ITS BEEN A LITTLE more than 20 years since Glen Taylor was forcibly retired from the political wars, but the 74-year-old former senator from Idaho is getting along. "I'm just here," he said last week from the offices of Taylor Topper, the Millbrae, Calif., toupee manufacturing firm he founded and still owns. "They call me the boss, but I don't do any manual labor, and my youngest son Greg runs things. I try to play a little golf, keep up with what's going on."
He settled in this town on the Monterey peninsula near San Francisco after losing his last bid to regain the Senate seat he held between 1944 and 1950 to Democratic Sen. Frank Church. "I was 53 years old," Taylor reminisced, "out of the Senate, broke, no training for anything and I had three boys to feed." He laughed. "Now we employ 50 people - I would have been content to just make a living."
He had intended to go back to his career as a traveling stage actor - it had been the traveling all around the Northwest in one troupe or another that had started him into politics in the first place.
"I went around the country and I saw people starving to death. I started to think, which was dangerous, and read, which was even more so . . ." Taylor chuckled. "And I decided to run for Congress from Pocatello, Idaho."
He lost that race, the beginning of a political career marked more by a feat than victory. In 1940 he won the Democratic nomination for senator, but lost the general election, and lost again in 1942. But in 1944 he pulled out all the stops, putting his background as an entertainer to good use as he harnstromed the state in cowboy hat and boots, riding a horse because - he claimed - he couldn't afford a car.
"I had a money," he said, laughing. "I had to get attention some way."
Taylor's theatrics as "the cowboy senator" carried him to Washington, where he fought for measures that would expand Social Security, saying then he was in favor of "doing positive things to make the American way of life more attractive." That, he said, would do more than anything else to stop Communism.
He battled against the Cold War and the rising tide of McCarthyism that helped turn Taylor's common people into the Silent Majority, along the way acquiring a reputation as a political gadfly. "I don't intend to speak but watch me drive Taft (the late Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio) to distraction," he once wrote in a private note to The Washingotn Post, adding that "distraction was a senatorial term of 'nuts.'"
But Taylor's overriding concern in those Cold War years was peace. In 1947 he rode a horse cross-country to dramatize the issues, and when Henry Wallace offerd him the vice presidential spot on Wallace's own Progressive Party ticket, Taylor accepted.
He had a lot of respect for Wallace and his brand of populism, even though. "The end of my political career was right there. But all I could see coming was a war of extinction. Everybody was yakkin' war."
"I liked Truman as a person - when I went to the Senate he had the office next to mine and we used to ride the little trolley over to the Senate almost every morning," Taylor said, "but Truman was awed by the military - He had been a captain or something in the reserves, Marshall was secretary of state, and everywhere you looked a general was holding a job somewhere.
"I went down to see Truman before I went with Wallace, and in those few minutes I was there, he said "The only thing the Russians understand is force." Said it three times I went with Wallace."
Glenn Taylor sighed just a little. "It looks to me like they're breeding another cold war," he said.
The Progressive Party campaign never got off the ground; perhaps its highlight came when Taylor was busted by Bull Connor's henchman trying to integrate a church in Birmingham, Ala. "That Bull Connor - he was aptly named," Taylor said, "But I'm real pround of that - I consider myself a ground-breaker in some way." He took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. He refused to go back to Alabama to serve it.
He balmed his narrow defeat for reelection in 1950 on his Progressive party candidacy. Taylor's last words in the Senate were "At one time I stated on the floor of the Senate that I was going to vote my convictions as if I never expected to come back. All I can say is that I did and I am not."
He went back to Pocatello, expecting to go back out on the road as an actor. But he had a family to support, including his wife, Dora, and three sons - Arod (Dora spelled backwards), and Paul, both dentists now, and Greg. Glen Taylor began building houses, one by one, and selling them.
He ran again in 1954, but his campaign fell victim to incipient red-baiting. "In those days," he said, "you were suspect if you were for Social Security - it was some kind of heinous crime. In fact, not long ago somebody sent me a page from my FBI dossier that has me speaking out for Social Security. They paid people to go around and find out stuff like that," he said, his voice tinged with wonder.
Taylor lost his last campaign to Frank Church in 1956, the only defeat that still rankies. "I was a hundred votes ahead when I went to bed, and my wife was all excited. I told her not to be, that a hundred votes wasn't enough against the machine."
It wasn't, and Taylor lost another close race. All Taylor says now is "I personally haven't got much use for Frank Church."
He was 53 and flat broke and he and Dora turned to making hairpieces by hand. It wasn't anything new, he recalled. "I was 18, a juvenile leading man in a traveling show, and my hair had begun to fall out. There isn't much demand for bald juvenile leading men, and I tried everything - sheep dip, what have you - and that just made it fall out faster." That's when Taylor made his first hairpiece.
"I ran for Congress three times with out it, and decided they didn't have much use for bald politicians either," he said, recalling the days before Jefry Ford, "and I ran the fourth time with it and won." It was a short step to Taylor Topper, which he described as "the largest maker of custom hairpieces for men in the world."
He stays out of politics now, "Except for the watching, and I give a few bucks here and there." He claims not to have been able to figure out California Gov. Jerry Brown - "He's some sort of mystic, I think - tough to nail down, like most politicans," he said with a laugh.
But people out in Millbrae still call him "Senator," and he said "Everything I stood for - old age pensions, racial equality - all that came to pass."
"I guess that's a consolation," Glen Taylor said. CAPTION:
Picture 1, Glen Taylor, vice president on Henry Wallace's third party ticket in 1948,; Picture 2, and with his family 1946. AP