His fellow Golden Age greats are justly celebrated—not just Gable, Tracy, Flynn, Colman and James Cagney, but William Powell, Frederic March and Robert Donat too. Robert Taylor (1911-69) seems a curiously obscure figure amidst all this well-worn starlight. Yet this classically handsome
actor was an immensely popular romantic lead who courted all the top ladies: Eleanor Powell in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Irene Dunne in Magnificent Obsession (‘36) Jean Harlow in Personal Property (‘37), Barbara Stanwyck in His Brother’s Wife (‘36) and Garbo in the langurous Camille (‘36). Then there were A Yank at Oxford (‘38) and Three Comrades (‘38, screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald). In an effort to play challenging, ‘tough man’ roles, Taylor played a boxer in The Crowd Roars (‘38) and villains in Undercurrent (‘46), The High Wall (‘48) and Devil’s Doorway (‘50). There were old-fashioned heroics too, in period pieces like Quo Vadis (‘51) and Ivanhoe (‘52, opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine). As if to leave nothing to chance, Taylor also personified bitter, flawed heroes (the smooth beauty of his youth had, by now, given way to a rugged, raggged demeanour lined with the grime of experience) in Westerns like Ambush (‘49) and Westward the Women (‘51). Robert Taylor would have hoped his legacy to have lasted, but some Hollywood throws of dice give cruel returns.