Modern Screen, May 1938: Mutual Benefit Ass’n.

by Katharine Hartley

Note: Text below is a reproduction of Modern Screen Magazine article (May 1938). Source: archive.org

Modern Screen May 1938 Cover

We don’t need that old adage about a person being known by the company he keeps to see that Bob Taylor’s selection of Barbara Stanwyck for his off-screen, and occasionally on-the-screen-too, sweetheart did a lot for the career of that same Barbara Stanwyck. It didn’t make her a better actress―Barbara has always been that―but it did bring her to the fore and onto the front pages and into the minds of millions of movie-goers as she had never been brought before.

But this story isn’t about that―that is the obvious thing―and there is a Bob-benefit in Barbara’s life which goes much deeper, a much more dramatic and heart-warming story. Countless stories have been written about what Barbara has done for Bob : how her advice guided him, how her confidence sustained him, how the constant companionship of this sturdy-fibered, common-sense girl was a safe tether in this giddy-gaddy town.

It’s time now at last, that the other part of the story be told. It has somewhere been written that a love only lasts when each of the two who share that love gives something good and great to the other. In this story, then, you will also find the reason why Bob and Barbara are, just about now, celebrating their second friendship anniversary.

It was six months after Barbara had come to the end of her marriage with Frank Fay that she met Bob. To describe the girl she was at that time is to describe a drab-hearted young woman who already felt that her span of happiness and activity, and that her place in the world, no longer existed.

Barbara Stanwyck’s romance with Bob Taylor has helped her career―Given him an anchor. But that’s not all! Here’s what it’s done to them as people, not stars

In drawing her portrait at this period it is impossible to do so accurately without bringing in the dire effect that her past life with her husband, a long period of seven years, had etched on her. But since Barbara has only recently gone to court to say that her ex-husband is not a desirable companion for their young adopted son, and since she offered numerous signed affidavits to prove her contention, we are not overstepping the bounds of kindness and decency in touching on that subject. What goes into the courts and into the newspapers is public domain of a sort. Whatever Frank Fay’s importance and worth as an entertainer and a man is, it is a fact that as Barbara Stanwyck’s husband he wreaked a very great harm on her. Barbara lost the first round of her recent suit; the judge ruled that Fay should be allowed to see the six-year-old Dion at appointed times, but there are still those affidavits to be reckoned with and the case is being appealed. More than that, to go back to our point, there was Barbara Stanwyck, at the time the divorce was granted.

We say she was drab-hearted. A lot of things had contributed to it. For seven years Barbara had not known what it was to be a personality, a personality with ideas of her own, work of her own, friends of her own. Under the constant pressure of the egotism of a man who referred to himself as “The Fay” and who told her daily how lucky she was to have him, she found herself being forced into a back seat, both as an actress and as a woman. It was, to put it bluntly, seven years of stooging.

They never went out, court was held at home, and there were only the husband’s old vaudeville friends to pay him homage. When Barbara made a picture, as she did occasionally, it was with the enforced attitude that it was only a side-line, only for pin money. Naturally her career suffered, but deeper than that went the destruction. Every woman needs a certain amount of attention, a certain amount of mental cuddling and patting, a certain amount of “position” both in the home and out of it to keep her ego at a proper level. These were all things which were lacking.

Photo 1 Caption: Barbara’s career has taken a new lease on life since she began going with Bob. But it’s only because she’s a new person today.
Photo 2 Caption: Bob tells the world Barbara’s the girl he loves and it’s a new security for her.
Photo 3 Caption: Dion Anthony Fay, Barbara’s adopted son, has been the center of a battle.
Photo 4 Caption: Hurrying to keep that date with Babs! And she isn’t the only one to benefit from their romance, either. It’s had a far-reaching effect on Bob, too!

When Barbara finally emerged from the dark existence, it was, as she once put it, “like the first day when she’d been released from the orphanage.” That was when she was about twelve. It was some holiday’s outing: out from the cold dank walls into the limitless sunshine. When Barbara stepped out into the sunshine of Hollywood freedom and airiness it was like that. Like a little girl who had escaped pigtails and black and white checkered gingham, and was going for a great glorious walk into the open.

But can’t you imagine that a little girl who has been in an orphanage all her life finds the world rather startling, is a little amazed and benumbed about it, and doesn’t quite know how to act? That was what happened to Barbara in 1936; an older, but still a little-girl Barbara.

Which brings us to the second important line on her picture. Barbara in those days was not only drab-hearted, but she was also ungracious; one of the most ungracious girls who ever ungraced a Hollywood gathering. That first gathering which she attended is well-remembered by a friend who says that “Barbara was in that peculiar kind of state known as corner-sitting. She just sat there and nobody could get her out of it. Even civil conversation she ignored. For example, you’d say, ‘It’s been a nice day to-day, hasn’t it?’ and she’d say, ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t out in it.’ It wasn’t that she meant to be like that, it was just that she was strained and self-conscious and she didn’t know what to do about it.”

Yet it was on that same evening that she met Robert Taylor. It is still a mystery to the world, and to Barbara too, considering the unpleasantness of her mood, how he ever happened to be attracted to her. But perhaps that was it. Besieged and torn apart by flagrant flappers at every turn, perhaps it was exactly this unresponsiveness which looked good to him, although those of us who know Bob a little better are rather inclined to hand him more of a bouquet on the matter. Bob is not the fly-by-night, light-and-laughter young man he is sometimes made out to be. There is a stalwartness in him some people don’t know about. Looking through and beyond the flippant “so-what” mask Barbara was wearing, he saw a harmonizing stalwartness there behind that mask, and it was something he had been looking for.

The result was the first date Barbara had ever had with a man since the end of her marriage. The result of that result is up until this moment Barbara has never had another date with anyone else.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. Publicity Still His Brother’s Wife (1936)

Bob’s frankness and directness made mental care in the inner woman. Barbara used to be a perennial headache to all of the fashion experts in town who were sometimes required to outfit her for publicity and fashion pictures. We say “sometimes” because requests for Barbara displaying the smartest and latest of this and that weren’t very many or very frequent. Her reputation as a lazy, slip-shod model was already too well known. She had this reputation because that was her viewpoint toward this type of work.

“Oh, so you want me to give it this!” she would say belittlingly to the over-wrought photographer who was merely trying to get her to tip her hat at a more sophisticated angle, to swing her hips a little to the left, or maybe it was an even smaller matter of just wetting her lips. “Oh, so you want me to be a Glamor Girl―well, how’s this?

“No, not like that, Barbara, please. Don’t kid it, please. Oh, Barbara!

It was always hopeless, not only the poses, but the type of clothes she insisted on wearing. Don’t make me out a movie queen,” she would say, ordering a whole bunch of hot-from-the-designer creations back to the wardrobe department. “What’s the matter with this little number I’m wearing? It’s not very new, I’ll admit, but I’ve never worn it before. Save those other things for somebody who’s got the style. I just haven’t and I know it.”

Stanwyck and Taylor at the Del Mar Horse Racing track, 1937

But this situation is no more, as the fashion editors of many a publication will testify. They want more and more photographs of Barbara. And she hasn’t spruced up on clothes just to please a new-found public. Barbara has had public before. It’s something she has done because of Bob. Not directly perhaps. It was not anything ever mentioned between them, but when she saw that he noticed things about clothes, she naturally strived to please him on this subject.

For example, she discovered that he admired tailored suits on women. An exclusive Hollywood tailor had a new customer shortly afterward. Another thing, Barbara had never worn jewelry in her life. Bob gave her some, a bracelet, a watch, several rings. On the occasion of the first gift, Barbara said in a frank outburst, because she never does or says anything any other way. “Oh Bob, I’m not the type!”

“What do you mean you’re not the type?” he returned in the same manner. “To me, you’re beautiful and lovely and you decorate my life. I don’t know why you shouldn’t be decked out a little.”

All right, and she wore it. Now the dangling bangles on her arm are a symbol of the new, lighter and happier tinkle in her personality.

Part of this tinkle may also be ascribed to the influence that Bob’s own special graciousness has also had in her life. During those seven years she had been embarrassed on so many occasions that friends and a social life were absolutely denied her. Not only because of her husband’s peculiar behavior, but he had made a ruling that she should never have any friends of her own. Now you may also understand what it meant to her to be suddenly escorted by a man who, because of his gentlemanliness, his sociability and his own personality-grace, was welcomed and wanted everywhere. In the presence of such pleasantness, Barbara couldn’t help relaxing, and bringing forth some of her own. The association brought her a marvelous new gaiety. In her heart, as well as in her actions, she became at ease.

At the Premiere of His Brother’s Wife, 1936

Naturally, in the beginning, there were those in town who said that Barbara was going around with Bob only for the publicity that it gave her and that once she had gotten hold of him she’d never let him go. Knowing Barbara and knowing how completely naïve she is, how unsuspecting of maliciousness in others, it is quite certain that the existence of this attitude never occurred to her. But Bob, being perhaps a little more open-eyed and open-eared about such things, may have heard about it, and it is he who has finally succeeded in putting a stop to it. If you had ever seen them together at some small party you would know what we mean.

It isn’t that Bob is gushy and demonstrative with her. But suppose they are starting to leave, and a last minute discussion comes up, and they come back into the room. Barbara sinks into a chair. Bob sits down on that chair’s arm, his arm lightly on the back of it. Or maybe they are just idling in the doorway over those last few goodnights. He stands behind her, with his arms boyishly and affectionately encircling her. Its not that usual type of Hollywood familiarity at which anyone might take offense. It’s only a touching and enlightening tenderness-indication between them. Still on some occasions there have been more wide-spread and far-flung expressions of this feeling. Barbara laughs a little in confusion when she tells of those across-the-ocean phone calls that Bob made to her from London when he was there on his “A Yank At Oxford” picture a few months ago.

At a tennis tournament in 1936

What happened was this. The first time he called, he shouted at the top of his lungs as though he worried for fear she couldn’t hear him. “I love you! I love you!” the vibrant, enthusiastic voice sang across the world. Later, after the excitement of those few moments had passed, Barbara realized that trans-Atlantic calls are not very private, that anyone on any boat or anyone with a particular kind of short wave receiver could pick up every word they were saying. She cabled him a warning saying that probably the whole world was listening in and to be more careful in the future. But the very next night he called again, and there it was, the very same message, the very same words, only if anything, shouted even more loudly and more enthusiastically. Barbara’s “sh’s!” were unheeded.

Thus, from this small anecdote you may judge that it is only her “yes” which is lacking to make this twosome a marriage. Her delay may seem quite incomprehensible to the millions of Taylor’s female worshippers, but it’s to be remembered that Barbara is no ordinary girl, and she has a knack of being able to see both sides of a question. She doesn’t believe that a marriage for Bob is what his fans would want right now. She has said honestly. Which evidences her acceptance of that old Hollywood rule that while there’s no wife, there’s still hope for the legion of a movie man’s admirers.

In respect to her naivete, there is a further example in that same recent court hearing over the little boy. When Barbara went to court to fight for the right to be the sole custodian of her child she was totally unprepared for the introduction of Bob’s name into it. She felt that Bob’s name had no place in the case, that he had nothing to do with her life as Mrs. Fay, and since she always fights fair rules herself, she had no thought that the fight might be conducted otherwise. Then, on the second or third day of the hearing, Bob’s name hit the headlines too.

 

Stanwyck, son Dion and Robert Taylor at Northridge, 1938

It was brought in by the opposition. They put her on the stand to have her admit that he was a frequent visitor at her house, but Barbara insisted that this had nothing to do with it. It was a blow to her, and she was heartsick that they should thus side-track the issue. Bob took it all graciously and kept quietly and calmly at a distance. He begged her to believe that it didn’t upset him a bit, and in the end the calmness and quietness of his attitude did more than anything to ease the hurt. If it hadn’t been for him the reopening of an old wound would certainly have put her back in the same bitter state from which he had once rescued her. In every big crisis then, as well as in the small daily ones he has been just as surely a blessing to her, in pulling her out of an old life, as she has been helpful to him in advising him on how to get established in a new one.

So you can see that there has been a “give” and a benefit on both sides, and that is what makes their love story such a full, rich one, and one which is more surely to be continued, installment after installment, a story without end. Everywhere you turn now in this town, you hear people commenting on the Stanwyck-Taylor association which has withstood even a separation of four months while Bob made his trip to England, and always you hear the phrase, “Well, he’s certainly lucky to have her!” We mean that she’s a true-blue girl who has been a help to him rather than a hindrance. In a town of gold-digging and hot-house forced-plant marriages, she is a remarkable exception. It’s time now that we also begin to exclaim that she’s lucky to have him, and not just because he’s handsome, and wealthy and successful, either. That, as we hope we’ve made clear, is only the smallest part of the story. The big part of the story may be found in the new steady glow in her eyes, in the accentuated verve in her acting, and in the feeling of importance and superiority she nurtures in her heart. A woman has to have that to be happy, and it is through Bob, his fineness and his tenderness, that she has won this new capacity.