At 7 a.m. on the morning of August 29th, 1951, a special AP dispatch simply announced: EARLY THIS MORNING, ROBERT WALKER, SCREEN STAR, DIED AT HIS BRENTWOOD, CALIFORNIA, HOME. HE WAS 32.
A short biography revealed some of the highlights of Robert Walker's life. It portrayed an ambitious, stage struck youngster in his native Salt Lake City, Utah; a teen-ager who didn't care for Military Academy life; a young man who eventually made his way to a radio studio in New York where he met and married a beautiful, then unknown actress, Jennifer Jones; happy years of marriage and the birth of two sons; Robert and Michael; rise to fame and fortune and the consequent split-up of Robert and Jennifer, culminating in divorce; his five-month marriage to Barbara Ford; his nervous breakdown and treatment at the Menninger Clinic at Topeka, Kansas; his gradual recovery and concentration on his work again, the work for which he showed so much talent.
What the public was told on that fateful Saturday was just part of Robert Walker's story -- the known part. Not known is the lonesome, sensitive boy who never understood a world that didn't understand him either.
Robert Walker and I were good friends. Not really close, as I believe he was never really close to anyone, except his wife Jennifer and his two boys. But close enough to understand some of the things that went on inside of him.
I remember the day we were sitting in my living room in Beverly Glen, waiting for my wife to finish preparations for dinner, when Bob confided some of his fears. There was nothing personal. He wouldn't mention his family except when talking about his sons; but professional fears -- about his new part, his co-star, his director. They weren't just the usual fears every actor has before he starts a new film. When Bob talked about his problems, I could feel how much his career meant to him.
He always had an inferiority complex. 'If I could only act like Cary Grant...' he said so many times. Assurances that he stood up very well on his own didn't console him.
Not being able to serve his country in time of war was another setback for Bob. During World War II, I read that he was anxious to join the Armed Forces but wasn't accepted because he was underweight. I didn't know him then and thought that probably he was happy about it. I found out differently in 1950.
Being a reserve officer, six weeks after hostilities broke out in Korea I received orders calling me back to active duty. A couple of days before I left, Bob came over to say good-bye. This time when he told me he wished he could go along I was convinced that he meant it. Sincerity and disappointment were written all over his face. Furthermore he said it to me, not his publicist at MGM or Paramount.
Robert never publicized his patriotic, humane and charitable actions. He even asked writers who happened to find out about them not to mention them in their columns and articles. He wanted to help the cause, not himself. I know, for I was one of the writers who made such a promise.
Such was the case with his Los Angeles boys club activities. For months Robert spent his evenings working with underprivileged youngsters -- entertaining them, trying to be a good influence, keeping them out of trouble. He did it, even though his doctor told him to take it easy at night after a hard day's work at the studio. He did it as sort of a religion, a practical religion for a sensitive yet practical man.
It is true that Bob was lonesome the last few years. But he was not in a constant state of unhappiness. Bob's life was divided between his career and his boys, with his boys getting the major share of his affection.
I wasn't with Bob when he died. But when I read the news that Hollywood had lost one of its finest actors, his boys a father who could not have been more devoted, I knew that I had lost a friend whom I will always remember as a sensitive, warmhearted, truly good man."
That's the end of this article -- I never heard of this guy -- was never mentioned in "Starcrossed", either, that I can recall. He got some things wrong -- met Phil (as then not Jennifer Jones) at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC, not at a radio studio. Also, I thought he was rejected for service in the military due to very poor eyesight, though he was underweight, too. Also, he was only married to Barbara Ford for 6 weeks, not five months.
Anyway, there is another mention in this magazine about Bob. It is in a column entitled "Hollywood Secrets" written by Edith Gwynn. Here is what she says:
"I couldn't start a review of the month's news without commenting on the sincere grief that beset Hollywood over Bob Walker's sudden death -- at the very peak of his career -- and at a time when the happiness he sought was almost in sight. This kind, talented guy was one whose whole personality and outlook could change within an hour. I've been out with Bob and seen and heard it happen. Within moments, he'd go from a cheery fellow, enthusiastic about his work and the joy of his two little boys brought him, to a bitter, madly gloomy man, exclaiming his utter loneliness!
I was one of the first to suggest to Bob (personally and in print) that he go to the Menninger Clinic for psychiatric treatment. The tragedy is that when he DID go, he didn't stay long enough to complete his cure.
Poor Bob wasn't 'unloved and unwanted' as he thought. The few who knew him well were more than fond of him -- HE just couldn't believe it!
Wherever he is, I hope Bob finds what he wanted most -- peace of mind.
As you must know, it was at his own home near Ogden, Utah, that Bob's family buried him -- and only one Hollywoodite was present at the time. Bob's manager. It was real sweet of Alan and Sue Ladd, returning from Alan's location trip (for 'Shane') at Jackson Hole, Wyo., to stop at the cemetery where Bob was laid to rest, and leave flowers upon his grave. Few know this -- even yet."