1949 - 1951 Road to Peace - Pacific Palisades
“At peace with himself, Bob was determined to make peace with those whom he had offended in the past.
He sought out Howard Strickling and informed him he’d be willing to grant any interviews requested, ‘that is, if anyone is still interested.’ Strickling, in fact, had received numerous calls from reporters asking to query Bob about his stay at Menninger’s and his recovery. He had turned them down, certain Bob would not discuss that difficult period of his life.”124
Bob, however, was now willing to give interviews. Along with giving Hedda Hopper an exclusive interview, he also agreed to talk with Pauline Swanson of Photoplay magazine.
“He is taking no bows. And he is concerned for the guy as sick as he was who is tied to a job on a small salary. To that kind of guy, he would like to say, ‘Take it easy.’
‘We should stop setting up impossible goals. We accept other people’s faults. Let’s be a little more forgiving of our own.’
‘You can’t psychoanalyze yourself. It’s much better to talk to an understanding friend. Don’t be ashamed to put your fears into words. Spill it!’
Bob Walker knows he is not the only person in American, liberated through psychoanalysis, who wants to tell the world that help exists for emotional illnesses. But if his being a movie star will move more people than usual to listen to his story, he’ll be glad.
‘People are beginning to accept psychiatry,’ he says. ‘And look what happened to medicine in the early days. Time was when the study of anatomy was looked upon as tampering with God’s work to investigate physical ills.’
‘But medicine perservered and survived.’
‘And psychiatry will survive, and do its work.’
‘And then what a people we will be.’”125
Robert and Deborah Kerr -"Please Believe Me"
“Just before the completion of Please Believe Me, Bob was given his next assignment, the starring role in Dorothy Kingsley’s The Skipper Surprised His Wife, a lightweight bit of nonsense about a Navy commander who tries to run his home like a ship when his wife is temporarily incapacitated. He was deeply disappointed that the studio hadn’t come up with something better, but shrugged it off, concerned only that the title was too close to his previous The Sailor Takes a Wife.
Director Elliott Nugent’s problem, however, had little to do with the picture’s title, but rather with the choice of the right girl to play the surprised wife.
MGM’s three sparkling ingenues, June Allyson, Janet Leigh, and Gloria DeHaven, all had previous commitments, so in spite of its enormous list of contractees, the studio had to resort to hiring free-lance actress Joan Leslie for the lead opposite Bob. Joan reminisces:
Robert and Joan Leslie -"The Skipper Surprised His Wife"
‘The Skipper Surprised His Wife was very important to me. It was one of the first pictures I’d done after suing to be free of my Warner Brothers contract. For a while there was an unspoken agreement in Hollywood not to hire me, but when I got Skipper at the prestigious MGM, opposite Robert Walker, I figured things were going to be all right.
Bob Walker was a darling person, so sincere, so considerate. I had just begun going with the man who would become my husband, and on the first day of shooting I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a card signed ‘Love, Bill.’
Now, Bill Caldwell was the name of my ‘steady,’ so that night, when we went out to dinner, I told him how much I loved the flowers and thanked him. He didn’t say anything, but sent me flowers the next day. I soon found out that the first flowers were from Bob Walker, who had signed the card ‘Bill’ because that was the name of his character in our picture.’
‘I think I could have become more personally involved with Bob if I hadn’t been already committed. I had no idea then that Bob had recently come back from Menninger’s. He did not seem troubled around me, only very sensitive.’”126
Although Bob and Jim Henaghan were still good friends, they didn’t see one another as often as they had before Bob was committed to the Menninger Clinic.
“The two friends kept in contact by phone, and Jim would drop by the house occasionally for coffee and small talk, but their drinking-buddy days seemed a thing of the past.
‘Bob had calmed down considerably,’ Jim recalled.”127
After completing The Skipper Surprised His Wife, there were no immediate plans for another film role. Dore Schary reassured Bob that he was in no danger of being let go from MGM.
“’In the meantime,’ Schary advised, ‘be patient. If you’re wanted by another studio, we’ll negotiate a loan-out. I know how important it is for you to keep busy.’ There were, however, no outside requests for Bob’s services. The other major studios were hesitant about hiring an ex-drunk who had been in a mental hospital, in spite of repeated assurances that Bob was completely well again and not drinking.”128
The holiday season that year was a much happier one for Bob. “For the first time since 1942, he actually enjoyed Christmas and looked forward to the dawn of the new decade, the half-century mark.
‘My seven years of bad luck are over,’ he told Jim. ‘I have such good feelings about the fifties, about my life and my career.
Who knows, I might even find the right girl. But if I do, I’m going to be damn sure it’s forever. I don’t want to be hurt again, and I don’t want to hurt anyone else again, physically or mentally.’”129
That spring, after his sons returned to Jennifer’s care, Bob considered returning to the Menninger Clinic for the extra month’s treatment he had spoken of earlier. He still felt he had problems to be ironed out. However, he was advised it would be better to seek a local psychiatrist in Beverly Hills rather than flying back to Kansas. Dr. Frederick Hacker, who had treated Judy Garland three years earlier, was suggested by no less than Louis B. Mayer himself. Hacker was interested in Bob’s case and agreed to take him on as a patient.
“Publicly Bob maintained a low profile throughout the spring of 1950. By now requests for interviews were almost nonexistent, his name noticeably absent from the gossip columns. He had not been seen on screen for nearly a year and a half, and privately, told Jim, ‘I wonder if I’ll be able to draw a fly?’
‘Do you care?’
‘I want to justify Schary’s faith in me.’
Schary, eager to make the public Walker-conscious again, scheduled June releases of Please Believe Me and Skipper within three weeks of each other. Both films were considered diverting summer fare, calculated to draw a healthy if not hefty audience.
Almost simultaneously, Bob was given his next assignment: as the conscienceless young bastard in Metro’s adaptation of Luke Short’s adult western novel Vengeance Valley, which was due to start shooting just outside of Canyon City, Colorado, in July. The story of the no-account son of a cattle baron, who impregnates a naïve waitress and shifts the blame to his upstanding and patient foster brother, was ahead of its time. Although the character of Lee Strobie was similar to the part Bob had played in The Sea of Grass, it was a far more important – though not the starring – role. That went to Burt Lancaster, and to secure his services the studio had to guarantee him above-the-title billing, with the other leads regulated to costarring status below.
Bob didn’t give a damn. ‘For a role like this, I wouldn’t care if my name came last. I think I can act the hell out of it.’
He was also pleased by the picture’s projected schedule, which would provide a wonderful vacation for Bobby and Michael in the great outdoors and enable the boys to ride, rope, and hunt to their hearts’ content while he was involved with some of the less palatable sequences.”130
Robert Walker lunches on the set of Vengeance Valley behind a reflector to avoid the harsh winds
(Movieland December 1950)
“The bulk of Vengeance Valley was shot during the month of August, the traditional month taken by psychiatrists for vacation, leaving their patients to cope with their own problems. However, Bob felt he hadn’t a problem in the world that August of 1950. The chemistry between him and the rugged Lancaster was remarkable, both off camera and on, and the two became fast friends. (When the movie was released the following February, the New York Times noted that ‘Robert Walker plays the wastrel with almost as much authority as Lancaster does his protector.’)”131
1950 proved to be a triumphant year for Robert Walker. “Just prior to the Christmas holidays he had completed the most challenging and rewarding role of his career. For the first time since arriving in Hollywood, he was able to look upon himself as an actor, not merely a movie star or personality kid.
In the fall of 1950, Alfred Hitchcock, whom Selznick had imported to Hollywood a decade earlier for Rebecca, was the man who performed the miracle.”132
Bob thought the Lee Strobie character from Vengeance Valley was evil, but after reading Patricia Highsmith’s novel, he realized Bruno Anthony was the ultimate villain. One wonders what Alfred Hitchcock saw in the boyish Robert Walker that would convince him he was the perfect choice to portray Bruno. “Was Hitchcock cognizant of Bob’s six-month confinement at Menninger’s (and who wasn’t), where not only had he been a mental patient himself but had had ample opportunity to observe a gamut of others?
Whatever the reason, it is an established fact that the duality of man’s nature, his own included, had always fascinated Hitchcock. ‘Two people in each person’ as Patricia Highsmith had written. The trick would be not so much ‘casting against type’ – and thus forcing the actor to be what he wasn’t – as stimulating Bob’s access to his own darker side. If Hitchcock could manage to capture that darker side on film, he knew he would attain the definitive portrait of Bruno Anthony.
Farley Granger and Robert Walker, "Strangers on a Train"
(Warner Brothers, 1951)
There could have been yet another reason for Hitchcock’s determination to obtain Bob’s services. Notorious for his strange and often cruel sense of humor, the director, still seething with antagonism toward David O. Selznick since their 1947 Paradine Case debacle, had to be aware of the delicious irony of casting the ex-husband of David’s bride in a role guaranteed to send Bob’s career soaring – a role which might even win him an Oscar nomination.”134
At Hitchcock’s insistence, Jack Warner made the necessary arrangements with MGM to loan Bob out to the studio. But that’s the only concession Warner made in the casting of the film. William Holden was Hitchcock’s original choice for the part of Guy Haines, but Warner informed him Holden was unavailable. Warner also insisted that the dark-haired Ruth Roman be cast as Anne Morton, Guy’s romantic interest. Hitchcock’s heroines were invariably beautiful, sophisticated blondes, and he felt Roman was wrong for the part. Warner got his way, however, although they compromised on the casting of Guy Haines and signed Farley Granger for the pivotal role. The basic story line from the novel remained intact:
“Two young men meet in the bar car of a train, have a few drinks, lunch together, and discuss their mutual problems. The clean-cut tennis player is having difficulties trying to convince his estranged, trampy wife to give him a divorce to free him to marry the girl he loves.
The outwardly good-natured rich boy (Bruno) is filled with paranoid hatred for his father, who he feels is interfering with his life. Bruno then seriously suggests that the two swap murders. Bruno to kill Guy’s wife, and Guy in turn to kill Bruno’s despised father. Neither would be caught, since there would be no motive to link either murderer to his victim.
Horrified, Guy dismisses Bruno as a lunatic. Obsessed with the scheme, however, Bruno stalks and strangles Guy’s wife, then tries to threaten Guy into fulfilling his part of the ‘bargain’. When Guy fails to do so, Bruno devises a fiendish plot to provide the necessary proof that Guy murdered his wife.
Jim Henaghan recalled that, ‘During all the time I knew him, Bob had never shown any excitement about a part or a picture. But he was damn excited about Strangers and about the prospect of working with Alfred Hitchcock, and vastly flattered that Hitchcock had wanted only him. As I’ve said, Bob was the last person to be impressed by his own career – he considered acting a crock. Suddenly there was a radical change in his attitude. Now, for the first time, he wanted to be accepted as a real actor.
One weekend, on the spur of the moment, we drove down to the Army and Navy Academy at Carlsbad and made the rounds of the school property, unnoticed, while he pointed out familiar buildings and landmarks. He told me many things about his time there and of his best-actor awards. He wanted to visit his former drama teacher, a Mrs. Atkinson, but because it was a weekend, she couldn’t be located, and he said wistfully, ‘I’d like to win one more award for her.’”135
Location shooting for Strangers on a Train was done at New York’s Pennsylvania Station, the Danbury, Connecticut, railroad depot, the Jefferson Memorial, and other sites in Washington, D.C. Then the cast and crew returned to Burbank for interior filming.
“Reminiscing about the two months that followed, Farley Granger says, ‘I thought the world of Robert Walker from the very beginning. He was such a nice man, so wonderful, and such a fine actor. Very professional…totally in control…always on time…never temperamental. No problem at all. He was great in the film; his potential was limitless. His career was just beginning to take wings.
Farley Granger and Robert Walker, "Strangers on a Train"
(Warner Brothers, 1951)
Bob never discussed his past troubles, and there was no indication of the troubles to come.’”136
“Everyone connected with Strangers on a Train adored Bob. ‘A very sweet guy,’ Ruth Roman told a visiting reporter, Erskine Johnson, and Hitchcock was overheard to chide him with wry but affectionate amusement, ‘You and your quiet dignity!’”137
Ruth Roman and Robert Walker, "Strangers on a Train"
(Warner Brothers, 1951)
“Though everyone connected with the production – including Hitchcock’s own daughter Patricia (who played Ruth Roman’s kid sister) – was aware of the unusual favoritism Hitch lavished on Bob, no one resented it or him. It was that obvious that his dazzling performance would be the major ingredient in the film’s success. And it was.”138
Pat Hitchcock said in a 1999 interview regarding the film: “On the other hand, Pat Hitchcock agrees that for all her father’s wizardry, it was Walker’s daring performance as a warped homosexual killer that ‘made the picture. I had known Walker since he first came out to Hollywood; so I was delighted to be working with him. He was such a sweet person, one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.’”139
The movie was completed by Christmas, 1950, and the sneak preview was held at the Huntington Park Theater on March 5. His performance was rated as “a revelation,” “chilling,” and “remarkable” on the theater’s comment cards.
Jim Henaghan was sure Bob was a natural choice for an Oscar nomination, but it was not to be. Warner Brothers studio was not inclined to promote an actor from their rival studio, MGM, for the prestigious award. That year’s Best Actor award went to Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen.
“Shakespeare wrote, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.’ Bob was riding that tide – eager to keep working – in an up mood in those early months of 1951. Ida Lupino recalls his telling her, ‘I’m thrilled about Strangers on a Train. My career has never been more stimulating. This is going to be my best year.’
But the tide was running out for Robert Hudson Walker, and his ‘best year’ was going to be his last year.”140
After the completion of Strangers on a Train, Jim Henaghan introduced Bob to Kay Scott Nearny. Jim recalls: “’The two were suddenly inseparable. I know Kay wanted to marry him and that Bob wanted to remarry eventually. But before committing himself, he needed to be convinced of the wisdom of his choice.’”141
Bob and Kay avoided the nightclub scene, preferring to spend quiet evenings together at her home. “Bob was already dating Kay exclusively when he received word that Paramount wanted him to play John Jefferson, the male lead in Oscar-winner Leo McCarey’s production of the controversial anti-Communist melodrama My Son John.
Apolitical, Bob was immune to the ‘better-dead-than-Red’ hysteria then sweeping Hollywood, and although he considered the script an overemotional dose of propaganda, he was excited at the prospect of working opposite Miss Hayes.
McCarey had chosen his cast with an eye for credentials. In addition to Helen Hayes, who’d won the 1931 Best Actress Oscar, Dean Jagger, cast as Bob’s father, and Van Heflin, the FBI man, had each earned supporting Oscars. McCarey’s opinion was that Bob’s performance in My Son John would raise the cast’s trophy total to four.”142
The basic plot of the film is described as follows: “The Jefferson family (bearing the same name as the author of the Declaration of Independence) enshrine all that is best in Americanism. They live in a small town. Father, Dan Jefferson, is a staunch member of the American Legion and superintendent of the local school. Mother, Lucille, is revered by the rest of the family as the classic All-American Mom. Her entire world and outlook are summed up by the Bible and the cookbook. The two younger sons, Chuck and Ben, are just off to serve their country, fighting Communism in Korea.
However, the family nurses a viper in its bosom, the eldest son, brilliant young government official John, who is in fact a Communist. When his mother learns this, she is prepared to hand him over to the authorities for treason but persuades him to give himself up. Before he can do so, he is gunned down in the street by a carload of Communists.
Before he dies, John records a speech to be delivered at his old university. In this speech he declares that he had always prided himself on being an intellectual and had thus gone astray. He denounces intellectuals as being at the root of the country’s troubles and actually refers to the Communists in true nonintellectual fashion as ‘scummies’.
On the set of "My Son, John" - Robert Walker, Michael, and Bobby (Paramount Pictures 1951)
My Son John began production in late spring and initially everything progressed smoothly. Kay Scott visited the set whenever she could, and one Saturday afternoon, when he was filming a sympathetic scene, Bob brought Bobby and Michael, decked out in their spiffy academy uniforms, to Paramount. They had been dying to watch their dad making a movie, and he was so pleased by their approval that he encouraged the picture’s still photographer to take some shots of the three of them together as a memento of the afternoon.”143
On the set of "My Son, John" - Robert Walker, Michael, Helen Hayes, and Bobby (Paramount Pictures 1951)
That spring Bob was anticipating having his boys with him all summer. When he wasn’t required on the set of My Son John, Bob and Kay went in search of a vacation retreat. The boys had their hearts set on a ranch complete with stables. Since their stay in Colorado during the filming of Vengeance Valley, all Bobby and Michael talked about was having their own horses.
By now, things were not going as smoothly on the set. Leo McCarey was increasingly obsessed with the anti-Communist theme of the film, his direction often bewildering his cast.
“Having worked with Hitchcock, who had every detail of every scene letter perfect before the cameras started rolling, Bob found it difficult and often confusing to be confronted by McCarey’s well-known passion for improvisation. From day to day the cast never knew which lines would be revised on the spot, what bits of business would be radically changed.
Typically, McCarey offered no explanations for his sudden brainstorms and turned a deaf ear to protests – a mannerism that rattled even the ultraprofessional Miss Hayes.”144
Robert with Michael and Bobby
Bob was still working when Bobby and Michael returned to his home in Pacific Palisades for the summer. He hired a housekeeper, Mrs. Emily Buck, to watch over them while he was at the studio.
“Speaking of those relatively untroubled days, Bob’s friend Keenan Wynn remembers that ‘Although I hadn’t seen much of him after his return from Menninger’s, he called me often during the summer of 1951. I had my boys, Ed and Tracy, with me at the time, too, and since Bob had a pool at his place, and I didn’t, he suggested we all get together as much as possible. However, it never happened. I was working on Phone Call from a Stranger opposite Bette Davis and, for some reason or other, never managed to take advantage of those invitations.
But he sounded like his old self whenever we spoke – and I know that, by then, drinking was no longer a problem for him. He also never discussed his stay at Menninger’s, but then, I never asked him about it. And even though he talked a great deal about his sons, he never discussed Jennifer. It was a forbidden subject. He wouldn’t dignify the sorry situation by discussing it, a decision on his part that I understood and respected.’”145
Jim Henaghan also said of Bob during the summer of 1951: “’He wasn’t remotely worried that he didn’t have another film immediately on the horizon. He had such great faith in Schary, who was now at the helm at Metro, that he was confident that his career would continue on the upswing. His relationship with Kay was going smoothly – I don’t think they ever had an argument – and he was now able to cope with his parents, as long as they remained at a safe distance.’”146
Although Bob complained about McCarey’s direction in My Son John, it was mixed with humor. As for Leo McCarey, his memories of working with Bob were happy ones.
“Of Bob he’d reminisce: ‘I worked closely with him and learned to know him as a fine gentleman and a great actor.
We had a working session together on Saturday (August 15). At that time he showed no indication of being in ill health. On the contrary, he did his recording (the voice-over of John’s recantation of his communistic philosophy) with great zest. I had just run a rough cut of the picture for him, and although a modest fellow, he fairly beamed at the results.’
Although a few key scenes requiring his services still remained to be shot, Bob was informed he would not be on call for several weeks.
He drove out of the DeMille Gate in a jubilant mood and raced his Cadillac west on Sunset Boulevard, impatient to reach home before dusk in order to have a quick swim with Bobby and Michael before dinner. He’d granted them permission to spend a few days the following week with a couple of their buddies. Remembering the loneliness of his own youth, Bob went out of his way to foster his sons’ friendships. After getting them to bed, he took off to Kay’s, where they had a quiet dinner together, now a regular Saturday-night ritual.
Sam Marx recalls, ‘Years later, after she had married composer Leonard Rosenman and was living in Italy, I ran into Kay on a wintry day on the Via Veneto in Rome. We went to a charming café overlooking the Tiber and she reflected on Bobby, very sadly, admitting that although she was happy with Leonard, she had never forgotten that last night she had spent with Walker and often wondered ‘what might have been!’
There’d be so many people who’d think about Robert Walker and wonder about ‘what might have been,’ the happiness he might have attained, the heights he could have reached: his sons, Jim Henaghan, Dore Schary, Barbara Ford, and probably even Jennifer Jones. If only…”147
August 28, 1951 was a dreary, rainy day and, since Bob was not required to report to the studio, he slept late. Both of his sons were away visiting friends, so he was home alone with his housekeeper, Mrs. Emily Buck.
“At two P.M. he received a phone call from his business manager, Charles Trezona, with whom he had several minor financial matters to discuss.
Trezona recalled, ‘When we spoke, he appeared okay. Just fine. I don’t believe he was drinking, and I’d known Bob long enough and well enough to be able to detect when he had had a few drinks.’
The events of the next four hours of Bob Walker’s life would forever be shrouded in mystery and subject to conjecture.
Was it possible Jennifer Jones, preparing to leave for Italy, had called the house to bid farewell to her sons, only to discover that they were off visiting? If so, could Bob have spoken to his ex-wife, and if he had, would that have been enough to ‘set him off’? There was no evidence that such a call was made. Just a possibility. One thing is certain. He had no visitors that afternoon, no upsetting mail.
According to news reports, at six P.M. Bob’s psychiatrist, Frederick Hacker, received an alarmed summons from Emily Buck imploring him to come to the house immediately, claiming – allegedly – that her employer was so distraught and out of control that she could not cope with him.
Hacker agreed to make the house call.”148
This was only the first version of the events of that day. The second one was as follows: “Yet Jim Henaghan explicitly recalls, ‘On my way home from work, I dropped in on Bob for a drink and a quick hello. He was in the dining nook playing cards with his housekeeper, and he seemed quite normal to me…for Walker, quite normal.’”149
Dr. Hacker was present, Jim recalled, and asked him to stay and help put Bob in bed. His associate, Dr. Sidney Silver, arrived and both agreed that a hypodermic shot of the sedative sodium amytal was in order to calm Bob and put him to sleep.
As Jim remembered: “’Bob refused to agree to the injection, and he bolted outdoors. It was pouring, and I was in a hurry to get home.’
‘Oh no, you don’t,’ he replied. And he took off his glasses and handed them to Dr. Hacker. ‘And you’re not big enough to make me.’
I asked Hacker, ‘Does he really need it?’ and Hacker replied, ‘Yes, he really needs it.’
‘I picked Bob up, carried him struggling back into the house, and threw him onto the bed, pinning him down, and said firmly, ‘Now, take this shot!’
‘By this time, he was laughing. ‘But I don’t want it. It’s not necessary.’ Aside from resisting the medication, he didn’t seem the slightest, the least bit disturbed to me. But the doctors began the injection, and he taunted them with ‘You can’t even find the vein.’
‘But they found it, the fluid was injected, and Bob immediately passed out. I started to put a blanket over him, when Dr. Hacker noticed something was wrong and asked me to call Silver back into the room. Quickly.
‘It was bewildering. Bob appeared to have stopped breathing.’
The doctors began artificial respiration. Jim called the fire department’s emergency squad. It seemed an eternity before sirens were heard on the highway, but the truck veered off in the wrong direction. Jim ran half a mile up the road and caught up with the squad as they were turning around, and directed them to the house.
The squad went to work on Bob, but when Jim asked Silver and Hacker how things looked, they grimly replied, ‘Bad’.
Jim refused to accept the gloomy assessment. In desperation he phoned Dr. Myron Prinzmetal, who was then considered one of the most brilliant internists in Beverly Hills.
‘I asked him to come out immediately. He said he couldn’t, and I replied, ‘Well, I’m coming to get you, baby.’ I drove like a maniac to his house and pounded on the door until he opened it. Then I shoved him into my car and sped about a hundred miles an hour back to Pacific Palisades. I left him in Bob’s bedroom. A moment later the three doctors were in conference in the bathroom. When they emerged, looking defeated, I asked, ‘Well, what’s the matter? Can’t you do anything for him?’
‘Prinzmetal looked at me oddly and said, ‘The man is dead. He’s been dead for more than an hour.’ It was now slightly past ten P.M.’”150
Jim was overwhelmed by grief and guilt. He recalls: “’Then I returned to Bob’s bedroom and uncovered his face. I spoke to him as if he could hear me. And I thought about the events leading up to his needless death. I saw it happen. And I had held him down. I could have stopped them. But I allowed it. I felt like a murderer. I sat there reflecting numbly.’”151
“At dawn Bob’s body was removed from the house at 14238 Sunset Boulevard to a nearby funeral parlor. A few hours later, his mother and father boarded a plane for Los Angeles.
Jennifer and David Selznick, after being notified of Bob’s death, canceled their trip to Venice and booked passage home.
Grief-stricken, Kay Scott was among the first arrivals at the mortuary. In a candlelit room she viewed the remains of the man she had hoped to marry. He had been conservatively dressed in a blue suit, white shirt, and dark tie. There were only a few persons Bob would have recognized among those who filed by. She remained with him for an hour, blinded by tears.
Dazed and tormented with guilt, Henaghan did not wish to view his friend’s body for this one final time. Nor would he attend the funeral.”152
Robert Walker’s death was headline news, and MGM was facing an onslaught of questions.
Dr. Hacker and the coroner had both signed Bob’s death certificate saying that he had “died of natural causes after receiving a dose of sodium amytal and had been a victim of schizophrenia of an undiagnosed nature.”153
Both Dr. Hacker and Dr. Silver claimed that Bob had been in a highly emotional state and had pleaded with them to “do something quick”. They gave him sodium amytal several times before, often as much as the fatal dose of seven and a half grains.
“Confirming Hacker’s and Silver’s assurance that a dosage of seven and a half grains was not excessive was the statement made by Coroner’s Autopsy Surgeon Victor Cefalu. He said that ‘it would require a dose of about fifteen grains of sodium amytal for that drug to become toxic. The normal dose – for sedation – is about three grains. However, seven and a half is not an abnormal amount to administer when the patient is extremely emotional.’
When an autopsy was suggested, both Hacker and Silver agreed that the procedure was unnecessary and would not be performed unless Bob’s family absolutely insisted.
Hacker was not queried about a cause for Walker’s emotional upset. As for Emily Buck – presumably his sole companion before Jim and the doctors arrived – she preferred not to speak about the events that transpired on the afternoon of the tragic death.”154
“On the morning of August 30 Jennifer accompanied her sons to Pacific Palisades and helped them gather and pack all their belongings brought to Bob’s house when they had moved in for their happy summer vacation. She did not take them – nor allow anyone else to take them – to the mortuary. She’d later explain, in her only public comment, ‘I wanted them to remember their father the way he was.’
Early in the afternoon of the same day, Horace and Zella Walker abruptly canceled all the arrangements that had been made for Bob’s burial at Forest Lawn. In an announcement hastily released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Mrs. Walker stated that Bob’s remains would be transported to Ogden and that his final resting place would be the cemetery near the school he had attended as a boy.”155
“Bob’s funeral was rescheduled for September 4, and Barbara Rabe remembers, ‘When they returned to Utah, I immediately went to see his parents. Aunt Zella and Uncle Horace were very closemouthed about the tragedy. I don’t think either of them ever got over Bob’s death. They had been so thrilled about his return to the screen – and then this!’
‘The public was welcome to take a last look at Bob, and there were mobs of curiosity seekers and young movie fans lined up for almost seven blocks. I suppose they had expected to see some of his Hollywood friends, but none of the people he had worked with was there. Perhaps they hadn’t been informed. I don’t know.’
Only Charles Trezona was on hand to represent the movie colony and serve as a pallbearer.
However, Ogden had rarely, if ever, seen such a funeral. Some four hundred hometown folks crowded into the small chapel at Lindquist’s mortuary to hear the services. Conducting the simple but often moving ceremony was Mormon Bishop David S. Romney, a former mayor of Ogden and a close friend of the Walkers’. Romney eulogized Bob as never having ‘lost the common touch, even though he had gained great fame.’
It was stifling in the small chapel, with the heady smell of huge floral arrangements permeating the air.
Among the sprays were those sent by Spencer Tracy, the Alfred Hitchcocks, the Pat O’Briens, Dore Schary – and Mr. and Mrs. David O. Selznick.
Organ and violin music concluded the ceremony, and a hushed crowd remained seated as Bob’s coffin was moved from the chapel and into the funeral car outside. As is was lowered into the earth at Washington Heights Cemetery, Zella Walker, who had always prided herself on her ability to control her emotions, was heard sobbing, ‘What a beautiful, beautiful man. What a shameful, tragic waste.’”156
An interviewer once asked Bob what kind of person he was. This was his reply. “What kind of person am I? I’m a mixture, I guess. For instance, although I like to go dancing with someone like Judy Garland – who is a very good friend – that doesn’t mean I’m the night club type. In fact, in contrast, I love the country. Someday I’d like a farm in Connecticut. When I’m out in the open where there are trees and water, I find peace and contentment. Then, too, I read an awful lot. I like things like ‘Portrait of Jenny’, I like Thomas Mann. Sometimes I like to be alone, and sometimes I like to be with crowds. I like to sit around with people and get into stimulating discussions. Like most normal folks, I thrive on a balanced diet – two parts quiet to one part excitement.’”157
Since he went away, we pray that Bob has found that peace and contentment beside the still waters. And we thank him for touching our lives and leaving us with such wonderful memories. Nobody else could match his charm and talent, and no one ever will.
Empty soundstage on the set of "Skipper Surpirsed His Wife"
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts."
As You Like It -- Act II, Scene VII
Biography submitted by Paula