It’s No Secret Any More—Ursula Thiess & Robert Taylor
Ursula Thiess is now Mrs. Robert Taylor. In a simple ceremony performed by a justice of the peace aboard a boat owned by Bob’s friends, Jess and John Wort, Ursula and Bob said their “I do’s”. The setting was Jackson Lake, Wyoming, indeed a romantic setting for two people who had waited more than two years, during which they tested the love they felt in their hearts for each other.
It all started on April 24, 1952, when Ursula and Bob were guests at the same party. She was wearing a black taffeta frock with a discreet bodice and a yards-rich skirt. (Bob thinks that a woman always looks her smartest in black: black suits for the street. black dresses for the theatre, black evening gowns for gala occasions.) Her masses of black hair curled softly about her heart-shaped face, and Bob noticed at once that she, like himself, had a deep cleft in her chin.
As people will, at a party that flows through gracious rooms like a tide, Ursula and Bob found themselves deposited on a small island of calm in a window-seated corner and started a typical buffet-party conversation. At first they talked about Europe and the cities each enjoyed. Ursula loved Salzburg, Bob had never been there. Bob loved Firenze (Florence), Ursula had never been there. The only city they both knew. aside from New York and Los Angeles, was, they discovered, London. That subject polished off, Bob said that Ursula was one of the few girls he had ever known who had a cleft in her chin. “I’ve often wondered how it happens that a dozen men to one girl will have this deal, when it should be the other way around. A girl doesn’t have to worry a razor around the canyon.”
This reminded Ursula that she had read an article compiled by European penologists, giving the information that in all the history of continental crime, only two or three criminals had been dimple-chinned.
“Just goes to disprove the old rhyme, ‘Dimpled chin, devil within,” said Bob, going on to describe himself as a reasonable citizen, inclined away from deviltry and toward ease. “Come right down to it, and I guess you’d have to say I’m a little lazy.”
Ursula said she didn’t believe she was especially lazy, but she certainly loathed getting up in the morning; she loved to sleep late and she didn’t want to talk to anyone during the morning’s first thirty minutes or until after she had swallowed a cup of coffee.
Somehow the mention of coffee brought up the subject of Los Angeles’ restaurants, favorite foods, and such, and it should come as no surprise that the following evening Bob called for Ursula at seven and they drove to Chasen’s for dinner. Ursula wore, without realizing that she was again coinciding with Bob’s taste, a simple black jersey blouse and a voluminous silver taffeta skirt. (Bob loves gray as a relief for black.)
That night Bob happened to compliment Ursula on her English. She had studied English in school, of course, but from those years she had brought with her to America only one sentence. She repeated it to Bob. “Everyone was happy except Little Paul.” She had no recollection of the story surrounding Little Paul or the reason for his misery. Together, Ursula and Bob laughed at the absurdity of the foreign words or phrases that stuck to a person while passing rapidly through school courses.
Bob said he might not starve in Spain, but his vocabulary would leave serious loopholes in his diet. The only words he could remember off-hand from his junior Spanish were Mantequilla (butter), Hielo (ice) and Pollo(chicken).
There was one thing that puzzled Ursula: “Why, in English, is the word for a room belonging to babies or small children the same as the word meaning a growing place for plants? Nursery?” she repeated, tipping up her voice and her eyebrows.
Of course they talked picture-business. Ursula had seen Bob in “Camille,” “Waterloo Bridge” (her favorite) and “Johnny Eager” ‘before coming to this country. Bob confessed that he hadn’t seen any of Ursula’s pictures, to which she replied with a gratified smile, “They haven’t been shown—so much the better.”
There were other evenings: at Ciro’s, at Mocambo, at La Rue and Romanoff’s. Finally a columnist stopped at their table one night and asked, “When are you kids getting married?”
Bob, accustomed to the friendly frankness of reporters obliged to get the news first, even by shock treatment if necessary, said something about get lost, boy, you’re embarrassing the lady, and ended the incident with his characteristically goodnatured grin.
Ursula had gone white. A reserved person by nature, she had been brought up to believe that there are some questions never asked in considerate society. Completely the continental woman, Ursula took it for granted that after a couple had been properly introduced they first cultivated a proper friendship. In case the friendship ripened into real regard that was pleasant but certainly nothing about which one could be questioned. After a year or two, an engagement could be announced at the proper time, in the proper manner and by the proper persons. Certainly a stranger did not ask questions about the marriage of two individuals who had known one another only a short time!
Bob did his best to explain how these things were done in Hollywood, that no rudeness was intended by the question—it was asked every day in the film colony, sometimes of people who were married to other partners or who had merely given an indication of liking to dance together. And, besides, Bob added, what was so wrong about the idea?
Ursula, not a talkative type, avoided the challenge, but during the weeks and months that followed, she managed, gradually, to make her position clear. First of all, she would not be hurried. Bob, himself, agreed with that attitude.
Next, there were separations to be lived through and opinions to be investigated. There were personality traits to be learned, areas of agreement and disagreement to be discovered.
Ursula was sixteen when she fell in love with her first husband; she was married slightly over a year later, became a mother a year after that and had her second child two years subsequently. That marriage had failed, and Ursula, thinking that she knew why, did not intend to repeat her original mistakes. She did not intend to inflict—or suffer—hurt again.
There must be soul-searching for the protection of the children, too. The job of father is rigorous enough, but that of stepfather, particularly when the man has never had children of his own, can be filled with imponderables. Ursula wanted to love her husband fully, freely and unreservedly—above all other beings in her life—but she knew she would not be able to do so until the man understood her deep devotion to the needs of her children.
Then there was the question of two careers in one marriage. For her to continue to make use of her talents, she must have both the agreement of her husband that she should continue acting and his understanding of the problems involved and his hearty co-operation in solving them.
Perhaps the greatest hazard of all was one that only a girl who has already been married can anticipate. Ursula, being inescapably a continental, knew that she would be committed to share every portion of her husband’s life. Often, American wives are not disturbed by—or even aware of—this obligation which a European wife accepts without question. If Ursula should marry a hardrock miner, she would expect to live in a desert shanty, curry the burro, exterminate lurking rattlesnakes and do the family wash in water so hard it would float a ball bearing. She might not like it, but she would have elected to marry the man in the case, and she would feel dedicated to accept his way of life along with the man himself.
The only sensible course, then, was to be certain that before marrying ‘she was vowing to love, honor and obey a man whose way of life was for her lovable, honorable and free of the chains that do a prison make.
Ursula and Bob had been seeing one another regularly (but mainly out of the public eye) for almost a year when Bob was sent to England to star in “Knights of the Round Table.”
Many couples, when facing long separation, announce their intentions. Ursula simply refused to comment. Bob told those who asked that they were “good friends.” Aha, said the matchmakers, that means they have had an argument, or that they never had an agreement in the first place. Or that. . . .
Every theory developed anywhere finally reached the columns. You could have read that, one, Ursula and Bob had never been seriously interested in one another; two, there had been a grand display of fireworks; three, that they were testing love with distance to check this fondness increase.
What really happened was that Bob wrote to Ursula every night for six months —with the exception of one vitally important week.
In turn, Ursula wrote to Bob every night for six months—with the exception of the same seven crucial days.
That precious week started on Ursula’s birthday in 1953. She received the usual lavish bouquet of roses by cable from Bob, and she also received a telephone call saying that he had made arrangements to be free of the shooting schedule for a week and would fly to Los Angeles to spend the time with Ursula. Would she please call Bob’s mother and explain that he was en route home?
When Bob appeared in town he explained his brief visit by a vague reference to business, managed to be seen stag here and there (but not for long) and spent most of his time with Ursula. Incidentally, Bob had added a new portrait camera to his collection (he already owned a Contax, a Rolleiflex and one or two others) so he and Ursula drove around the countryside on a picture-making spree.
In January of 1954, Ursula’s ten-year-old daughter, Manuela, came to the U. S.—eight, will probably arrive in the fall.)
Manuela’s presence was a test and provided a happy answer. She spoke very little English; perhaps because of this she undertook to be the very grown-up, very dignified and thoughtful lady on occasion. Ursula thought, “If Bob laughs at her, I shall die.”
She needn’t have worried. Bob was as courtly as if Manuela had been Queen Victoria and he, Disraeli. He helped her into her coat and into the car; he waited gravely while Ursula translated the dinner menu; he did not grin when Manuela wanted an ice cream soda at Chasen’s. Tall for her age, the lass is slender as a wheat stalk and as blond. She grows out of her dresses in a few weeks and is as coltish as Jo in “Little Women.” Occasionally her high spirits and her brief years send her romping across a room to cast herself into her mother’s lap, all flying legs, arms, and braids.
When that mood came upon her, Bob teased her, tussled with her, treated her much as if she had been a boy. She loved it, of course, and when—one fine spring day—he unloaded a girl’s bright red bike from his car, Manuela’s delight burst through cloud layers like a small H-bomb.
Somewhat later in the month Bob showed up with a Stereo-Realist camera in order to photograph Manuela & bicycle and, only because it was convenient, Ursula.
In addition to his interest in photography, Bob dotes on planes. Many men find that a wife can’t take an interest in flying, but Ursula went up with Bob after they had known one another only a few weeks; she loved it, decided she never wanted to fly on a commercial plane again. “They are so big they frighten me.”
She hopes to take instruction and earn her private pilot’s rating. Bob will also teach her to drive a car—a more hazardous undertaking in California.
In many ways Bob is still a Nebraska farm boy who likes to come home to his own dining room, to a family dinner. Here, again, the European background of Ursula has stood her in good stead. Her ability to cook is stupendous, she loves to build tossed green salads, she is handy at broiling a steak (Bob’s idea of the perfect dinner) and she can alternate T-bones with kohlralladen (cabbage leaves stuffed with spiced meats, then baked). She likes to top off dinner with a steamed plum pudding.
Small wonder that Hollywood is filled with bachelors who scrutinize Bob Taylor and mutter, “Lucky cuss. What a cinch he’s got.”
Ursula says, “Now that we are married after our two-year engagement, we know there will be problems to come up, but Bob and I have become good friends, understanding of one another and trustful. We know that we can work out the little difficulties because we have lived out and talked out the big ones. Without a long engagement, this would not have been possible.”
Bob says nothing. He simply looks like 175 pounds of pure bliss.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1954