WEIRDLAND: Robert Taylor: Barbara Stanwyck's one true love

Friday, December 20, 2013

Robert Taylor: Barbara Stanwyck's one true love

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in "Remember the Night" (1940) directed by Mitchell Leisen

“It’s one of those quirky twists of fate that a film as exceptional as 'Remember the Night' has been so overlooked when it comes to great Christmas movies,” TCM host Robert Osborne was quoted as saying. “It’s our hope at TCM that our special Christmas Eve showing of this holiday gem, now fully remastered, will help give it a much-deserved new life.” "Remember the Night" marked the first of four on-screen pairings of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. (the other three are: Double Indemnity, The Moonlighter, and There’s Always Tomorrow.) In the film, MacMurray plays a prosecutor who falls in love with a shoplifter (Stanwyck) during a court recess at Christmas time." Source:

From the get-go, Barbara presented something of a sense of unease in Robert Taylor. She was his paradox. She could present that 'pal' sort of persona, but he wasn't sure she was going to be one to share his more masculine interests. She was attractive, though not extraordinarily feminine, a trait important to him. Taylor resented having to feel subservience in relation to his mother's domineering will, and that translated into his relationship with Barbara. History has repeatedly shown that Bob was decidedly heterosexual. Every interview conducted with people who had attempted to 'out' him in print boiled down to a rumor. Harry Hay was one of the most deliberate propagators of these rumors. Considered an early leader of the gay rights movement in America, as well as a closeted-gay member of the Communist Party of America, Hay was asked directly if he had proof of Bob's homosexuality. He sheepishly admitted he did not have an iota of corroboration. He acknowledged that there was nothing but gossip involved; none of the of-repeated fantasy was based on fact.

Bob and Barbara's relationship was not one of convenience. The attraction was real. Bob wanted that 'pal', that woman who would be with him whenever he needed a companion; he also wanted a woman to look to him as her provider and protector. Though Barbara wasn't traditionally seen that way, at her core she was an emotionally helpless creature in many ways. Hunting and fishing and flying trips were Bob's way of asserting his place as the head of their family.

Joel McCrea and Sam Goldwyn had a meeting and conversation turned to who would play the lead in Stella Dallas. McCrea suggested Barbara. "She's just got no sex appeal!", Sam Goldwyn blurted. "Well, you better not let Bob Taylor know that." McCrea laughed uproariously. "He's nuts about her, and he thinks she has sex appeal." That got Barbara a screen test. She hated to do them, but wanted this part so much she relented. Stella was rough, out of shape, a bleached blonde with a vulgar sex appeal. She was the sort of woman Barbara might have become if she hadn't found a place in Hollywood. Bob accompanied her to a Hollywood preview of the film on July 23, 1937. Sam Goldwyn had hired police officers to protect the stars in attendance.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor at the premiere of "Stella Dallas"

Bob's usual restraint was lost when he saw Barbara helpless and pinned in the arms of a burly cop. He glared at the policeman, struggling against those holding him back as he bellowed, "I'll punch you in the jaw!" Headlines the next day screamed, "Taylor Rescues Barbara Stanwyck From Officer!" Taylor was monogamous by nature. If he made a permanent choice, he'd be out of circulation. The specter of Bob's parent perfect marriage still stood in front of him.

Once Barbara had a party and 'allowed' Bob to invite his cronies. John Wayne was there and said Barbara retired early. "We were just a bunch of guys telling tall tales about the big fish we didn't catch and the bears that got too close to our tents, when she appeared in a nightgown at the top of the stair and yelled, 'Get up here to bed where you belong!' I can't repeat what else she said but it had to do with sex and what she wanted him to do. I might have told her where a wife belonged and how she should act, but I knew she would take it out on Bob. I felt very bad for him."

"Barbara was tomboyish, yet used sex like a loaded gun." Bob was a blatant sex symbol in his public life, and though he had a proclivity to be very sexually active in his private life, his attentions weren't always toward his wife anymore. Many of Bob's extramarital romances could be traced to his film credits.

Lana Turner said blatantly that Bob was exactly the sort of guy that attracter her. "I wasn't in love with Bob," Lana stated. Bob was determined, though. Whether he thought he was really in love, or the lust factor overtook all logical thought, Bob was ready to leave Barbara for Lana Turner. Common belief indicated that they did have a hot-and-heavy physical relationship. Stanwyck was riding the crest as an actress, but losing a grip on the man she loved. Taylor took the title role in "Johnny Eager", a gangster who destroys himself for his love of a girl. Taylor said to his best friend Tom Purvis, that he and Lana were 'bursting' with passion during production, but they did nothing about it until they finished filming. "I had to have her if only for one night." Bob's confessed love for Lana Turner and asking her for a divorce nearly killed Barbara.

About his performance in "Waterloo Bridge", Taylor would say: "It was the first time I really gave a performance that met the often unattainable standards I was always setting for myself."

Lia DiLeo was young, busty, long-legged, and she hardly spoke a word of English. She secured a part in "Quo Vadis", nothing more than a blip across the screen. She and Bob never appeared together onscreen but were seen as a couple nearly everywhere else in town. "There were hundreds of girls. I don't know why he picked me. He was very nice, a gentleman. He wasn't really a talker, just a few words... 'hello', 'goodbye', 'I love you.' He certainly was very macho, a very great, good lover. He wanted a divorce [from Barbara], I understand." He'd take her to dinner at the finer restaurants, and they usually went dancing afterward. Barbara arrived while filming was in progress.

Barbara stayed with her husband for six weeks. Once she left Italy, Bob was again back to his old ways, even seen frequenting a Roman whorehouse. Barbara dealt her last card in this scenario. She did not want a divorce; she wanted to keep hold of Bob forever. Once he had finished filming and was back in Los Angeles, their inevitable face-to-face happened. She gave Bob an ultimatum to behave in public, or she would meet him in court. He took her up on the divorce, and that turned out to be a challenge Barbara lived to regret, later calling her hasty move 'the biggest mistake of my life." She carried a torch for Taylor until the day she died. Robert Taylor was the one true love of her life, and she went to her grave avowing that love.

Sources: "Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood, and Communism" (2008) by Linda Alexander and "The Life and Loves of Barbara Stanwyck" (2009) by Jane Ellen Wayne


Linda J. Alexander said...

Nice overview. Thanks for reading my book, "Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood & Communism." Also for giving me credit ... I was sure I recognized the writing! ; > BTW, the book will be re-released with photos either later this year or early next year.

~ Linda Alexander

Elena said...

thanks a lot, Linda, for continuing your wonderful book, a real honor for me to review it. I enjoyed reading it a lot and it's one of my favorite biographies. I hope your reedition of Reluctant Witness is released soon, no doubt I'll check it out as soon as it comes out! take care, Linda :)