Ogden Standard Examiner Ogden, Utah - February 28, 1943
All eyes in Hollywood are focused on Bob Walker and Jennifer Jones these days…Mrs. and Mrs. Robert Walker two Ogdenites … for Bob is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Horace H. Walker of 2504 Eccles.
Which one will really reach stardom first? Or will they come in neck to neck? In this most unusual story of real life, Bob and Jennifer are playing the leading roles.
Not since the question of who was to play Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind” was Hollywood confronted with a problem quite like that of finding a person to play the starring role in the filming of Franz Werfel’s bestseller, “The Song of Bernadette.” But out of the hundreds of tests, the author himself, chose Jennifer to play the part.
“The person who plays the part of the maid of Lourdes,” said William Perlberg, producer of the film, “a simple peasant girl, who sees a vision of Mary, and whose faith in her vision finally prevails over the doubts of believers and agnostics alike, must be not only a fine actress with a blameless reputation, but she must be gifted with the passionate sincerity that could make audiences believe in her faith and vision.”
Then he added, “Teresa Wright or Joan Fontaine would be wonderful in the part, but Jennifer is Bernadette.”
Jennifer was discovered by David Selznick for the part of Nora in “Keys of the Kingdom” but because of the postponement in the filming of this vehicle, Mr. Selznick loaned Jennifer to 20th Century-Fox for the Bernadette role.
“I think it’s wonderful” said the rather shy Jennifer. “I was so anxious to play “Claudia” but I never dreamed I would be chosen to play the Bernadette role.”
Jennifer fits the requirements superbly. In real life, she is an exemplary character, refraining from all stimulants, including tea and coffee, and plays the role of mother to her two small sons, Bobby and Michael, in a most sincere, naïve manner.
“An actress,” she said, “plays all types of roles. When I play “Bernadette”, I will become Bernadette, but when I’m off the screen I am again Jennifer Jones…No girl,” she added, “could fail to want her life to be exemplary so that she can be worthy of playing such a role as Bernadette.”
Jennifer is lovely to look at, having brown hair and dark brown eyes. She had been in Hollywood but two weeks to work on her unusual assignment, when her husband, Bob, was called to cinemaland to play one of the leading roles in “Bataan Patrol” with Robert Taylor, Lloyd Nolan and other stellar names. He had made such a hit in the part that M-G-M has chosen him to play the role of David in the film , “Madame Curie,” with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. This part portrays the best friend of the Curies and is considered one of the plums of the play.
As I walked on the M-G-M set recently on my trip to Hollywood, Bob was one of the first to greet me. He had just made one of the touching scenes in the picture and was waiting for a retake, so I remained to see it.
The sequence was beautifully done and there were many moist eyes among the on-lookers as young Bob did his scene.
“That kid’s got something!” and “That kid’s all right … he can really act,” went around the group, among other similar remarks.
And that is what Hollywood is saying now about young Walker. He is headed to go places if Uncle Sam doesn’t hasten the drafting of married men with children before he can make it.
The life of these two young people reads like a fairy tale. Young Bob first realized that he was interested in dramatics when he attended the San Diego Army and Navy Academy. He was playing the drums and other rhythmic instruments when Mrs. William T. Atkinson, head of dramatics, noticed him.
“That boy is so sincere with his playing, I’m sure he would make an actor,” she said. “He is so completely absorbed in what he is doing.”
She offered him the lead in “I Am a Jew” and he was later awarded the first prize in a contest conducted by all high schools in southern California. He was then offered a scholarship to Pasadena Playhouse but was advised to go to New York to study and do stage work, before trying his luck in Hollywood. That decision took him to the American Academy of Dramatic Art, where his aunt, Hortense Odlum, president of Bonwit Teller department store in New York City, financed him.
It was there that he met the lovely Phylis Isley, whose stage name later became Jennifer Jones. She previously had been studying at the Northwestern University. The two of them were cast in plays together and a romance developed. P. R. Isley, Phylis’ father, who operates a string of theaters in Oklahoma, beckoned them to Tulsa to do a joint radio program and it was at this time that they were married …both eighteen.
Determined to go on their own, they started life together with nothing but extreme devotion for each other and a gorgeous Packard car, given them as a wedding present by Mr. and Mrs. Isley. They sold the Packard and bought a $50 jalopy, made their way back to New York and found an apartment in the tenement district of Greenwich Village at $16 per month. They get many a laugh as they look back on it now.
One of their pet memories is how they had to climb a small step ladder many a time to take a bath in the stationery washtub, installed in one end of the kitchen, rather than use the bathroom shared with other tenants.
“You should hear this one,” Bob said. “With all the luxury, Jennifer had been used to. We splurged ourselves and bought her an Easter bonnet. It cost just exactly $1.98 and she never looked sweeter in her life than she did in that hat,” he laughed.
Except for financial assistance given them in obtaining an educational background, these youngsters have been on their own. They have won recognition of their stage, screen, and radio talents without the help of or influence of anyone in their behalf. They have experienced the disappointments incident to making the rounds of the New York booking agencies day after day without results, but with the optimism and determination of youth they kept on until they got the break were looking for.
They were given small bits in plays around New York and at times ran their own stock company. Then along came Bobby and Michael, a little less than a year apart, and Bob was forced to tramp the walk himself. He finally got recognition in radio. Being featured in such programs as “David Harum,” “Against the Storm,” “Dr. Jordan,” “Aldrich Family,” “Camel Caravan,” “Parker Family” and finally as David in “Maudie’s Diary.” Then Jennifer’s call to Hollywood and later Bob’s.
Both are thrilled at their sudden success and each are hoping that the other will reach the top.
“It’s a wonderful break that we should have a chance to come to Hollywood together,” Bob said. “If we can only keep our careers here and not too scattered.” He smiled as he crossed his fingers. And all Hollywood hopes they can.
Copyright Ogden Standard Examiner