Robert Taylor: Accurately Naming Names

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Toward the end of his life, liberal actor Orson Welles reported being told by Nikita Khrushchev on a Hollywood visit by the Soviet premiere that Stalin had once targeted conservative actor John Wayne for liquidation.

Although not reaching this height and honor on Stalin’s “enemies’ list,” conservative matinee idol Robert Taylor was able to have the distinction of having his films banned in Communist Hungary and in Czechoslovakia. And, depending upon your point of view, Taylor had the distinction of organizing Hollywood anticommunists into a political group (The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals), and being the only major star to name names during the 1947 Congressional investigation into communism in the film industry.

Born Spangler Arlington Brugh, Taylor was apolitical until being forced against his will by MGM studio head L.B. Mayer to star in a notoriously pro-Stalinist musical called Song of Russia, which, against the clear evidence that Stalin had starved to death 25 percent of their population (three million of which were children), peasant farmers in the Ukraine as portrayed in the film were well-fed and happy (several of the dancers in the cast wore nail polish), evidenced by their breaking into song and dance at every opportunity.

Taylor had the distinction of being the only major star among the Hollywood conservative political group he organized to have starred in a movie that the group claimed galvanized them into political activism.

Some could have argued that Taylor’s new anticommunist activism was a form of overcompensation for Song of Russia. But despite the MPAPA practically begging Congress to investigate communist influence in Hollywood, Taylor was reluctant to testify when the lawmakers accepted the group’s invitation in 1947. Privately he saw the hearings as “a circus” and would only appear if subpoenaed.

Nevertheless, he gave the Committee information based on his experiences in the Screen Actors Guild:

“It seems to me that at meetings, especially meetings of the general membership of the Guild, there was always a certain group of actors and actresses whose every action would indicate to me that, if they are not Communists, they are working awfully hard to be Communists.”

Taylor was spot-on when he specified those he considered Communists such as Karen Morley, Lester Cole, and Howard De Silva, all three of whom were already being investigated by the FBI. All three more or less confirmed what Taylor saw as a guilt reaction (of their CPUSA membership, Taylor stated, “I would not know personally”)–Morley later admitted CPUSA membership; Cole, who until his death routinely sat next to communist dictators on the dais at East German film festivals, remained a member all his life; and Da Silva never came clean, although he praised Stalin till his death.

Left Coast Hollywood denounces Taylor to this day, even to the point of having his name taken off an MGM building. What the industry today should consider a badge of honor in that communist satellites banned Taylor’s films is subsumed by their attacks on him for telling the truth about who were actual communists.

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.