This post is a part of TMP's Historical Context series, where I share excerpts on classic film and midcentury culture from my collection of vintage magazines.
This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, where I share excerpts on classic film and midcentury culture from my collection of vintage magazines.
True Story is one of my favorite old mags to collect. While the truth of the stories is, in reality, questionable, these issues are a lot of fun to read, full of wild tales, interesting vintage ads and even some classic Hollywood features. A recent addition to the TMP vintage magazine archive is the May 1937 issue of True Story, which includes a story titled “Robert Taylor Tells His Greatest Love Story” — credited as “By Robert Taylor, as told to Joseph Kaye.” Taylor also appears on the cover of the issue in illustrated form, along with the lovely Jean Harlow.

The actor had not yet married his first wife, TMP favorite Barbara Stanwyck, when this article was published. They had already worked together and were likely dating at the time, however. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article published at the time of their marriage in 1939 reported that their “friendship had been in the hand-holding stage for nearly three years” prior to the wedding, meaning the “hand-holding” began in 1936.

True Story, May 1937 (Photographed by Lindsey for TMP)
True Story, May 1937 (Photographed by Lindsey for TMP)
One might guess that Taylor’s publicity folks planted this as a lovey-dovey story capitalizing on Taylor’s relationship with the talented actress, but as it turns out, that isn’t the case at all! Instead, Robert Taylor’s “greatest love story” could actually be viewed as two love stories: the story of his parents, and the story of his own love for the movies.

The article shares the story of how Taylor got his contract with MGM. “If opportunity comes suddenly when you are young, ambitious, and broke, it can be far more bewildering than failure. I found that out in February, 1934. Three years later, I am still more astonished by my own experience than anyone else could possibly be. On February 6, 1934, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios offered me a contract to appear in pictures,” the opening sentences read.

Taylor (or, rather, his “collaborator” Joseph Kaye) goes on to discuss his first screen test, his lack of confidence as an actor just starting out, and how his parents influenced his ability to accomplish his dreams. “It was a tangible asset and good fortune to have been born the son of my parents,” the article reads. “By the example of their own lives, my parents created for me certain ideas which I can never lose. Their influence has governed me largely in my professional life, as it has in my personal life.” Taylor’s parents are portrayed as the picture of devotion, Taylor stating that when he thinks of what he wants in a wife, he thinks of their example.

As the mag tells it, Spangler Brugh and Ruth Stanhope met in Filley, Nebraska, where they both grew up. Brugh was from a family of Pennsylvania Dutch farmers, and Stanhope was the daughter of a grain dealer. They married when Ruth was eighteen, having “fallen in love when they were still children” and “grown up in love, too.”

From there, the story becomes pretty incredible. When Ruth’s health began failing due to a weakening heart, rather than give up hope, Spangler decided to make a career switch at the age of thirty and become a doctor so he could help her grow stronger! Determined to encourage her husband’s new career path, Ruth decided she would assist him, and they both enrolled in medical school!

That lasted for a year before Spangler was called home to help with his father’s business. Miraculously, after moving  back from their Missouri med school, Ruth’s health began improving by leaps and bounds. The boy who would become Robert Taylor was born a couple years later… and Ruth’s health took a downturn, again. So it was back to Missouri for the Brughs and their child, where Spangler finally graduated from the medical program and was able to care for Ruth’s health. Twenty years later, having been treated by her husband throughout that time, she was still doing well.

In Magnificent Obsession, Taylor stars opposite Irene Dunne in a story that mirrors his own parents' experience. (Image via Doctor Macro)
In Magnificent Obsession, Taylor stars opposite Irene Dunne in a story that mirrors his own parents’ experience. (Image via Doctor Macro)
The article shares a bit of advice that was apparently repeated often by Taylor’s father, through Ruth’s illness and as his son was trying to make it as a film star: “It isn’t the life that matters, son. It’s the courage that you put into it.” Taylor took that advice and ran with it, by his own account, after being scouted for Hollywood while performing in a college play. He didn’t head to Los Angeles right away to immediately seek glamour and fortune, instead electing to finish his degree. When he finally did make it to California, his journey to stardom saw another interruption in the heartbreakingly sudden death of his father. Rather than letting this tragedy derail his dream completely, he moved his mother out to California and returned to MGM, beginning to pick up roles — including two medical roles inspired by his father, in Society Doctor and Magnificent Obession.

This story of determination, perseverance, and honest, deep love is a perfect fit for True Story magazine, and an inspiring read — both for those who bought the magazine at its original price of 15 cents, and those of us who look back on them now.