Christmas with Barbara Stanwcyk & Robert Taylor

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas with Barbara Stanwcyk & Robert Taylor

During production on The Gorgeous Hussy, Joan was impressed with Bob Taylor’s easy, graceful naturalness as an actor, but she was baffled by Barbara and Bob as a couple. Joan knew what Barbara had been through with Fay, and he and Bob were different in so many ways. Joan didn’t see Bob as Barbara’s type.

Metro was touting Robert Taylor as the “most sensational box-office draw since Clark Gable first leaped to fame.” Taylor’s role in His Brother’s Wife was that of a young research scientist, Chris Claybourne (it was Taylor’s fourth role in a year as a doctor), the playboy son of an acclaimed medical doctor, about to embark on his first expedition to the jungles to find a serum for spotted fever. Barbara was Rita Wilson —a professional “mannequin” —worldly, beautiful, out for a lark, who meets the young scientist just before he is to set sail for South America.

Their high romance is a fling, days and nights of nonstop fun and high jinks. No questions asked, no attachments. At the end of ten days, each has been drawn into a web of feeling for the other, and hours before his departure Chris decides to abandon his mission, and the promising career that will come from it, and marry Rita. Later, Rita seduces Chris’s brother into falling in love and marrying her and walks out on her vows minutes after the ceremony. The righteous Tom Claybourne —earnest, responsible, hardworking— is desperate, unable to work or think of anything but Rita, and his own rising star as a brilliant doctor is suddenly in free fall.

Barbara and Bob went to the studio together by car. He sent flowers to her dressing room, as he had with Janet Gaynor and Joan Crawford. He lunched daily in Barbara’s dressing room and left with her at the end of the day. On Saturdays they went riding in the late afternoon or early evening and ate at the Brown Derby or at a drive-in sandwich stand near Bob’s house. When not filming, Barbara and Bob stayed in their dressing rooms. Bob brought a Victrola to the set and kept it there during the fourteen-day shoot so Barbara would be able to listen to her favorite records, among them Ray Noble, the Ambrose and Hylton orchestras, and Ellington’s and Goodman’s bands.

After four months of seeing each other, Bob thought Barbara “one of the great women of the Twentieth Century, a great woman and a very great actress.”

Stephen Dallas surprises Laurel on Christmas Day and asks Stella if Laurel can spend the day with him. Stella and Laurel have planned to open presents and then “take in a show.” Stella is glad to see Stephen, and when he asks her to join them for dinner before they are to catch the train back to New York, Barbara’s Stella sees in Stephen the man she fell in love with. When shopping for her resort wear before she and Laurel go off to the Mirador, Stella buys the kinds of tacky shoes no one but a nineteenth-century London trollop would wear, and not the modest Stella who greets Stephen on Christmas Day or who tells Ed Munn she doesn’t have feelings for anyone but Laurel. Stella at the resort, getting out of her sickbed all dolled up to go and find Laurel, has put on such an assortment of clothes, jewelry, and makeup to toddle across the manicured lawn that one young man remarks, “She isn’t a woman; she’s a Christmas tree.”

“I had to indicate to audiences, through the emotions shown by my face,” said Barbara, “that for Stella, joy ultimately triumphed over the heartache she felt. Despite her shabbiness and loneliness at that moment, there was a shining triumph in her eyes, as she saw the culmination of her dreams for her daughter.”

Bob gave his mother a Christmas present of a trip to Idaho Falls to spend the holiday with relatives. Barbara referred to her as a “miserable old bitch” and started arguments with Ruth who didn’t know what to say or how to respond. Ruth often complained to Bob that she was frail and sickly; she controlled her son through her constant illnesses and the threat of her imminent death. Before she left for Idaho, Ruth and Bob and Barbara had Christmas dinner and unwrapped presents around the tree. Among the presents Bob gave Barbara was a cow that mooed when its tail was pulled. Barbara gave Bob a set of magic tricks. On Christmas Day, they went with Marion and Zeppo to the fourth annual Christmas Stakes at the Santa Anita racetrack on the old Lucky Baldwin ranch. Dion stayed at home with Nanny, as he usually did. Santa Anita was the place to be on Christmas: Spencer Tracy, Jeanette MacDonald, Gene Raymond, Anthony Quinn and his new bride, Katherine DeMille, were there, as were Edward Arnold and his son; Virginia Bruce and her husband, the writer and director J. Walter Ruben; George Raft and Virginia Pine. -"A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True (1907-1940)" by Victoria Wilson

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