Robert Taylor, Golden Era film heartthrob, thrilled women the world over. What was he like as a young lover?
There were no less than eleven documented accounts of young ladies who dated Robert Taylor while he was a student at Beatrice High School in Nebraska. Chances are, there were many more. In those days, he was known by his given name, Arlington Brugh.
He went dancing with all of those dates, and when their time together included other activities—the movies, a soda at local Penner's Pharmacy, a church social—they almost always started or ended on the dance floor. Some of the more entertaining accounts tell of the era, the people, and, specifically, what it was like to go out with a man who was adored by many females even before he was famous. They also relate a composite of the type of woman that attracted him.
Helen Rush, his first sweetheart, was not a fly-by-night romance. She returned his affections, and they were seen together for years.
Catherine "Kate" Heffelfinger was in the same grade as Arlington. Assertive and outgoing, according to a schoolmate she "liked a good time, and had many friends." She sewed, and enjoyed decorating. Her father co-owned a local meat market. Kate was small, approximately 5' 2," and had black hair and blue eyes. Arlington called her "a tiny, pretty girl." Her sister said, "Kate and Arlington were considered part of the ‘500 Group,’ the more socially-prominent people in high school. . . . He was a quiet fellow, even on Student Council, had a creamy white face, rosy cheeks, and . . . wavy hair."
Esther Legate was one year older than Arlington, with dark brown hair, and blue eyes. Her father was a barber. For quite some time, she found herself attracted to this handsome young man in the high school orchestra. He would sometimes return her glances, but they never spoke. Finally, he called her and asked her to dinner at a cafe in a neighboring town. He drove in one car. His parents followed in another, and sat separately at the restaurant. Arlington and Esther talked for hours, and apparently had little to do with his parents during the date. They were there as obvious, but not interfering, chaperones.
More dates with Esther followed. He always picked her up at her home and chatted with her parents. She said he liked "turtle-necked sweaters . . . and he wore a suit to dances." They were "his big event." She said he was "the nicest boy" she'd ever dated. "Very much a gentleman with nice manners, he was reserved, serious, honest, intelligent, a very good musician, and a very good dancer."
One evening he took her to an Elks Club in a neighboring town. They did the fox trot and the waltz. On their way home, they were caught in a snowstorm. "Arlington pulled over into a farmyard and we stayed there awhile until we could move on." They talked to pass the time. "He tried to kiss me, but I wouldn't let him because there were rumors he was very interested in another girl."
Then there was Helen Alexander whose father was a car dealer. She was 5' 4," with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she was also a year older than Arlington. Gertrude Hamilton, daughter of a baker, was 5' 2" with brown hair and blue eyes, reported to be a "nice, outgoing, lively girl." Rosana Kilpatrick's father was a multi-millionaire railroad contractor. She was of medium height, and also had blue eyes. Kathleen Mumford was 5' 3" with brown hair and blue eyes, and her father ran a furniture company. She was talkative and had a good personality. Arlington attended her sixteenth birthday party.
In later years, he made a reference about a date with a lady named Delores Harmon, a former neighbor and schoolmate, but she denied ever having gone out with him. Bernice Grunwald was in college when she met Arlington on a blind date. He was a high school junior. She was a music student and eventually became a concert pianist.
By this time in his school years, without question, Arlington had fully discovered the opposite sex. A male friend stated that he most likely "had his first sexual experience while in high school."
He admitted later that his favorite date was "the ‘All-American' girl . . . I like a girl who can be a pal, who can share a fellow's interests and who is not affected and stagey. Appearance doesn't matter so much although, like every other man, I suppose I'm naturally attracted by clean-cut, good-looking girls." He said he didn't like to see women smoke or drink to excess, and he "heartily" disliked red fingernails. These activities and appearance factors were too flamboyant for his more sedate tastes.
It's notable that each female interest his earlier school years was involved in theatrics or music. This despite the fact that he later commented, when asked if the girl he eventually married would be an actress, "That is impossible to say for I would not marry because she happened to be an actress and neither would I decline to marry her if she were not."
All his ladies in those days had blue eyes . . . as did his mother. Each stood about the same general height as she, and all were classy-looking and attractive, well-dressed, and outgoing. Some were older than he was. Most had strong personalities. None were wallflowers.
Arlington Brugh was dating many variations on the same theme. This would prove to be a pattern, even after he become Robert Taylor. Though Barbara Stanwyck, his first wife, and his mother were known to dislike each other, and Stanwyck, in her public persona most prominently, took on those bolder characteristics which Taylor had at times decried, there were many similarities in the two women, a factor not lost on public notice even then.
Ursula Thiess, his second wife and mother of his two children, is a kind woman. While her personality is worlds apart from that of Stanwyck, her strength of character, attention to public appearance, and her steely independence is amazingly reminscent of those girls he dated way-back-when in his high school days.