"Bob Walker's Life Story Part 1 &
2" by Kirtley Baskette
Modern Screen - January & February 1946
That night the Big Fire swept Salt Lake City like an avenging angel. Flames scourged the downtown streets, raced from roof to roof, spraying angry red embers high into the glowering black desert sky as far as the Wasatch Mountains which rimmed the city of Latter Day Saints. Through the wide, western streets firewagons roared, sirens screamed and bells clanged frantic warnings. That night more than one good Mormon hurried from whatever he was doing to help stem the crackling, crimson tide of disaster.
Horace Walker changed his plans that night,
very definitely. He was on his way to the hospital where his wife, Zella, awaited
the arrival of her fourth child. But he had spun the wheels of his car around
when the first firewagon careened by. Like the good newspaper man he was, Horace
Walker headed for the city room of the Deseret News by instinct. He was the
It was smoky dawn before the phones on
his desk stopped buzzing and he could get a call through to the hospital. When
the fire extra was on the presses and he could lean back in his swivel chair
and breathe again, he got the connection. His eyes, red-rimmed as Salt Lake's
city blocks, crinkled with the good news and he turned wearily to his typewriter
and tapped out the item
himself: " A seven pound son was born to Mrs. Horace Walker last night at Salt Lake Hospital." He dropped it on the copy desk, jammed on his hat and went across the street for some black coffee.
The birth of Robert Walker, on October
13, 1918, was not necessarily big news to Salt Lake City. Stacked up against
the greatest conflagration in the city's history, it barely deserved the one
line Bob's news-wise father gave it, buried back in the paper. Bob's dad, himself,
would have smiled skeptically if anyone had told him that one day this Baby
Bob would come back home as Robert Walker, the Hollywood star, and that his
own paper, the Deseret News, would run headlines heralding that event.
No, there was nothing exactly world-shaking
about the arrival of another Walker boy in Salt Lake City, heaven knows. Three
others already romped around the house on F Street where Horace and Zella Walker
made their home.
Zella's Scotch McQuarry ancestors had started
from the original settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois, to find a home free from the
persecutions of religious bigots. Twelve of those sturdy McQuarry sons had hewn
timber from the hills to build the tabernacle which still stood. Zella herself
was from a family of eight. And Walkers -- they were sprinkled all over Utah
-- their name a local
symbol of fertility, solidity and success.
Right in Salt Lake there was the big Walker
Department Store and the Walker Bank. There were dozens of Walker and McQuarry
cousins, aunts, uncles, "kissing kin" spread all over Utah by now.
Another Walker kid -- so what? Another
Walker kid. There were already three -- Wayne, 12; Walter, 10; and Richard,
2. Walt and Wayne from the aloofness of their years were almost like
an extra set of parents. From the start, Bob adored Walt. He resembled him, people said, and throughout his stormy teens it was to be Walt whom Bob would anchor to instinctively when the going got tough. He grew up alongside Dick, almost like a twin. But all three were cut to a different pattern than Bob. They were normal, solid Walkers -- easily adjusted at school, ready in their
lessons, deft on the playground, good at sports, robust and healthy without a nerve in their bodies or a bizarre thought -- such as acting or art -- in their brains.
He was the odd pea in the pod, that Baby
Walker kid, and felt it. As soon as he could crawl, his natural reaction was
to get out on his own. When he was still in skirts he used to scurry out the
door when his mother forgot and left it open, and venture out on the Salt Lake
City streets, dragging his teddy bear, hunting new worlds. He'd follow the postman
until his legs gave out and then Mrs. Walker would get a telephone call from
a housewife, blocks away.
"Mrs. Walker, have you a little boy named Robert? Yes -- well he's down here in our yard and I think you'd better come get him."
A kid as individual as Bob was headed for trouble in school. Everybody saidso, but not even Horace and Zella Walker, who knew their Baby Bob best, guessed it would come as soon as it did.
When he was only six he trotted off to
kindergarten. Pretty soon he trotted back. That afternoon a young lady pressed
Mrs. Walker's door bell." " I'm the kindergarten teacher," she
explained. "It's about your boy, Robert," "Yes," said Mrs.
Walker, "he came home early."
"I know," said the teacher. "I sent him home. He was annoying the little
Mrs. Walker gasped. "Yes," said the teacher, "he pulled their hair and then
hugged them. I'm afraid, Mrs. Walker," sighed the teacher, "that Robert is
going to be a problem at school."
The teacher was right. Bob was a problem. When he was seven he started grade
school. The first week he committed the cardinal sin. He teamed right up with
some of the "bad kids" and at the first recess they ran out of the schoolyard
and up into the hills. The alarm went out and the search was on. Late that
evening, the principal and some teachers uncovered Bob and his renegade gang
hiding in the bushes up in the canyon, dragged them out by their ears and gave
them their sternest lectures on what happens to truants. The next day Bob did
it again. His report card came home black with demerits. In addition to black
marks in deportment, Bob was merrily flunking almost everything."
Anything that Bob could pioneer, direct, exploit and promote -- that was a
ten-dollar whiz -- especially it if had drama or adventure connected with it,
was his meat. He was the most enterprising kid on the block. He started
weeding dandelions and mowing grass when he was barely big enough to make the
lawn mower's blades whirr. He snagged a magazine subscription route when he
was only eight years old and collected enough coupons to cash in for his mother
and dad's Christmas gifts and an electric train for himself.
Bob found some fellow spirits a couple of blocks away. One was an adventurous
kid named Adrian, who was to be Bob's best pal for a dozen years and the
willing partner in his escapades. There were a couple of girls, too, Mabel
Anson and Jean Murdock. Bob herded them together and produced "plays" back in
the garage, borrowing sheets from his puzzled mother and ballyhooing his epics
up and down F Street to set local box office records in pins and sometimes real
pennies. He always wrote the "plays" himself, and directed the whole mammoth
production, naturally copping the starring part as well. One had a disastrous
climax, typical of Bob's insistence on make-believe.
The 'play' that time involved some cans of sand, props representing buckets of
water which figured in the action. At the performance, so wrapped up in
realism was our hero, that he tilted the can full of grit in his mouth and
swallowed it. They had to call a doctor that time to sweep him out.
One of his Salt Lake treasures and a constant spur to his fertile imagination
was the old Salt Lake Theater, long since torn down. In Bob's boyhood the Salt
Lake was a wonderful palace of magic. Tired old touring companies played there
several years after a show hit Broadway, but to Bob they were the greatest
pageants in the world. He saw his first play there -- a religious spectacle
about the Crucifixion, and as that was about the time he was awakening to a
spiritual consciousness, it impressed him as no other play ever has. He
dreamed about it for days and when the Salt Lake closed its doors for keeps he
hung around the place, peering into every corner to see what made a real
In the box office of the abandoned theater stood a ticket machine, full of
wonderful rolls of real printed tickets. "If we had that," said Bob, "we could
put on real shows with real tickets." Pins suddenly loomed as passe and
impossibly amateurish to the budding producer. He looked at Adrian and Adrian
grinned. They lifted the machine and spirited it out the side door. For years
it stayed in the Walker garage, spewing out tickets for Bob's productions.
Mabel Anson was a brunette and Jean Murdock was a blonde, and they supplied
the two types of feminine beauty, talent and grace for Bob Walker's backyard
theatrical ventures. But both had a more practical interest in Walker
Productions. Both took turns being Bob's sweethearts. Jean had the headstart;
she and Bob were sweethearts at the age of six and Jean was the first girl he
ever kissed. Right away Bob liked that. With Adrian and Mabel and Jean and
the other moppets scattered up and down F Street he discovered an amazingly
delightful game called spin-the-bottle. The enticing feature about this sport
was that it ended up with a kiss. The girl who spun the bottle in the circle
had to kiss the boy it stopped by. For a time Jean grew very clever at
spinning the bottle so it would roll at Bob Walker's feet. Later Mabel got in
practice, too. Romance was one thing "Walk," as the kids called him, could
understand very early in life.
Bob wanted to grow up fast. That, at least, was the official verdict of a
University of Utah psychiatrist. But long before they employed professional
opinion, Horace and Zella Walker had some bouts with Bob's growing pains that
they handled very efficiently, indeed. When he was ten years old Bob walked up
to his father and told him, "I'm going to start smoking."
"Okay, Son," he agreed. "Then tonight after dinner you and I will go out on
the back porch and have a nice long smoke."
Outside, his father handed him a wicked looking, black cigar, helped him light
it. Bob puffed importantly. This was grand. He swelled out his scrawny chest
and felt very manly all of a sudden. "If you're going to smoke,"suggested
Bob's dad, "I think you'd better learn to chew at the same time. Here," and he
handed Bob a plug of black chewing tobacco. Bob stuck that in his mouth. "Go
ahead," said his dad, "chew it good." Bob did.
Pretty soon he had turned the color of a sick chicken and his head whirled
like a top. Green lights and purple flashes filled his watering eyes and all
of a sudden he was hanging over the porch railing, losing his nice dinner very
ignominiously. His pop helped him back in the house and up to bed. "Next time
you want to smoke," he said, "let me know. I've got plenty of tobacco. But,"
he added, "if you don't smoke until you're 21 there's a nice gold watch waiting
for you." Bob decided to strike for that watch.
When Bob was twelve, the Walkers moved from Salt Lake City to Ogden, Utah, 30
miles down the Union Pacific main line. Bob's parents weren't rich and Horace,
like most newspaper men with families, decided one day that he'd never retire
on a city editor's check. He found an opportunity to join an advertising
agency in Ogden, so it was farewell to the familiar neighborhood on F Street
for Bob and Dick. Walt and Wayne by now were of college age and off to school.
Unlike most kids, Bob had no tearful partings.
He felt a pang, of course, leaving Jean, Mabel and Adrian, but after all,
Ogden was only 30 miles down the Union Pacific Main line, and that was hardly
more than an hour's ride. It wasn't really like moving to an unfamiliar place.
Still, it was enough of a change to give Bob a new lease on his budding life,
and for a while there were hopes at the new brick Walker house in Ogden that
Bob had quieted down.
For one thing, he had officially embraced the Mormon faith -- something none
of the other Walker sons had done. Matters of religion Horace and Zella left
entirely up to their children. They realized that a new generation had new
spiritual needs and urges. Very early, Bob evidenced a marked spiritual side
that was along the line of his thoughts -- which were always more emotional
When he moved to Ogden, there were further flickering signs that Bob might be
settling into the groove of a solid citizen. He was happier at Madison Grade
School than he had been at Lowell, and seemed to take a more sober outlook on
his studies. As usual, there was a reason.
There was a dramatic class in Madison Grade School -- not such a much -- but
still, it gave kids who liked to express themselves a chance. The school
staged an operetta and Bob, glory be, won the lead. He was the major of a
pixie army and he sang and strutted around the stage in what he was sure was a
terrific performance. Actually, looking at the photo snaps of his operatic
triumph, Bob is now inclined to crawl a bit inside. He was starting to string
out then, all bones and knees and elbows. He wore a suit of long underwear,
dyed black, with enormous gold epaulettes at the shoulders and a feather pillow
stuffed down inside to make a mighty bay window.
Bob could stand respectability for just so long. One school weekend when he
was 13, Bob took the train down to Salt Lake City to visit Adrian. He had his
ticket and one silver dollar for spending money. He kicked around his old Salt
Lake haunts with Adrian and they moseyed down to the freight yards where they
used to watch the trains puff in and out. A loaded freight was crawling slowly
out of the yards headed West.
" Going to California," mused Bob, "I wonder what California's like?" "It's wonderful," said Adrian, "I've got a brother there."
In a second they had hopped the iron ladder of a freight car and crawled
inside. The train rocked through the mountains and ground to stops at other
Utah towns. At each one the door was pushed furtively open and ragged,
whiskered men climbed in. They explained the mysteries of hobo life to the two
"We're going to California," said Bob.
" Watch out for the yard bulls," croaked a weary willie. Just then a flashlight
came swinging down the line of cars. The hoboes slipped off into the night and
Bob and Adrian closed the door. "Jiggers," they whispered, "hide!"
But the door slid open and the flashlight felt them out. A husky railroad cop
leaped inside and grabbed them by the collars and heaved them off into the
cinders. "Beat it, kids," he growled. "I'll let you punks off easy this
time." Bob and Adrian beat it. They slept that night in a city park, padding
their thin clothes with newspapers to keep out the biting mountain cold. Next
day, shivering and wan, they went from door to door, getting an odd job now and
then and buying food with their pay. Days later, Bob and Adrian took out on a
freight headed back to Salt Lake City.
Bob wasn't punished. His family tried to understand, but he noticed the tears
in his mother's eyes and that hurt him more than anything. He resolved never
to yield to temptation again. But that was a hard resolve for Bob Walker to
keep. He had another spell of industry and hard work and saved up enough
money to buy an old Star touring car on time. That made him a person of
consequence socially at Central Junior High, where he'd finally arrived but
without any honors. But the car was too handy a means of escape when he felt
the unrest coming on. And pretty soon, after an argument he had with his dad
and mother about staying out late, he packed up blankets and food in the car
and disappeared again. This time he drove out in the desert and camped all by
himself, skipping school and getting himself in hot water there. After a
painful session with the principal the Walkers decided something had to be
All these distressing reports and bulletins on Wayward Bob had been sent right
on to the lady who always had every Walker boys' interest deep in her heart.
Hortense McQuarry Odlum was Zella's sister, one of the three who had left the
sands of Utah early to make a career in New York City. A brilliant, capable
woman, Aunt Hortense had risen to head the great New York women's fashion
temple of Bonwit Teller in New York.
She kept a beautiful summer home in Logan Canyon where Bob and his family went
for vacations every time Aunt "Tenny" came West. She had no family of her own
and being wealthy, she delighted in planning the education of her favorite
nephews. When she added up all the reports on Bob she came right back with an
offer. Find a good military academy on the West Coast, enroll Problem Bob --
and she would foot the bill.
That's how Bob Walker found himself, next school season, enrolled as a 'rat'
in the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, in Southern California. At the start,
he hated the place. At San Diego you ate, dressed, studied, played and slept
to bells and bugles. He was to live in a barracks with another roommate, wear
a uniform modelled after a West Point cadet's, was to carry himself like a
ramrod and drill like a wooden soldier.
This wasn't for him, for sure.
And so it was the same old story for "Walk." He broke rules, he talked back
to the officer teachers, he was sloppy at drill, he missed classes, neglected
his books. He tramped so many extra duty tours that he didn't have a liberty
all the first month he was there. He stayed in the awkward squads and
exasperated his professors with his bored indifference. The reports going back
home were grim.
Luckily, these sad sack rumors reached the ears of Virginia Atkinson, a lone
lady member of the military faculty at San Diego A. and N. Miss Atkinson
taught a dramatic class at the Academy, and she'd built up quite a thing. More
kids, she had discovered, got rid of what ailed them by play acting than
anything else. And the Academy was faced every semester with plenty of young
guys who were as mixed up as Bob, although not all with the talent he packed --
not at all. In fact, when she had called him in for an interview she knew what
was the matter with our hero pronto. Bob was so low in spirits by then that he
couldn't even work up much enthusiasm about acting.
But the minute he came under the spell of the clever Miss Atkinson, Bob found
his blues vanishing before the path she pointed out. First time he read for
Miss A. she knew what Bob had. She cast him right off in the lead of the
Academy play of the season, the one they'd give in the annual San Diego High
Schools dramatic contest, which by now had become a major scholastic event of
So the dramatic contest came -- and when it was over, "The Other Side" --
that's the name of the play -- won first honors in a walk. Not only that, but
Bob got the nod for the best acting of the entire tournament. Suddenly the
problem cadet who'd dragged morosely around the parade ground was a hero.
He couldn't go to sleep that night after the play. Instead, he sat up with
his light behind a blanket -- so he couldn't get gigged for extra duty -- and
wrote his family all about it.
"Dear Mother," Bob wrote, "I guess tonight I am the best young actor in all
San Diego--" and he went on from there. At the bottom he penned, "send this on
to Aunt Tenny." He got letters back from them all. They were proud. They
knew he had the stuff. And right away Bob began proving it.
He started getting A's in every subject. From a dunce he turned into a
shining light. When Bob graduated from San Diego A. and N. four years later,
he was class president, cadet captain and second in all the school scholastic
standing! Besides all this he was much of a school hero as the captain of the
football team. Because Virginia Atkinson's noble dramatic experiment had
flourished like the green bay tree and a dramatic contest was just as much an
occasion for school spirit and cheers as the Big Game. The contest spread to
an All-Southern California event, held annually at the Pasadena Playhouse. And
there Bob led his Academy acting group to victory twice, copping the Best
Acting prize himself both times.
By the time he had left San Diego, Virginia Atkinson had convinced Bob that he
was born to be an actor. "Make this your life's work," she urged, "and you'll
never regret it." But the casting director Aunt Tenny had arranged an
appointment with took one look at Bob's youthful face and figure and advised,
"Wait a few years." Bob was crushed, but it didn't swerve him from the only
idea that had ever seemed to fit perfectly.
And by now the all-important Aunt Hortense Odlum was on his side. Aunt Tenny
had lived around New York for years and she had very definite ideas. She
didn't have to talk much to Bob's family about the project. They were so
pleased and relieved that Bob had found something he loved and could shine in
that they backed him to the hilt -- only with three other boys being educated,
there wasn't much in the Walker sock to carry through the ambitious plans Aunt
Tenny had. Never mind, she'd take care of that. Nothing but the best must
this talented nephew have. Nothing less than the Academy of Dramatic Art in
The folks had put him on the train at Ogden -- but it wasn't really like going
to a strange land. Because Walt, Bob's brother-idol, was in Manhattan now
practicing law and Dick, his near-twin, was studying accounting at Columbia
From the start, Bob Walker knew that New York was his oyster and to his Aunt
Hortense that night he bubbled over with his enthusiastic dreams.
"Well," said Aunt Tenny, "so you're going to be an actor?"
"I am an actor," grinned Bob.
"Oh, yes, I forgot," smiled Aunt Tenny. "Well, you be a good one, do you
hear? And stick to your guns. The only thing I don't forgive is
Bob laughed -- imagine stopping anything as much fun as acting. There
couldn't be anything half as interesting. But there was. Luckily, the two
interests blended perfectly -- like peaches and cream.
In fact, Bob Walker's romance with Jennifer Jones started as a dramatic
workshop mutual admiration society. Raven-haired, sweet-faced, Phyllis Isely
from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was already at the Academy when Bob enrolled. But
somehow the first few months they missed each other. Bob was extremely busy
and no beaver was ever more eager. He didn't need Aunt Tenny's admonitions to
plunge into his training. The first weeks his days were crammed with work and
the wonders of New York. Classes at the Academy were from 8 until noon, or
from noon until 6. Bob dived into the subway and came up at the Carnegie Hall
corner to trot over and rehearse his scenes, watch other students work, hear
lectures, and get taken apart by the fearful "Jelly", hard driving Mr.
Jehlinger, who could cut a cocky student to pieces with his sharp surgical
slashes at amateur acting faults.
And at school -- speech classes, fencing drills, dancing lessons, dramatic
history, makeup, wardrobe -- there was always something to do and always the
lingering shadow of "not being invited back" next year. Yet Bob found himself
smiling boldly at the dark, slim girl hurrying between classes, divinely
intent. Then he started dropping in when he had a free afternoon to watch her
do her scenes. He whistled low to himself. "Gosh, she's not only pretty --
Phyl Isely was thinking essentially the same thing about the tall, thin kid
with the cute crinkles in his copper hair. And she was lovely, too.
"I like the way you work," he told Phyl. "I'd like to work with you, if it's
all right with you."
Phyl smiled the smile that has melted more hearts than Bob Walker's.
"Yes," she said, "I'd like to, too!"
It was funny, fate maybe, coincidence surely, how the plays they drew were
what they were, how their parts were always invariably in romantic apposition.
'The Barrets of Wimpole Street,' then 'Romeo and Juliet' -- and what romantic
theme could be more tender?
Phyl stayed at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, and it sort of seemed natural to
stroll up Lexington Avenue to take her home after classes. Bob found himself
taking a later and later express out to Long Island. When Dick and Walt would
ask how come, he'd toss it off with 'Working,' and they believed him. No one
could doubt that Bob was wrapped up in his acting. They didn't know about
Phyl, but when Bob began skipping the Sunday dinners at Aunt Tenny's house
there were some raised brows and a few remarks. "What's her name, Bob?" Then
he'd blush and cook up a story. Besides, Bob didn't think he was in love.
Maybe he wasn't -- then. When the term came to a close, Bob had other things
on his mind, and so did Phyl. There were the "finals" -- the plays before the
faculty that were the payoff. If you clicked, you got invited back for next
The big day came and Bob went on in his exam play. He had never been nervous
before, but this time he felt the cold eye of "Jelly" on him every time he walk
When it was over, "Jelly" Jehlinger came backstage and took Bob apart in little
pieces. He pointed out every fault in the performance, he told Bob he'd have
to develop. “You haven't enough strength,” he said, “you've got to get guts.” Bob
started out the door with a face down to his knees. He already knew the
answer. He wasn't coming back next year. On he met Phyl. She didn't have to
ask what had happened.
They strolled aimlessly through the crowded sidewalks, getting bumped by
hustling people, cursed by cruising cabbies. They headed for the Park and found
a bench. Bob felt Phyl's warm hand take his. "Do you want to know something?"
she said. "Jelly thinks you're one of the most talented students in the
Academy. And so do I. Don't you know, silly, that the ones he murders most
are the ones he likes best? He gave me the devil," she grinned. "What do you
want to bet that we're both asked back?"
"They took a long time to walk back to the Barbizon that evening."
"I'll see you next year," said Phyl.
" Is that a promise?"
" It's a promise."
Then she kissed him right in front of the doorman and ducked inside.
She was right. The bid to return to the Academy was there for Bob Walker the
next morning. He was tagged one of the best at
school. He carried the good news home to his brothers and Aunt Tenny. He
wrote it back to Ogden. He took Phyl to the train and kissed her goodbye. She
would go back to Tulsa and travel with a tent show, doing stock plays to
season her talent.
The days were already hot when Bob started pounding Broadway's stony lanes for
his break into the big league. He couldn't miss. Sure enough, the first week
the plum dropped right in his hand. 'Where Do We Go From Here?' was a college
story being prepped for an early summer debut. There was a comedy youth part,
as there is in every college play. A skinny, gangling, awkward kid. Dwight
Taylor was casting the show and when Bob walked in his office the welcome mat
He couldn't keep the good news. He wrote his dad and mother. Aunt Tenny was
thrilled. But it was the last time Bob Walker ever bragged about a part. It
lasted five days before the show went into rehearsals. Then the roof fell in.
Dwight Taylor called Bob into his office. He was sorry, but he'd have to call the
“We've re-written the script,” he explained. “Your part's been changed to a
fat kid because a fat kid's funnier and -- well -- obviously that's not for
“Oh, sure,” said Bob bravely. I understand. I've got some other things
lined up anyway that look swell,” he lied.
But when he'd tripped jauntily out of the office he leaned against the
building with a heavy heart. How could he ever explain! He moseyed across town
clear to the Hudson River docks, walking off the slug they'd handed him. But
the docks and the steamers gave him an idea.
As usual, Bob went to Aunt Tenny.
“I want to take two years off,” said Bob,
before I return to acting, and work my way around the world.”
That struck Aunt Tenny as a sensible and courageous idea. She nodded
approval. “Fine,” she agreed, “if you'll stick to it, and won't give up.”
In a few days Bob was signed on board the S.S. Pastores as a cadet. The S.S.
Pastores carried bananas as her main cargo. She stopped at all the Central
American banana ports and loaded on the gargantuan green bunches, stowing them
down in her refrigerated hold, then wallowing through
the Gulf and on up the Atlantic Coast to New York. Besides all the drab and
dirty jobs, such as wiping in the engine room and polishing brass, painting and
helping in the galley, Bob drew some chores that were spooky enough to chill
There were the times he had to descend into the inky hold and with a
flashlight check on the temperature, and inspect the cargo to see that it was in
good condition and riding easy. Not only was it freezing cold after the warm
deck, which set his teeth to chattering, but droves of huge rats lived in the
hold dying for fresh meat.
It wasn't all as grim as that, of course. Bob hauled along books, mostly on
acting, and there were sunny, lazy days on deck when he could dream and read
the letters postmarked Tulsa, Oklahoma. Because in one of the ports of call,
there'd be that letter from Phyl. Bob had written her of the long voyage and
he wasn't sure the idea had exactly clicked. “I'm coming back to New York in
the fall,” she wrote, “back to the Academy, and I'll miss you. I don't
understand how you can keep up your dramatics on a banana boat.”
Bob began to wonder. Two years of sailing the seven seas, he'd said. Had he
seen much Life, with a capital "L?" Well -- there was the time the two chefs
chopped each other to pieces in the galley. There were those sin joints in
Panama and -- well, there were lots of things.
But still every time his tub slipped in through the Narrows and he saw the
skyline looming up, he felt lonely and exiled and he had the disturbing feeling
of a job undone. So the fourth time in port he lugged off his sea bags for
keeps and signed off. Bob's spirits were high as he sprinted up the steps to
Aunt Tenny's house.
“Another leave?” she smiled.
“Oh no,” Bob grinned. “I'm through. I've signed off."
Something wasn't right. Aunt Tenny didn't fall under his spell.
“But you said you were going to work your way around the world. That you'd be
gone two years and broaden yourself with travel. It's only been four months --
you can't quit now!”
Bob still carried it on blithely. “I don't like it any more.”
"Aunt Tenny was not amused. “That shows weakness of character,” she said.
Then Bob got sore. He could do what he pleased. One word led to another and
pretty soon Bob, for the first time in his life, found himself actually having
a terrific word fight with his favorite aunt.
“Well,” he shouted, “my mind's made up. I'm going back to the Academy.”
“Oh no, you're not,” decreed Aunt Tenny, her firm face never firmer. “At
least you're not going with my help.”
Bob slammed out the door. He was thoroughly mad, and so was the aunt who had
lost faith in him. They wouldn't be speaking now, he knew, for months. At
last he really was on his own. No more money from Aunt Tenny. None from home.
How would he pay the tuition at the Academy? What was more pressing, how
would he sleep and eat? “I'll get a job,” muttered Bob fiercely. “Anyway, the
only way to be an actor is to act.”
But that was all in the future. What Bob needed now was a place to sleep. He
headed for Beekman Place where Brother Walt had a new apartment. He pressed
the buzzer. “Hello, Walt,” said Baby Bob, a bit sheepishly, “suppose I can
bunk here until I find a job?”
When Bob Walker started out on his own in New York, even the tiny check the
United Fruit Lines owed him for his four months at sea would have come in
handy. He was broke flatter than a flounder.
His brother Walt gave him room to sleep in his Beekman Place apartment and, as
usual, staked him to cigarettes and spending money for a few days. But Walt
was just getting his foot in on his law career and there really wasn't space
for Bob in the apartment. Besides, Bob was in no mood to mooch any longer off
relatives. He had told Aunt Tenny, when he left her house in a huff, that he
could row his own canoe and it was that for him now or nothing. After all, he
was just turned nineteen and practically a man, and one of those old
independent flare-ups of his boyhood burned bright.
Like anyone out of a job, Bob bought a newspaper, parked on a bench and
riffled through the want ads. Right away one caught his eye.
'Wallace Co-operative Lodge. Inexpensive room and board for young men. Apply
Bob hotfooted it over to the 'Y'. He said he was a young man of good
character and -- yes -- he was willing to work for his bed and board. They
wrote out the address on a piece of 'Y' stationery and Bob grabbed a subway.
He rode to the end of the line. Then he took a street car and jolted on.
Finally he swung off, carrying his suitcase. He was clear up in Yonkers. He
lugged the grip down the street to the number written on the 'Y' paper. His
heart sank. It was an ancient house, miles from anywhere."
But inside it wasn't as bad as all that. The Wallace Co-op operated on the
old time-honored American colonial principle -- 'No work, no eat.' The room
was fifty cents a day and you worked for your meals. Bob hung up his clothes
and rolled up his sleeves. He was hungry.
He crawled into the hay that night weary but at peace. He was earning his own
way, even if he dreamed about a stack of dishes ten miles high tottering over
and about to drown him in a sea of dishwater.
For weeks, he rolled out of his cot in the bare room and was mother's little
helper around the Wallace Lodge. Then he chased after the Yonkers street car,
dived down in the subway and finally got to civilization. For some reason, the
first rounds he made were Manhattan restaurants. He thought everybody had to
eat and certainly he could land something there that didn't require any skill,
experience, training or social standing. He tackled the business offices of
all the eatery chains -- Horn and Hardart, the Automat people, Childs,
Schraffts, and dozens more. For some strange reason they had plenty of bus
boys, cooks' helpers, waiters."
"Bob hustled around to all the possible job hunting grounds. He filled out
enough applications to bind into a book. “We'll let you know,” they said --
but they didn't. In 1938 jobs were tough to get, even dog-meat jobs -- and
oddly enough, those were all Bob wanted. He wasn't interested in starting a
business career with a future. The only future that made sense to Bob was an
acting future. He just wanted to stay in New York until he could stick his
foot in a stage door and pry it open a crack. But his first disappointment
still seared Bob's sensitive soul. He didn't hit the Broadway pavements in his
busted condition. He didn't have the heart. There was nobody to tell him he
was good, and he needed that. Then the letter came.
It was postmarked 'Tulsa' and the address was the handwriting Bob knew so
well. “I'm coming back to school,” exulted Phyl. “We'll have a wonderful
Bob skipped his job chase that afternoon. When his Co-op labors were over, he
pulled the pants of his best suit out from under the mattress and slipped on
the snowy clean shirt he'd been hoarding.
Phyl flew into his arms at Penn Station chattering a mile a minute -- Tulsa,
the tent show, the home folks, the fun, the thrill of being back in New York.
They'd both be 'seniors' at the Academy of Dramatic Arts this year. What balls
of fire they'd be, now that both had been out in the world and rubbed off the
"Bob hailed a cab recklessly and listened, smiling, all the way up to the
Barbizon for Women. It was so wonderful just hearing Phyl's voice and he
didn't want to dam the gay cascade by saying what he had to say. “If you have
any class,” he told himself, “you'll let her down easy.” Bob sat in the
Barbizon lobby while Phyl freshened up the fixed her train face. The parade of
cuties, photo models, Macy salesgirls, show-struck kids like himself and Phyl,
tripped in and out, bright and busy. He couldn't say it here. When Phyl came
down he suggested: “Let's walk over to the park.” They found their favorite
bench, the one where the squirrels practically picked your pockets.
“I'm not going back to the Academy,” blurted Bob. “I can't afford it. I'm
broke.” And he told the whole tale. His fight with Aunt Tenny. His resolve
to go it alone. The Wallace Co-operative lodge. His fruitless job hunt. The
way he'd shied off from Broadway -- all of it.
“Then I'm not going back to school, either,” said Phyl promptly."
"She smothered Bob's protests with glowing ideas. They'd both get jobs on
Broadway. They were both good. They rated it.
"Phyl, dear,” said Bob, “you're wonderful. Will you marry me?'"
"Of course,” she smiled, as if that were already understood. “Of course I
will -- some day. But we've got to get busy. Come by for me tomorrow --
“As soon as I get through the dishes, dear,”cracked Bob happily.
"They tackled Broadway as a team and they gave it all they had. It wasn't a
case of the Walgreen Club, hanging around whiling away hours over the drug
store fountain with great ideas and gossip. Bob and Phyl couldn't afford the
luxury of Walgreens. They toured the heartless agencies all day, cooled their
shoe leather on the outer office benches and dragged home at night -- Phyl to
the Barbizon, where papa paid the bill, and Bob back up to Yonkers in the
middle of the morning, rolling out right after dawn to earn his breakfast."
"But nothing happened. Bob was just as snakebit on Broadway as he'd been on
Fifth Avenue. And even the beauty and spunk that Phylis Iseley packed didn't
crack one producer's armor. The answer was always, 'Sorry.' Then they heard
about the Cherry Lane Theater down in Greenwich Village where, if you really
loved your acting, you might get in a play. Luck broke for Bob and Phyl the
first time they called on Paul Gilmore. He ran the tiny place for just such
unknown, poor but talented kids as Bob and Phyl.
Paul Gilmore was an old and formerly famous actor but the Cherry Lane was
plenty older. In fact, it was antiquated. The stairs were rickety and stage
boards creaked. When it rained the trickle might come dripping down anywhere,
on audience or actors. Backstage, rats and mice cozily kept house and
Bob and Phyl were stars -- or at least leads -- from the start. They did
'Springtime for Henry' and 'Three Men on a Horse,' old standbys that Phyl had
done in stock back in Tulsa. But they did them well, and while fifty cents a
night is no road to riches, they were happy. For Bob it was a long haul from
the Village clear up to Yonkers, with a stop at the Barbizon, but he got used
to that. Luckily both were the type who got wrapped up in their work, so that
the expensive fun Manhattan offers didn't bother them a bit.
Love on a dime, only sometimes it was a nickel -- that was Bob and Phyl. But
when you're nineteen and she's eighteen -- what's money?
But back in Tulsa, Phyllis Iseley's family wasn't so sure. Phyl had gone back
East to finish the Academy and here she was playing in some rat trap down in
the slums. The Iseleys took a flying trip to New York and when they got a look
at the Cherry Lane they weren't impressed. Mr. Iseley was a practical show
business man. He owned a chain of theaters in Oklahoma and Missouri and it was
the Iseley Stock Company that Phyl had starred with that traveling tent show
summer. Papa Iseley also had an interest in a radio station. He thought his
daughter could get just as valuable experience and live a lot more befitting an
Iseley back home. He put in a coll for New York. There was a spot open on the
radio station for a dramatic show and it would be Phyl's baby if she wanted it.
She could produce, direct and star in her own show."
The Cherry Lane season would end soon. Phyl thought of Bob up in the Co-op,
the struggle he was having and how it ate into her heart. This would be such a
wonderful project of their own, relief from the grinding, competitive city.
But not without Bob.
“Papa, can you use a leading man, too?”
"Sure, bring him along.”
Phyl put it up to Bob that night. She didn't say anything about that
conversation. She just said the job was open for both of them and it was a
wonderful break. What could he lose? It sounded swell and wherever Phyl went
that was for Bob Walker."
Phyl went on to get things started and Bob followed West. First, though, he
went around to Aunt Tenny's and patched up things. On his record, Hortense
Odlum decided Bob had plenty of character to get by and obviously anybody who
would act the hard way he did down in the Village and play houseboy days for
his board and keep wasn't lacking in character.
Tulsa was almost like being back home in Ogden. A small, live-wire Western
city, plenty up-to-date and receptive to new ideas. The Radio Lab Phyl and Bob
worked up was one and it went over like a B-29. The Phylis Iseley Radio
Theater was the official tag. Phyl and Bob acted in all the air plays, wrote,
directed, studied and pioneered. They had the time of their lives and the
program was a success all of its fourteen weeks' run. They made $50 a week
between them, and on top of that Bob took over the job of managing a movie
house of the Iseley chain. That brought in another twenty-five. They were
practically filthy rich.
Bob camped in Tulsa at a boarding house down town from the Iseley's, but
somehow he seldom showed up there for meals. Generally Phyl would say, “Oh,
come on home!” and it was hard to refuse. Pretty soon he was accepted as one
of the family and nobody in Tulsa batted a surprised eye when they announced
their marriage. They knew it would happen someday, but even Bob and Phyl
didn't dare hope it would be so soon. He was still 19 and Phyl 18 when they
said “I do.”
That was right after the P.I. Radio Theater had completed its successful run.
By then, between Phyl and Bob, there was a nice little starting out stake of
$600. Papa Iseley came through with a gorgeous red convertible Packard for a
wedding gift and with the wheel in his hands, Bob had only one idea."
"We've got to drive to Ogden so the folks can meet you,” said Bob. So that
was their honeymoon.
On the way they stopped in Salt Lake to meet the old F Street gang, and show
lovely Phyl off to the Walker clan. And in Ogden, Horace and Zella Walker
swelled like pouter pigeons when they introduced their beautiful new daughter
Now Bob hinted, “You know, Hollywood's not far away. It would be a shame not
to go there, long as we're so close.”
“I've never seen Hollywood,” said Phyl.
“Look,” argued Bob. “I've got an uncle who has a drag at R.K.O. I'll bet we
could get tests. It would be easy with all the experience we've had. What do
“How much money have we left?” asked Phyl.
“About four hundred bucks.”
Bob had forgotten his Hollywood heartbreak long ago when he came up full of
beans and the bright boy actor of San Diego Army and Navy; but after all, he
was just a raw kid then. Now it would be different. They had influential
friends. Phyl's father had Hollywood connections. It should be a breeze to
get a break. Once they got a wedge in they always came through. There were
lots of arguments you could toss at yourself kicking the idea around in your
head, like that. The red car was just built for Hollywood Boulevard. Four
hundred bucks, sunshine, palms and careers waiting to be plucked.
“Aunt Daisy” ran a boarding house up on La Brea, just North of Sunset
Boulevard, in the heart of Hollywood. She was a sweet, motherly old lady and
perennially young in heart. All her boarders for years, it seemed, had been
youngsters like the couple who drove up, busting to show Hollywood a thing or
two. She had a room for the honeymooners and also inexhaustible advice and
encouragement. The room was cheap and the advice absolutely free.
They moved into Aunt Daisy's Hollywood haven and before they'd unpacked their
bags the hunt was on. Bob and Phyl both toted a formidable sheaf of letters of
recommendation from their New York dramatic professors and the Cherry Lane.
Bob came back bursting to Aunt Daisy's one night with the glad news. “We're
getting a test at R.K.O.” They knew his uncle there and they had smiled
Aunt Daisy came through with a celebration feed that night. She always had to
be in on all the results of Bob and Phyl's day. When they'd come dragging in
from their studio rounds, no matter how late, she'd shoo them into the kitchen
and put on the coffee pot. “Now, dears,” she'd say, when she had them sitting
at the kitchen table. “Tell Aunt Daisy all about it.” As the tale unwound,
she'd nod her head wisely and give advice.
Sometimes Bob and Phyl took her advice and sometimes they didn't. But the
results were about the same. It was the old brush, the freeze. The polite
boot, or the old square-toed kick, not subtle but convincing. At R.K.O. it was
more refined and ladylike. Bob got whizzed through his 'relative' test there
so fast that his head was dizzy. 'Ah -- that's fine -- now, speak your lines
-- fine -- perfect -- cut... A great personality, Mr. Walker -- photograph like
a million -- never heard such a recording voice -- goodbye -- goodbye -- we'll
call you -- don't you call us...
At M.G.M. the treatment was more direct. They just said "No" -- period --
and they said it right away. It is a little bewildering to Bob today, to
recall his first contact with Leo who purrs happily at his approach today (and
why not -- he's one of M.G.M.'s biggest bets!). Back then, Bob couldn't even
find Culver City in the first place. He zig-zagged the red Packard over half
Southern California before he could locate the studio he'd read about. And
when he got there at last the closest he got to an interview was the girl at
the reception desk in Casting. His name? Did he have an appointment? No?
Then, she was sorry. Goodbye. Next?
Bob and Phyl got their biggest chance at Paramount. They worked their hearts
out to get in there, pulling all the wires they knew and finally wrangling a
test from that young minded studio, then interested in building up young stars.
They knocked themselves out at Aunt Daisy's, running up her light bill
polishing off scenes from Ibsen's 'Ghosts' and 'Tovarich'. That, they figured,
with typical little theater reasoning, was the stuff to show.
It was a wrong mistake. If Bob and Phyl had been less highbrow they might
have had a chance. Frank Freeman, the Paramount boss, came into the testing
stage six times to give them the eagle eye. But all the artistic acting that
Bob and Phyl were throwing around wasn't what he had in mind for the Paramount
stock company. A couple of young, appealing kids, such as Bob and Phyl
undoubtedly were, might have won a double contract in a walk, by other tactics.
As it was, Paramount teetered on the fence for weeks about Phyl, who
interested them most, and Bob himself just missed snagging a part in 'Henry
Aldrich'. But in the end the decision was thumbs down.
Phyl finally landed -- at Republic -- in 'New Frontier,' a western with John
Wayne, and Bob found himself actually before a camera with film in it at Walter
Wanger's, chasing Helen Parrish with some other stock kids in and out of
'Winter Carnival,' one of the saddest film efforts the Lone Star Wanger ever
produced. But it was $75 a week for Bob while it lasted.
Bob wasn't too sensitive. He had no illusions about his early Hollywood art.
He was interested mainly in keeping solvent. While he made 'Winter Carnival'
he packed manuscripts to the set, read and synopsized them for a story agent,
Dave Bader, who'd given him a $35-a-week reading job. Both he and Phyl were
determined the Iseleys weren't going to play Santa Claus any more.
Bob and Phyl left Aunt Daisy's for a little dream cottage they found in Laurel
Canyon for $35 a month, with a fireplace, cozy furniture, and everything. It
was their first home really, but even at $35 it was an extravagance for the
Robert Walkers. Sometimes Phyl came through with a dinner. But mostly she was
too busy chasing a job. They dined at Thrifty Drug Stores, hamburger stands
and wherever they could. It wasn't all love-in-garret, Hollywood style,
though. They rolled along the Pacific Coast in the soft moonlight in the big
Packard, just as if the world was a bowl of peaches and cream. Then the gilt
rubbed off and the hard, cold brass of Hollywood showed underneath. “I didn't
come out here to read scripts,” grumbled Bob.
"If you think I'm going to be the cowgirl of the Golden West, you're crazy,”
rebelled Phyl. They looked at each other and the look met in the middle and
spelled 'New York'. They practically dived for their bags and started packing.
By the time they were packed and cleared out of the bungalow, Bob and Phyl had
sobered up. They remembered -- New York is expensive, acting is undependable.
They both looked at the shiny, red Packard outside. It had been their
bucker-upper all through Hollywood.
Phyl spoke first. “We'd better sell it.”
“It's our wedding gift.”
She bit her lip. “We'd better sell it.”
They got $1100 for it. That got them to New York, paid the first month's rent
on an apartment in Woodside, Long Island."
It was fall. The city wore a cocky, bouncy air. The summer visitors were gone
and the New Yorkers were back home, rarin' to go. “We can't miss,” Bob
grinned, optimistically. “Meet you on the 5:15.”
But they could miss. In fact, it was very easy -- despite their training,
despite the people they knew. They missed for four long weeks and then one
day, when they met for lunch at Walgreen's counter, Phyl couldn't eat. She
didn't feel well, she thought she'd see a doctor. Bob went along. The doctor
grinned. “How'd you like to be a father?” he asked Bob.
It was the thrill that comes once in a lifetime. But it was also a stunning
shock to Bob. Marriage was wonderful -- responsibilities? -- well, he hadn't
thought about that, certainly right then he hadn't. Frankly, he got scared.
He knew he'd have to do something about it. Suddenly the Broadway acting drama
seemed wildly impractical. After he hugged Phyl happily he went outside and
had a cigarette.
He'd never thought of radio much before. He knew there was money there, but
all he could see was the stage. Now he didn't have the patience to take the
brush-offs. He went over to Radio City now -- and he found it just as tough.
But he landed a tip: An agent named Chamberlain Brown was holding auditions
every week for undiscovered talent. In his day Chamberlain Brown had been a
big agent on Broadway; he still had the best connections and he talked them
into looking at the kids he auditioned. It was a good bet and what could a guy
lost? Bob went over that week and Phyl went along to help. They did scenes
from 'The Shining Hour' and 'Our Town'. A man came up to them afterwards.
I'm the talent representative here fore Paramount,” he said. “Gosh, I think
you kids are great! How'd you like a test?”
Bob and Phyl laughed. They told him about all the tests at the studios."
“I don't care,” said the New York man. “You kids are still great. Let me
call them long distance, tell them. If they say yes, will you make another
Sure they would. The man called. He told his story to the Hollywood powers.
He built them up big. “What's their names?” asked Hollywood."
“obert Walker and Phyllis Walker.”
The answer came back, “No, thanks!”
Bob and Phyl hadn't expected anything different. But there was a lady agent
who was in solid at NBC, Audrey Wood. She liked them, too. Through her, Bob
Walker got his first job on the air, one line in a 'Yesterday's Children' show.
Five words, and his check was $25. Five bucks a word! To Bob, with his bank
account gone and his boy, Bobby, on the way, that was sensational. He plunged into air acting seriously, forgetting the stage, forgetting
Broadway. His agent friends, Bill Liebling and Audrey Wood, told him, “Stick
around here and keep at it a few months and you'll make a nice living.” At
that point Bob was ready to settle for just that. He was only twenty-one but
he had to be practical. Life, not dreams, was his ticket now and life was a
In a few months he was busy almost every day, in morning shows like 'David
Harum,' 'John's Other Wife,' 'Stella Dallas'-- soap operas and corny
tear-jerkers all, but the biggest bonanza in radio.
But long before the big checks came in, Bob and Phyl started tightening their
belts for the Big Event. The cozy little apartment in Woodside made them feel
like spendthrifts when they checked up on what it cost to have a baby. Their
Manhattan friends had the answer, Move to the Village -- it's cheap, and it's
They found an unfurnished walkup over on West Tenth, way past the jail,
practically in the slums, for $18 a month. The kitchen was combined with the
living room. The lavatory was in the hall. There was no heat. It was hardly
the Ritz Towers.
They lugged their entire house furnishings in from Woodside -- one chair, a
love seat, a table and two lamps. Bob will never forget the day they moved in.
It was raining a gray, sodden downpour, and the Village streets looked
incomparably shabby, dirty and old. He hoisted their stock of worldly goods up
the stairs. He sat them down and when Phyl surveyed the bleak apartment she
curled up in the love seat and buried her face. Bob could have cried too, but
neither did. They were so forlorn, weak and weary, it tickled them.
Bob and his wife lived the Bohemian life only briefly. At bottom they were
nice, normal western kids and the artistic village simply wasn't their dish.
They didn't thrill to all the cults and movements and all-night parties that
made the ancient brick patch-up places rock most nights. They didn't drink;
they had no political crusades. They didn't paint or sculpt, and unless you
could call Bob's script synopses writing, they didn't do anything connected
with the arts, except long to act. Phyl sent home for 'Polly,' her parrot, and
'Tinker,' the inky black cocker, to help warm up their loft. But as Bobby's
arrival drew nearer and nearer they came to their senses and longed for the
plain suburbia which was more their speed. The deadline was mighty close when
they finally managed to move into a summer shack in Long Beach.
That nest is distinguished in Bob Walker's memory only as the first home of
his adored boy, Bobby. It was, frankly, another mistake, in the scrambling
attempt of the Walkers to find a place they could call home. They moved there
because it seemed to do nothing but rain in the Village and the leaky flat was
damp. So to get out of the damp before Baby Bobby came they went to Long
Beach. What was worse, Bob talked the landlord into an extra two months free
before the season opened, so they moved in at the height of the clammy seaside
spring. Bob picked up an old flivver for $75 and they chugged out that day
with their sticks of furniture. A couple of trips did it and together Bob and
Phyl set about unpacking.
They were only half way through -- on another day when Phyl thought she'd
better stop. It was around three o'clock in the morning when she whispered to
Bob and he jumped out of bed and grabbed his clothes. Inwardly he cursed his
dumbness for all the jouncing and jolting of their rackety-packety ride in the
flivver, for the hasty unpacking and shifting around they'd done to get
settled. Now this was it -- and there was no phone in the house -- and it was
raining cats and dogs.
He dashed through the storm down town whistling and yelling for cabs.
Luckily, the one prudent thing Bob had done was to tell the cab office he might
need one that night. Luckily, they had one there. In a matter of minutes the
Walkers were skidding down the pavement to Jamaica in as wild a ride as Bob
cares to remember. All the dreadful tales he'd heard about everything
connected with babies flashed through his mind -- and it was all his fault. He
was a nervous wreck and prepared to be more so when they closed the maternity
ward door on him at five A.M. But in ten minutes the nurse popped out,
smiling. “Congratulations,” she beamed. “You're the proud father of a fine
Bob just gawked. He'd thought he'd be pacing all the morning and maybe into
the night. With his red curls matted and his clothes soggy and wet, he looked
more like the kid who'd run away from home back in Salt Lake City, than a brand
new, 21-year old father. He muttered, 'Th-thanks,' and sank weakly down on the
bench. Only then did he realize he'd practically had the baby with Phyl,
through all that day and night of moving and getting settled. The hospital,
reached in the nick of time, was the very end of the event. From that moment
on, Bob Walker felt, as he feels today, that he's an especially privileged
parent. What's more, Bobby brought him bright new luck. He landed jobs in two
new radio shows the very next day.
But you could hardly attribute all of Robert Walker's success in Radio City to
Baby Bob. As he did better and better -- won spots on night shows, too, like
the Aldrich Family -- what was paying off was the training, natural talent, the
thorough hard work, the urge for perfection, which has always marked Robert
Walker's bid for fame. He still owns the recording machine he bought for Phyl
to wax his programs at home. They'd replay them together and find out what
he'd done on the air that wasn't as good as it could be.
Before long the Walkers were edging right along toward Easy Street. They
moved from the Long Beach shack to a furnished house in Garden City, where, a
year after Bobby, Michael boosted their family to four.
Outside of occasional snags, Bob and Phyllis Walker sailed along, as smooth as
silk. When Bob snagged his own air show, 'Maudie's Diary,' and got billed over
the air, when he found himself dragging down $300 and $400 a week and getting
his name in radio, he began to believe -- against his inner voice -- that this
was the life. He bought a swell Buick convertible to race back and forth to
town in. He moved the family to wealthy Sands Point, Long Island, to a dreamy
Colonial house, set in four green acres. He joined the exclusive Sands Point
Club, played tennis with Phyl and his friends while the boys splashed in the
salt-water pool. They took in the Forest Hills tennis matches, drove around
Long Island in the summer, took long walks by the sea and thrilled to watch
their boys get a healthy outdoors start. They even got a nurse for the kids,
to take the load off Phyl.
Because Bob was the working breadwinner, ever since they came back from
Hollywood and found Broadway closed clam-right to their joint assaults, Bob
achieved the prosperity on his own, while Phyl took care of the home and
family. That's the way both of them wanted it, although deep inside the old
frustrated spark had never been doused in either Bob or the beautiful girl who
was to become Hollywood's Jennifer Jones. She still went over his radio
scripts with him, criticized his shows, and for fun sometimes when the nights
were rainy and the kids put to bed; they'd build a fire and go through one of
the old plays they did together at the Academy and the Cherry Lane. Hollywood
-- that seldom came up -- the memories weren't too pleasant -- but Broadway
still was an open crush with both Walkers and they admitted it. In fact, their
greatest pleasures were the trips in town to see a play. Before the nurse came
they worked out an alternating deal. One night Phyl stayed home with the kids
while Bob drove in town to catch a hit performance. The next time he fed the
boys and put them to bed while Phyl had a night at the theater. With the babies
under a nurse's care, they made the trip together. And when they did, Bob
noticed the rapt look that Phyl wore for days. She was born to act herself, as
he was, he knew, and he wasn't surprised when, with the household running
smoothly at last, she started driving in town with him days, just, as she said,
”to look around.”
"Nor was any one in New York more tickled than Bob when Phyl met him one
afternoon at their favorite spot on 51st Street, bubbling about a chance to
test for the Chicago company of 'Claudia'. Dorothy Maguire had made that one a
big Broadway hit. The words 'Chicago Company' gave Bob's heart a twinge but
they were two of a kind and he caught the thrill of the break. It was second
nature. “Gosh, Phyl, that's great,” grinned Bob. “Chicago -- there's lots of
radio there. Maybe I could get a spot and come along.”
They had a drink to celebrate.
But Phyl didn't get the part. Another Phyllis, Phyllis Thaxter, was author
Rose Franken's choice. For both Phyls, however, that test was a one-way ticket
to Hollywood -- only Phyl Walker got there first. Selznick's alert New York
scout saw her and phoned his boss. At that time Twentieth Century was combing
the world for the one and only Bernadette for the great religious picture, 'The
Song of Bernadette.' So when Phyl Walker lost, she won. But could she fly out
to Hollywood and make a test for 'Bernadette? “Wait until I call my husband,”
It was hard to tell it over the phone. But she babbled something and then
raced out to Sands Point. Bob and Phyl stayed up most of the night making
excited plans. Phyl would go to Hollywood, of course. What a wonderful
unbelievable chance! And Bob -- he'd keep on with 'Maudie's Diary' and watch
over the nurse and Bobby and Mike in Sands Point. It was all a long,
impossible gamble, but what a swell kick to be thinking and hoping.
So Phyllis Walker flew off to Hollywood, saying, “I'll call you the minute I
know!” And it seemed like Bob would have no nails left at all by the time he
heard the operator say 'Los Angeles calling.' Still, he really didn't believe
it could happen to Phyl -- not -- boom! -- like that. Maybe she'd get a stock
He was home with the kids when the call came. It was short and sweet. “Bob,” came the familiar voice, high with excitement, “I've got it. I'm 'Bernadette'.”
Bob had a hard time keeping his own voice level. All the old plugging,
undiscovered actor came back to him and he was as tickled as if it had happened
him. “I'll send out the kids with the nurse,” he said, “so you won't be
lonely. And maybe later I can come out myself.”
“Hurry,” said Phyl.
It was Bob who broke up the home at Sands Point, stored the furniture, packed
off the boys and the nurse, made the inventories, cleaned up the odds and ends.
He knew he couldn't stick in New York with his family 3,000 miles away.
Soft radio spot or not, he had to go West, too. He talked it over with his
agent, Marcella Knapp. “There's plenty of big time radio in Hollywood.” She
wasn't saying anything Bob didn't already know. The glamor end of radio had
practically moved to the Coast. “You won't have any trouble getting set in
radio, but look,” urged Miss Knapp, “Hollywood means one big thing -- pictures.
Why don't you take some screen tests while you're there?”
Bob laughed. “You should see my report cards,” he scoffed. “Ask Paramount,
RKO, M-G-M -- any of 'em. It's a long and sad story. For radio -- yes, but
for pictures -- well, no studio has ever chanted, We want Walker!”
Marcella Knapp planted one on the button. Of course, they were crazy about
Phyl from the start. That's why she's doing 'Bernadette' today, I suppose.
She had him. Bob grinned. “Okay,” he said, “if they start waving screen
tests in my face I won't run.”
He had told Phyl he'd be showing up on a certain date in December, when his
radio contract left him off the hook. Happily for Bob that event came around
two weeks early. He rushed home and packed his bags and grabbed a train. He
was aboard before he realized he hadn't even called Phyl. He started to write
a telegram and then tore it up. A dad doesn't get a chance to surprise his
wife and kids often.
Bob rolled up in a cab to the apartment house in Beverly Hills and rang the
doorbell. Phyl opened the door -- and almost fainted with surprise into his
That was almost Christmas. They scurried around town and came up with a
house, in time to give the boys a real Christmas, with tree and toys and
everything like they had back East. They didn't know it then, but that was to
be the last Christmas they would spend together as Bob and Phyl Walker. The day
after Bob came to town he was home when the telephone rang and he answered it.
“Hello, is Miss Jones there?”
“Who?” asked Bob.
Bob yelled, “Phyl, do you know any Jennifer Jones around here?”
She laughed. “Sure I do -- that's me.”
Maybe it's best to leave the private life of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Walker on the
happy note of that last Christmas of 1942. Not too long afterwards, when Bob
was making 'See Here, Private Hargrove' and Jennifer was deep in 'The Song of
Bernadette', they decided to part. No one knows why and few even guess.
Neither Bob nor his Phyl has ever explained, nor do they intend to. It is none
of our business, either. Their family still flourishes, normally, happily,
with Bobby and Mike growing into healthy, husky boys dividing their time between
their adoring parents. And one thing is certain -- it wasn't unbalanced
success -- the trite but often too true story behind movietown breakups.
Because Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker -- going their separate ways -- became
two of the brightest young stars in the Hollywood heavens. Bob's Phyl won her
Academy Oscar with her first camera part. Her Hollywood career is screen
history that bear no repeating here. Neither does Bob's.
He took that test almost the minute he got in town when M-G-M wanted a young
sailor type for 'Bataan'. He won his contract in a few minutes. ‘Private
Hargrove’ made him a star in his second picture. 'Since You Went Away,' 'The
Clock,' 'Her Highness and the Bellboy,' 'Sailor Takes A Wife' -- for Bob they
have marked a steady progression toward the highest shelf of Hollywood
achievement. He's played in nothing but hits, he's done nothing but stand-out
acting jobs. And along the way he has stubbornly, gradually won a victory over
the big bugaboo he had to lick for his personal satisfaction -- the tenacious
type-casting yen of Hollywood to keep him forever a bashful boy, a perpetual
clumsy Private Hargrove.
Only the other day Bob, now twenty-seven, reached movie maturity at last when
M-G-M gave in and handed him his first thoroughly grown-up job, one that offers
the greatest acting challenge of his life. They picked him to play the late,
great popular composer, Jerome Kern, in 'Till The Clouds Roll By', Hollywood's
musical saga of that melody master's life.
Along with that plum, they handed Bob a new three-year contract which matches
his star-standing with what makes the world go 'round -- money! So
immediately, Bob started looking around Hollywood for an apartment house to buy.
Because the kid from Salt Lake is still a Walker and like a good Mormon, he's
always thinking of his family. Two years from now his dad, Horace Walker, will
retire from his job in Ogden and Bob thinks it would be swell to have the folks
down in Hollywood. He knows they'd go crazy just sitting around, so he'd like
to hand them the apartment house to manage. And that's a dream that looks like
it might soon come true.
He picked another dream out of the sky last year, when he traveled back to New
York for a personal appearance at the Capital Theater on Broadway. Years ago,
when he first hit New York, Bob and his brother, Walt, used to sit in the
Capital on Sunday afternoons and 'way back then he'd look up at the blazing
marquee and muse, 'Wonder how I'd look up there?' He looked swell this year in
mile-high letters, on all four sides. "ROBERT WALKER...IN PERSON" and he knows
it's corny but he couldn't help hauling out of bed at dawn and hiking over from
the Waldorf to watch the workmen hang the letters up as he muttered, “I never
thought it would happen to me!”
There's still his dream of those same words announcing a starring play on
Broadway, and that's one he'll never give up until it's a reality. It blends
inseparably with one great ambition in life -- an ambition he's clung to since
the San Diego Army and Navy Academy days -- to be a fine, polished actor.
Sometimes it's hard for Hollywood to understand that side of the quiet guy who
loses his personal self in the major art of his life.
Bob made his most poignant film scene so far in 'Since You Went Away' -- the
farewell love scene which he played tenderly with Jennifer Jones, the girl who
only weeks before had been his wife, Phyl Walker. Sensing a story, a reporter
collared him on the Selznick set.
“How can you stand,” he asked, “to make love like that to your wife when
you've just separated?” He drew a puzzled stare from Bob Walker.
“Why,” he said at last. “That's got nothing to do with me and Phyl. You see,
But the world which sees his pictures takes a more personal view of Robert
Walker, as the world always does when a screen actor becomes a star. Acting
craft or not, what comes across when Bob Walker faces a camera is something
people like, and if personality, as the sages say, is the sum of all experience
-- then Bob Walker has been on the right track to success since his runaway
Salt Lake City days. Because wherever you go, you don't find any complaints.
The other day, before Bob was set for his dream part in 'Till The Clouds Roll
By,' and before the composer's tragic passing, Jerome Kern sat in the office of
Arthur Freed, the M-G-M producer. Kern's consent was necessary before Freed
could cast the starring part.
“There's only one actor I can see doing it, Jerry,” stated Freed. ‘And that's
The composer smiled and reached for the telephone. “Just a minute,” he said.
”Let me call my wife.” He dialed the number.
”Hello, Eva? Listen -- I'm in Arthur Freed's office and he suggests Robert
Walker to play me in the picture. What do you think?”
Jerome Kern grinned and tilted the receiver so Arthur Freed could hear.
”Well, Jerry,” said Mrs. Kern, “you send Robert Walker home to me and you can
stay there and play the part yourself!”
Copyright Modern Screen