"Tall, Skinny, Papa" by Jack Wade
Modern Screen - April 1945
Bob Walker was making 'See Here, Private Hargrove,' he strolled
past a sound truck parked outside the stage, and poked his inquisitive nose
inside. Bob was new to Hollywood then, and everything about movie-making
fascinated him no end. He asked the sound man to let him wear the earphones."
"About that time another actor also strolled by
the truck. He observed Bob
happily kibitzing on the set dialogue, mused "H-m-m-m-m' to himself and ducked
quickly inside the big M-G-M stage."
"In a minute, Bob Walker's ears began to burn.
His eyes popped, and his mouth
"He heard the director say in an annoyed voice,
'Well, what are we going to do
about this jerk, Walker?'"
"He heard the producer reply sadly, 'I don't know. Looks like we're stuck.'"
"'He's terrible. He can't act.'"
"'I know. He's lousing up the picture."
"They sighed heavily in chorus. 'I guess there's
only one thing to do,' said
the director. 'Cut his scenes and give them to that sterling actor, Keenan
"Bob jerked away the earphones and stumbled out
of the truck. He tottered
inside the stage in a mood to resign his contract on the spot, go home and turn
on the gas. Then he bumped against Keenan Wynn, who inquired in round-eyed
innocence, 'What's the matter, Bob? You look pale. Don't you feel well?' The
sudden concern was too touching; the oily inquiry too bland. It dawned on Bob
that he'd been framed. He chased Keenan around the set."
"Bob Walker's a perfect set-up for a gag like that.
He takes his acting
seriously. A while ago Bob (who's the string bean type and fretty about
gaining weight) was wasting away to the tune of a precious half-pound every now
and then. He hot-footed it to his favorite medic, and there was nothing the
doc could find more serious than an incipient hangnail."
"'Hum,' hummed the physician. 'What do you do around the studio?'"
"'Why, I act,' answered Bob."
"'Does acting upset you?' Bob said no; on the contrary,
he liked it. Acting
never bothers an actor, he explained, only the ghastly results, like those
terrible rushes he sees every day."
"'Ah!' cried the doctor. 'What are rushes?' Bob
explained that they were the
printed scene you'd made. The heartless critics told you whether you were good
or you -- er -- smelled. They were the jury's verdict. They made him sweat."
"'Avoid rushes from now on,' decreed the wise man."
"Bob has ever since. He's gained five pounds, practically fat for him."
"Idle Hollywood gossips with nothing better to
do than louse around the
Selznick sets when Bob and his wife, Jennifer Jones, were knocking off those
sweet young love scenes in 'Since You Went Away,' thought surely there must be
a great sob story and torch epic behind the scenes as they watched Bob and
Jennifer -- estranged and separated domestically -- give with all the tender
emotions before the camera."
"Bob Walker didn't get it. Neither did Jennifer.
'Why it's just acting,' Bob
explained. 'Hasn't got a thing to do with us personally.' He went right on to
inform the baffled observers that he thought Jenny Jones was one terrific
actress and that, incidentally, she thought he was pretty fair himself. In
fact one of their pet ambitions is to do a play together on Broadway."
"What still baffles Bob about Hollywood and the
movies is the fact that people
take him for exactly what he plays on the screen. And since he's done
practically nothing from 'Bataan' on out but act callow youths in uniform, he's
a fugitive from a bobby-sock."
"Bob gets letters from 12-year-old girls asking
his advice about their junior
high school problems. People are always meeting him and gasping, 'Why I had no
idea you were so grown up!' After his youngest part of all, the teen-age
soldier in 'Since You Went Away' (Bob was supposed to be seventeen in that one,
and since he got away with that, he thinks it was his best acting feat to date)
a GI wrote Bob a note saying, 'Well, Bob, I guess you'll be almost old enough
soon to be a real soldier!'"
"Even Bob's boys, Bobby, 5, and Michael, 4, take
their dad's picture parts
completely straight. Bob's parents-in-law took the two young hopefuls to see
'Private Hargrove,' and the next time Bob saw the kids they checked right up on
him. 'I said hello to you and you didn't say hello back to me,' complained
Bobby. 'You got on the train and went to New York, didn't you?' asked Mike.
'Did you have a good time?' and 'Didn't you get a cold when you fell in the
water?' It's that way with all Bob's actor friends, too. They know Van
Johnson, and when they saw 'Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,' they were very deeply
depressed. 'Now Van has only one leg left,' wailed Bobby."
"Most every Sunday Bob drops by Jennifer's Bel-Air
house, picks up the kids and
drives them off on a Sunday fun tour. They take in the sidewalk carnival, out
near Beverly Hills, sometimes the zoo in Griffith Park, or they just stroll
around the street of Beverly or Hollywood. Hundreds of citizens who have
watched Robert Walker intimately on the screen, pass the tall, young pater
familias in his plain business suit, sedate behind tortoise shell glasses,
calmly ushering his offspring along in an experienced paternal way. They must
think he's just another downtown broker or insurance man on his day off.
Because he has never been recognized to this day."
"That's the way Bob likes it. For a fellow who's
as wrapped up in his art as
Bob Walker is he's about as Barrymorish as a bottle of milk. The guy's as
normal as 98.6."
"The only dramatic event I could dig out of his
young life since he came to
Hollywood (outside of breaking up with his wife Jennifer) was The Great
Christmas Eve Theft, or Farewell, My Wardrobe."
"Bob is baching more or less, these days high up
in Mandeville Canyon in a
fair-sized furnished house. Well, the night before Christmas and all through
Bob's house something was stirring, and it was definitely no mouse. Because
when Bob came home from Jennifer's where he'd been trimming the tree, he saw a
couple of his best Brooks Brothers shirts spread out on the front lawn, boxes
with fancy Christmas wrapping scattered here and there, and the front door
"When he hustled inside the house, he spied the
chair seats topsy turvy, the
drawers inside out and the rugs draped over the chandelier. 'Ha, ha, a gag,'
thought Bob until he noticed that the place was as bare as a cigarette shelf in
a cut-rate drug store. He wuz robbed -- and how!"
"Bob has taken to dating things back to the Great
Theft. It's a mile post in
his life, because he's had to start all over, personally speaking, since it
happened. He was wearing a pair of blue slacks, a blue sports coat, white
shirt and blue tie when he came home, and he wore the same all through the
Christmas Holidays and even New Year's Eve. It was all he had."
"Tougher still was explaining to Bobby and Michael
how Santa Claus got
hijacked. Because not only every present Bob had received, but every gift he
had bought, went with the loot. But the unkindest cut of all came from his
very own studio. Bob was making 'The Princess and the Bellhop' at M-G-M, and
when he reported his cleanout, they seized on the vital item right away. 'The
burglar didn't take that brown tweed suit of yours, did he?'"
"'Why, sure,' allowed Bob."
"A lot of scenes had been shot -- but there were
added scenes still to be made.
And now -- no suit to match. Gone with the wind. 'For gosh sakes!' raved the
M-G-M powers. 'Why did you ever take that suit home? Why didn't you leave it
safely here on the lot in our moth, burglar, bullet and buzz-bomb proof
"So you see Fate can kick up its heels and smite
Master Robert Walker in the
face now and then. Although most of the time, according to Bob, his private
existence in Hollywood boasts all the thrills of a carrot's progress through
life. What really sends Bob is his work. As long as the studio keeps him
busy, he'll settle for a 10 o'clock bedtime and even burglars on Christmas, if
"You see, Bob has been all wrapped up in this acting
business ever since he was
old enough to know beef from bully. He skipped college after San Diego
Military Academy and plopped right into New York's American Academy of Dramatic
Art. That's where he met and married Jennifer, you know, and every bit of his
adult life has been spent with a script of some sort in one hand and wistful
hopes on the horizon. He and "Phil" (as he calls Jennifer) struggled through
the Greenwich Village school of hard knocks, around the Cherry Lane Theater.
When the babies came along, Bob kept the growing family in shoes and Pablum by
rushing from one soap opera to another in Radio City. He and "Phil" tried
Hollywood once before, but after a bit for Bob in a stinker, and similar sad
fates for Jennifer, they had to give it up like so many other hopefuls."
"Moreover, Bob considers he's in Hollywood on an
Annie Oakley -- a sort of free
pass this time. Because he wouldn't even have come out if Jennifer hadn't
captured the prize part of "Bernadette." Even then he thought at first he'd
just mosey out, dabble around in Hollywood radio and look over the studios
while Jennifer made "The Song." But an agent talked him out of the idea of
crashing Hollywood on "spec" and into taking a test for M-G-M. When they shot
him right into "Bataan," he could hardly believe it was true. In fact, his
enthusiasm almost got him into a jam, but Bob Taylor saved the day."
"The minute "Bataan" was finished, Walker
couldn't wait to see the results.
When he heard about the sneak preview, he simply had to see it. Well, that's
not done by actors at M-G-M, especially young, new actors. But Bob was so
eager that Tay Garnett, the director, and Robert Taylor, the star, both were
touched. 'Come over to the studio right away, and you can go out in the car
that takes us,' they offered. 'It's against the rules, but what the heck!'"
"Of course, Bob Walker promptly told Jennifer,
and she simply had to go, too.
With Jenny being star on another lot, that would be high treason, Bob knew, if
discovered. So he hid her in the back seat and bowled on up to M-G-M to get
the Word from Tay and Bob."
"That's when they told him it would be impossible
for him to take his own car.
'Have to come with us in the studio car or else,' they explained. "As it is,
we'll probably get bawled out for taking you.' When Bob hung back they said,
'What in the world's the matter?'"
"'My wife's in the back seat!' he blurted."
"Well, it all straightened out when good-natured
Bob Taylor came to the rescue
and wangled some studio strings to let the Walker family see the sneak."
"He thinks he's lucky to be kept as busy as he's
been. Because outside of a
light breather in 'Madame Curie,' they've kept Hargrove humping. That was the
only time he had a chance to start a tan (he takes a swell one despite his red
hair). The only real vacation he's had in two years was between 'The Clock'
(his next release) and 'The Princess and the Bellhop' (which he's making now).
Bob spent that on a ranch near Tuscon, Arizona -- but even then less as a
vacation than a rest cure. He was underweight and feeling low, and he gained
10 pounds to melt off in his next picture. But he hasn't been back to New York
since he arrived. He planned a trip a while back and was all set to go when
somebody handed him a script of 'The Clock'. That did it. Bob got so worked
up about doing the picture he cancelled his reservations and unpacked his bags.
It's his favorite picture so far. (Yep, he's a soldier again, with 24 hours
leave to spend with Judy Garland.) But the point is -- the reaction was
typically Walker -- he'd rather work than play any day in the week."
"For instance, there was a spell awhile back when
Bob and his sidekick, Peter
Lawford, got an attack of Mocambo-itis. Bob loves to dance, rumbas and sambas
like a Copacabana siren and he got on such a run of night-clubbing with Judy
Garland or Martha O'Driscoll or Diana Lynn that they swept him out nightly at
closing time with the cigarette butts."
"But when I saw Bob, he hadn't been outside the
house at night for a month --
not even to a movie -- and he loves movies. That's the way he operates. Of
course, one good reason why he hugs the hearth these days is that he has Harry.
Bob's new bachelor life drops into two definite grooves -- B.H. and A.H.
Before Harry and After Harry. Harry is his colored man's man, and he's the
difference between living like a civilized single gentleman and like a dismal
"The latter stage in Bob Walker's existence took
place, sad to relate, right
after he and Jennifer had decided to have a marital vacation. For awhile, Bob
decided to do his own housekeeping and cook his own meals. But he found
himself dining every night on hamburgers. He was down to a shadow of his
former self when his doctor put his foot down. 'Either get a cook,' he
declared, 'or ulcers -- make up your mind.'"
"That's when Harry stepped in and took over. Now
Bob comes home from work to a
cheery fire in the fireplace, a drink by his chair and a good dinner on the
table. He only hopes it lasts, and since Harry was ten years with his former
boss, there's a good chance. Particularly, too, since Harry is travel minded
and so is Bob."
"Harry runs Bob's Mandeville man's castle without
a hitch, and until the Great
Theft, took perfect care of the walker wardrobe. Bob's a conservative dresser,
with Wall Street tastes rather than the more colorful Hollywood variety. He
has a weakness for socks and shirts, and in the jewely department only cuff
links -- he owns neither a ring nor a watch, only a St. Christopher medal which
jangles on his key ring."
"When Harry says, 'Mister Walker, you can have
guests tonight,' (Yep, he tells
Bob) then there's usually one or several of Bob Walker's pals in for dinner --
Pete Lawford, Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn or somebody with their gals. In spite
of his night life "spurts," Bob really got broken into the solid comforts of
fun at home very early in life, being hitched at nineteen, and that's what he
still prefers. He has a stack of both swing and symphony records (his favorite
bands are Woody Herman and Cab Calloway) and a second hand machine he bought
from his barber at M-G-M. Bob knows his jive and his frustrated ambition is to
own a set of drums. There's plenty of brandy in the cabinet, Bob's favorite
tipple, although he's very temperate with the stuff. There are cards and
chips. So the evening usually ends up in a poker or gin-rummy session, at
which game, incidentally, Bob's a sort of small-time shark; although he's not
rally a gambling man at heart."
"Bob found that out down in Florida when he was
on location with 'Thirty
Seconds Over Tokyo.' A Florida hot spot happened to be nearby, and one night
Bob got lucky to the tune of a $300 win at blackjack. Next night he went back
and tried the crap table -- goodbye $300, and another $300, too. That made him
see the light. Not that he's too scotch (although he really is by ancestry).
In fact, at the end of 'The Clock' he handed out $500 worth of gifts to the
crew. At the same time Bob can look after his interests."
"He used to have a brace of motorcycles that he
roared around town on, but one
day he skidded on a curve and knocked himself out colder than a pickle. Word
came down from Bob's studio right away -- 'No more motorcycles.'"
"'Okay,' said Bob, 'but what about my investment in these machines?'"
"'We'll buy 'em,' countered the studio very cagily."
"'How much?' asked Bob."
"'No,' said Bob."
"Finally he got twice that -- $1200. He keeps a
manager who puts him on one of
those strict Hollywood budgets that make stars go around town acting hungry and
running out of dough in the strangest places. The only time that happened to
Bob was the night he took Judy Garland to Mocambo, and found he had three bucks
cash in his wallet when that man came around. Who paid? That's right -- Judy.
But she got every penny of it back, all right."
"Bob drives a long, deep-breathing, beige Lincoln
Continental convertible now
instead of motorcycles, which is really more his type anyway. He's not what
you'd call the rugged type physically. Bob's the kind of guy who can play golf
okay, swim okay, play tennis okay and all that. But as to violent exercise --
romping around the yard with his boxer dog, 'Brook,' and keeping up with his
two sons on the week-ends keeps any surplus ounces off his frame."
"Actually, if you played truth and consequence,
what Bob Walker would rather do
than anything is sack down at home right after dinner with a brand new script,
turn on the radio (he always studies scripts with radio music right in his ear)
and figure out how he's going to make it sound real next day on the set. That
to him is Heaven."
"As for the younger Walkers, it's a little early
to do any predicting. Both
Bobby and Michael look exactly like their curly-headed pop, with light
red-blond hair and blue eyes and could be they're chips off the old Walker
block in more ways than one."
"Last winter Bob had them home for a visit with
his parents in Ogden. Bob's a
good Mormom from Salt Lake, originally, you know, but his folks live now in
Ogden, right down the line. It was the kids' first look at a real Western
winter with plenty of snow and steep hills for bobsledding."
"Bob borrowed a sled and took them coasting down
a slick slope where a bunch of
kids were belly-whopping. Then Bobby, aged 5, wanted to go down alone."
"For some reason Bob said 'Okay,' and off Bobby
zipped with the rest of the
kids, while Bob watched with his heart in his mouth."
"But Bobby made the grade like a veteran and quickly
puffed back up to the top.
His old man was pardonably proud. 'That was swell, Bobby,' he glowed. 'Don't
you want to go down again?'"
"'Sure, Dad,' said Bobby. 'In a minute -- when
the rest of the kids come up.
There's nobody here to watch right now.'"
"So at least, Junior has the right instincts. An
actor's always got to have an
Copyright Modern Screen