Actor. One of the most popular leading men of his time, he was nicknamed "The Man with the Perfect Profile." His film and television career spanned four decades and he appeared in nearly 80 films. Born Spangler Arlington Brugh, his father was originally a farmer who became a doctor. He moved with his family throughout the Midwestern US before finally settling in Beatrice, Nebraska. During high school he excelled at track and played the cello in the orchestra. After graduation, he attended Doane College in Crete, Nebraska and took cello lessons from his music professor, Herbert E. Gray, whom he admired and idolized. When Gray left to take a position at Pomona College in Los Angeles, California, he moved there to enroll at Pomona. He joined the campus theater group and was eventually spotted by an MGM talent scout in 1932 after the school's production of "Journey's End" and signed a 7-year contract with MGM, who changed his name to Robert Taylor. He made his film debut in the 1934 comedy "Handy Andy," opposite Will Rogers and his first leading role was in an MGM short subject called Buried Loot." In 1935 Irene Dunne requested him for her leading man in "Magnificent Obsession" and it was followed by "Camille" (1936) opposite Greta Garbo. In the late 1930s he 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 Leigh in Mervyn LeRoy's drama "Waterloo Bridge." During the World War II years he portrayed 'Billy Bonney' (better known as Billy the Kid) in "Billy the Kid" (1941), the title role in the film noir "Johnny Eager" (1941, with Lana Turner, and the tough 'Sergeant Bill Dane' in "Bataan" (1943). He then joined the US Navy and became a flying instructor in the Naval Air Corps, starring in instructional films and narrating the 1944 documentary "The Fighting Lady." That same year, he helped found the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. In October 1947 he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding Communism in Hollywood and became the first witness to "name names" by singling out actors Howard Da Silva and Karen Morley and screenwriter Lester Cole. After World War II he appeared in "Undercurrent" (1946, with Katharine Hepburn), "High Wall" (1947, with Audrey Totter), "Conspirator" ((1949, with Elizabeth Taylor), "Quo Vadis) (1951, with Deborah Kerr), "Ivanhoe" (1952, with Elizabeth Taylor), "Above and Beyond" (1952, with Eleanor Parker), "Knights of the Round Table" (1953, with Ava Gardner), Valley of the Kings" (1953, with Eleanor Parker), and "The Adventures of Quentin Durward" (1955, with Kay Kendall). By the mid-1950s he started concentrating on westerns, with "Many Rivers To Cross" (1955 with Eleanor Parker) and "The Law and Jake Wade" (1958, with Richard Widmark). In 1958, he left MGM and formed his own production company, Robert Taylor Productions, and the following year, he starred in the ABC television series "The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor" that ran until 1962. His other television credits include "The Thin Man," "Return of the Gunfighter," and "Hondo." In 1964 he co-starred with his former wife, Barbara Stanwyck, in William Castle's psychological horror film "The Night Walker." In 1966, after filming "Johnny Tiger," he took over the role of narrator in the television series "Death Valley Days" when Ronald Reagan left to pursue a career in politics and remained with the series until his death. Hs final film appearance was in "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows" (1968). In October of that year, after undergoing surgery to remove a portion of his right lung due to suspected coccidioidomycosis (also known as "valley fever"), the doctors discovered that he had lung cancer, most likely caused from smoking three packs of cigarettes since his youth. The following year he died of the disease at the age of 57. He was married to actress Barbara Stanwyck from May 1939 until their divorce in February 1951 and German actress Ursula Thiess form May 1954 until his death. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to films.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
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