"Meet Two Rising Stars" - Ladies Home Journal - January 1944
the news buzzed around Hollywood that Jennifer Jones and Bob
Walker had split up, parting in an "amicable separation," the film
colony settled back with a contented sigh. Its worst fears had been
realized! Didn't it just show that the "insiders" and I-told-you-
so's had been right all along?
Jennifer and Bob -- luck's
newest darlings, unknown six months ago,
now sky-high with the two fattest name parts of the year, title roles
in The Song of Bernadette and See Here, Private Hargrove,
respectively -- well, this pair was another one to prove the rule.
And the rule in movieland is that it is hard for a successful young
couple to keep their marriage on an even keel.
Only a short time before,
two JOURNAL editors had watched the lanky
Bob Walker help his vivid young wife into their Buick convertible,
with a B-card marker, then head off down the sun-white California
street. A movie-company executive looked after the disappearing pair
"And there," he
said more to himself than to the listeners, "goes all
of twenty million bucks!"
They didn't look like twenty
million -- rather like a young commuting
couple from Scarsdale or Alexandria with a couple of youngsters, a
mortgage about a third paid off and a membership in the more modest
local country club. Nevertheless, twenty million is a shade under
the valuation which their several employers put on Jennifer Jones and
It has all happened in such
an amazingly short time -- most of it in
less than a year. This fact, together with the good looks of this
twenty-four-year-old couple, their background and personal
attractiveness, makes the story of how they made their rocket trip to
success, what has happened to them on the way up, and in consequence,
a really significant facet of the picture of U.S. life in this year
For instance, there was that
party a few weeks ago, a big gathering
with Bob and Jennifer both in the crowd. Just what Bob did, just
what Jennifer said, wasn't recorded, but gossip columnists and their
informers have a variety of versions. Anyhow, next morning it was
being asserted in type for 132,000,000 Americans to read that the
Walkers would soon be headed for Reno.
Jennifer immediately denied
this, but "confirmed" that Bob was no
longer living with her and the children.
When the average young couple,
married a few years, have a slight
tiff -- as who doesn't? -- she sheds a few tears, he grabs his hat,
slams a door and twenty-four hours later all is forgiven and
But where was Jennifer Jones
that morning while Hollywood and
Broadway -- and several million movie fans in between -- were
discussing this newest domestic tidbit over the coffee cups? She was
on the Selznick lot, playing a love scene before the cameras. Yes,
she was playing a love scene with an actor who happened to be named
And that evening at 6:30,
after the day's work, Jennifer was on her
way home to the spacious and gracious white villa in Bel Air where
her two sons -- lusty, good-natured Bobby, who is three and a half,
and Michael, two -- were waiting for good-night kisses. Bob Walker,
on the other hand, went to a hotel.
What caused the smashup?
Who was to blame? Neither Jennifer nor Bob
would give an answer. But -- since this is a true story of Hollywood
and not a motion picture -- it is important to know that since then
Jennifer Jones and Bob Walker have met daily at the studio and
continued playing sweethearts before the camera.
Incredible? Heartless? Not at all; that's just the picture business.
The title of the movie Mr.
and Mrs. Walker have been making happens
to be Since You Went Away. In this picture Jennifer has the part of
Claudette Colbert's daughter and Bob is the shy, very-much-in-love
young man who blushes at the sight of her. Bob is supposed to be the
grandson of a brusque old Army colonel (Monty Woolley) who rents a
room in Claudette's home. It is the first time Jennifer and Bob
Walker have been cast in the same picture.
Of course untangling their
screen roles from their stictly personal
and private lives has long been a problem for Hollywood's actors and
actresses. And no wonder! For the Walkers, this state of affairs is
no more topsy-turvy than the rest of the changes wrought in their
daily living, surroundings, work, friends, recreation and financial
standing by these few months of zooming screen success.
A few years ago Mr. and Mrs.
Robert Walker lived in a cold-water flat
on the verge of New York's Hell's Kitchen, and wondered if they would
ever get anywhere on stage, screen or radio. Time and again Mrs.
Walker fixed dinner against Bob's weary return from looking for
breaks and, after contemplating the results, both headed silently for
stew, coffee and rolls at the quick-and-dirty on the corner. Even
that was luxury.
Today the pair's combined
incomes are close to $600 a week and, if
they continue to go over well, will unquestionably go up. The
elegant and expensive white villa which is their Hollywood address is
a long, long way from Hell's Kitchen. The Walkers knew they were in
the big money for sure when they signed the lease last spring. The
house costs a good $225 a month, and at least another $200 is
necessary for servants.
Bob's first break -- a radio
bit that led to steady work -- netted
exactly $20. In those days of working hard to wedge out a toe's
space on the upward ladder, there is no doubt that Jennifer and Bob
were happy, hard-working, completely devoted.
Jennifer's name was Phylis
until a few months ago, but Bob usually
called her "honey" or "darling". When the studio rechristened her,
he took to calling her "Jen" until it almost seemed natural.
Jennifer says, "It surprises me nowadays when somebody calls me 'Mrs.
Walker' or 'Phylis.' I feel like 'Miss Jones.'"
They were such kids when
they met for the first time at the New York
Academy for Dramatic Art. Phylis had just arrived from her native
Oklahoma, but she was no newcomer to the theater. Until he recently
retired to manage movie theaters, her father, Phil R. Isely, was a
well-known tent showman. In her late teens Phylis had plenty of
rugged trouping with tent outfits, doing Toby shows and Smilin'
Through up and down the Texas Panhandle.
Bob's route to Manhatten
was different. This six-footer whose
skinniness (130 pounds now)was for a time a handicap in getting
screen parts did most of his growing up in Salt Lake City, where he
was born. As a youngster he was sent to San Diego Army and Navy
Academy and learned spit-and-polish thoroughly. There, too, he
caught the eye of the dramatic coach, who encouraged and started him
stageward. He managed the jump to New York, enrolling in dramatic
school, thanks to a sympathetic brother back in Salt Lake City, who
supplied $10 a week. Bob made out through the good luck of finding a
Yonkers home for indigent and worthy young men willing to do their
own scrubbing and bedmaking as part pay for their board.
The girl from Oklahoma and
the boy from Utah palled up in looking for
professional experience. They played together at the Cherry Lane
Theater in Greenwich Village. Both were ambitious, hard-working,
believed in each other.
Some of their classmates
at the dramatic academy say Bob seemed "high
hat" in those days. Maybe so. Maybe, even then, he had instinctive
confidence that he was going to get to the top and couldn't help
showing it. Jen felt it, too, and of course her admiration built him
up. They used to talk about stardom for her a la Katharine Cornell,
with Bob her director a la McClintic.
Phylis went home to Oklahoma
in the summer for radio drama work on a
local station. When she was hired as leading lady of a radio stock
company, she wired Bob to come on as leading man ($25 a week for
each). They were married January 2, 1939, at a small church wedding
in Tulsa, and the Iselys gave them a car as a wedding present.
There is room now for two
cars in the Bel Air garage, a Mercury sedan
as well as the Buick. Before their separation, both Jennifer and Bob
said driving had become a source of friction between them. "Good
humored friction," they called it. He thought Jennifer took corners
too fast. She said he came up too fast behind the car ahead. One
reason Bob bought his motorcycle ($400 secondhand) was that they
disagreed about the cars. Bob said Jennifer was not economical with
gas. When he went to the studio on the motorcycle, she drove the
Back in New York, Bob Walker
got a chance to work in radio serials,
making enough to pay rent on a flat on Twelfth Street near Ninth
Avenue and the roaring elevated. Later they moved to a summer
cottage at Long Beach, Long Island. It was a ramshackle place and,
to help stretch finances, the Walkers moved in two months before the
season started, thus saving rent.
Jennifer, awaiting her first-born,
forgot about footlights,
microphones, cameras -- only temporarily, of course. When Bobby came
he proved to be a good baby, healthy and easy to care for. His
mother got some jobs modeling hats, occasionally worked as a
photographer's model through the Powers agency. Of course, Jen did
her own housekeeping, too -- with some help from Bob. She remembers
he was "a whiz at changing diapers."
At the Bel Air place there
is a gardener who clips shrubbery and
trims lawns. There is a starched, efficient nurse to ride herd on
Bobby and Michael. To plan meals, as well as cook them, there is an
elderly, pleasant-faced expert.
Arrival of the second child
interrupted Jennifer's modeling and
posing for photographers, but both parents thoroughly enjoyed their
beautiful, sturdy boys. They had fun with them. Bobby and Michael
both are the lucky possessors of their mother's outgoing charm and
their father's openly terrier-ish face. The children have nice
dispositions too. Besides the two babies, there were a puppy and a
parrot to keep things lively.
In Hollywood it's been almost
impossible for the Walkers to see much
of their children. Up at 6:30, back for a late evening dinner, the
fatiguing alternation of give-it-all-you've-got and wait-for-the-
other-shoe-to-drop -- that is the six-days-a-week schedule of a star
who is working, and Bob and Jennifer have both worked almost steadily
since arriving in California. Jennifer says she would like to look
after the babies herself between pictures, but you have to hang on to
a nurse, once you have her, to make sure she'll be on hand when
needed. And to keep in trim for star roles, Jennifer is supposed to
sleep ten hours a night. She must study and memorize parts, and she
is taking dancing and diction lessons. The Walkers did have a pet
dog in the Bel Air house, but they had to give it away -- with great
sorrowing -- because the current nurse didn't like it.
The abrupt change in the
young Walkers' fortunes came last January
when Jennifer was "discovered" by a theatrical agent and signed by
Twentieth Century-Fox to play the prize role of the year, the title
part in The Song of Bernadette. She set off for Hollywood. In an
amazingly short time Bob was West Coast bound, picked from a job lot
of screen tests to be the sailor in Bataan. He has since worked in
Madame Curie and the Hargrove lead. Meanwhile -- and together for
the first time before the camera -- Mr. and Mrs. Walker began work in
Since You Went Away.
Compared with those days
on Twelfth Street when the couple used to
wonder if they would ever have more than a spare dime, the money has
certainly been rolling in. Neither has to worry about finances now,
though they never see their pay checks. Their financial agent, who
does all that, is so close a part of their picture that Bobby and
Michael named the family goldfish Charley in his honor. Charley --
the businessman, not the fish -- makes his living out of collecting,
disbursing and investing for movie people on 3 per cent commission.
Checks which the Walkers write themselves must have his
countersignature to be valid. He pays the bills, and each month
doles out pocket money to each. Balances left over are carefully
invested in life insurance and securities, including War Bonds.
What with Charley's 3 per
cent, the talent agent's 10 per cent, Uncle
Sam's 20 per cent withholding tax and heavy supplementary income tax
above all that, said savings balances hardly amount to 20 per cent of
gross income. Just the same, annual savings of 20 per cent of the
young Walkers' pay ain't hay where the average American comes from.
The kids have come a long way!
It all adds up to one of
the swiftest success stories the screen
colony has ever seen. For Jennifer and Bob Walker it certainly
hasn't been easy; it's been hard, demanding, continuous work.
Perhaps both of them have
been working a little bit too hard.
Perhaps easing up a bit, as Jennifer hopes to do after the shooting
of her current film, will smooth out personal problems. Bob will be
busy for some time on the final scenes of See Here, Private Hargrove.
The Walkers are big names
now in a profession where working hours are
spent before cameras, where rumor is a recognized marketable
commodity, and a whisper at a private gathering resounds on
transcontinental air waves within twenty-four hours. There are
plenty of statistics to show the mortality of movie stars' marriages.
Nevertheless, there's a chance
that the temporary separation these
two have agreed on will supply what is needed to clear the air and
mend their domestic fences. Maybe a very good chance. For Jennifer
and Bob Walker have weathered rough going before. They came up the
hard way. A few days from now -- January 2, 1944 -- will see their
fifth wedding anniversary."
Copyright Ladies Home Journal