"I Know Myself Now (Bob Walker)" as told to Marva Peterson.
Movieland - January 1950
a few weeks' time, Robert Walker will be going back to the Menninger Clinic
in Topeka, Kansas, for a complete check-up.
You will probably read about it in your local newspaper.
for Pete's sake, don't think that Bob has blown his top or suffered
another nervous breakdown. No such thing!
this moment, Bob Walker is probably the best-adjusted actor in Hollywood and
certainly one of the most changed-for-the-better personalities the screen
colony has ever known.
year or so ago, for example, when you asked Bob for an interview, he'd
usually shake his head and mumble a disgruntled, "Sorry, no dice." He was a
mixed-up neurotic, soul-torn and unhappy, miserable and disillusioned.
he's a pleasant, cordial, obliging young man. When I called him some
days ago and asked for an interview, he very politely explained that his
picture schedule kept him busy all day. "But why don't you drive out to my
house some evening," he suggested, "and I do mean out."
nights later, not very far from where Sunset Boulevard meets the Pacific
Ocean, I went searching for Bob's comfortable, low-slung ranch house.
my car's headlights illuminated the digits stencilled on a rural mail box,
three lean figures leaped out from the curb. They were Bob and his two sons,
Bobby and Mike Walker. Dressed in blue jeans and plaid shirts, they looked
like three stringbeans which fittingly enough happens to be the name of their
home: La Casa de las Ejotes (stringbeans in Spanish).
think," I said jokingly, "I could have found the place without your
grinned. "This is no searching party. The boys and I hang out here
practically every night. We like to sit on the curb and watch the cars whiz
towards the beach." His sons smiled politely. "This is Bobby," he introduced,
"stringbeans" were already climbing onto the tailgate of my Jeep station
wagon. I eased the car into gear, and we putt-putted up the lane. "Gee, Dad!"
Mike blurted out, "this is the kind of car we need for our camping trips. If
we took the back seats out we could even sleep in it."
shook his head. "How do you like these guys?" he asked. "I make
working partners. I pay them fifty cents an hour, and right away they want to
become big shots and start buying cars." He chuckled; it was a chuckle of
parental pride and camaraderie.
Walker and his two boys enjoy an ideal father-son relationship. Bob takes
the boys to a drive-in movie about once a week; he referees their boxing
matches every Saturday morning, and they in turn clip the shrubs, do some of
the gardening, and it's quite apparent from their conversation that they all
love and respect each other.
rest of the Walker household consists of Pedro, the Filipino cook who
strives mightily but vainly to put weight on his three charges, and Buck, who
has the official title of nurse, but is actually more of a family friend.
was hired as a concession to the boys' mother. Jennifer Jones wanted the
peace of mind which comes from knowing that an experienced nurse is living in
the house. At first, Bob disapproved of the idea, being reluctant to have a
woman in his ranch-like scheme of living. Besides, he felt that the boys were
too old for a nurse, but finally he gave in.
glad I did," he admits. "Buck is just what we needed. Her presence
us from getting too raucous or rough. She keeps a check on our table manners.
Besides if it weren't for her, I'd have to do all the darning and mending."
Bob Walker has come the full circle, all right. From a neurotic recluse
who once felt that the whole world was against him, he has returned to a normal
way of life; and it wouldn't at all surprise me, if one of these days he turned
up with another Mrs. Walker.
As a matter of fact, I asked him what sort of social life he was leading.
he said, "I see all my friends like Charlie Trezona, who's also my
business manager, and Pete Lawford and the Gene Kellys, but my social life for
the most part is centered around the boys."
"Don't you go to parties or have dates?" I persisted.
to think of it," Bob said, "I've only worn a tie about five or six
since I got back to Hollywood in May. I had dinner at Dore Schary's one
evening. I wore a tie then. Another night, Pete and I went to a concert at
the Hollywood Bowl with director Norman Taurog.
first party since coming back from Topeka was at Pete's. It was an
informal, casual kind of evening. Most of the guests were non-movie people.
They dropped in during the evening, played games, danced to records and joked a
lot. I thought they were an attractive bunch and a week later I asked one of
the girls I met there for a date. I took her to see 'New Moon' at the Greek
Theatre. I wore a tie that night, too."
about a month ago I decided to pay back my social obligations. Pedro and
I put our heads together and planned a party. The boys were in Yosemite with
their grandparents and I felt the moment was right for a good, gay time. It
worked out that way, too."
asked about thirty people and thirty-eight came. A lot of the guests had
never been to my home and I felt pretty pleased about showing it off. Pedro
served a magnificent midnight supper. I had the foresight to invite talented
guys like Keenan Wynn, Andre Previn and Gene Kelly who can't help but improve a
it lasted until 5:00 A.M.; only two glasses were broken and absolutely
no food was left by anyone."
Bob's social life, I switched the conversational gears to his
well-publicized crack-up. "If you don't want to talk about the Menninger
Clinic," I said, "and your treatment and subsequent recovery, that's all right
with me, except that an awful lot of stuff has been written about it. And I'd
like to hear exactly what happened from your own lips."
took a deep breath. "I don't mind talking about it at all. Matter of
fact, I think the whole subject of psychiatry is pretty darned exciting."
don't mind telling you that most of my difficulties were treated by
psychoanalysis, and as a result, I'm a happier individual and a better father
to Mike and Bobby."
then started to explain that he was trying to give his sons a sense of
security. He was doing this first by establishing a daily routine. They go to
school at a set time. He comes home at a regular hour. Saturdays and Sundays
are excitingly planned, but in general, things are calm and repetitious.
is also giving the boys a definite, undeniable assurance of his love. "Not
that you have to tell children you love them," he pointed out, "just do it, and
they'll know. It's funny but I've found out that you can scold kids, punish
them, disagree with them and be darned strict and they won't mind so long as
your love's behind the severity."
of this type of basic security was lacking in Bob Walker's childhood.
Whether it was an unconscious omission on the part of his family or whether it
was due to his always being a "skinny boy with glasses" doesn't matter. The
end result was the same.
grew up feeling alone, acting shy, and thinking that he had to prove his
worth to himself and the rest of the world.
feeling of inferiority is common to a lot of people. In its most innocent
form, it's hoping you won't have to take the lead. It's wanting to be noticed
and yet avoiding attention. Finally, it manifests itself in shirking
responsibility and then hating yourself and everyone else for your inadequacy.
Bob's case he grew up with more than his share of self-doubt. Through
school at the San Diego Army and Navy Academy and then at the American Academy
of Dramatic Arts, he knew he was no great shakes. He was shy, uncertain of
himself but he kept trying. Finally he met and married a shy little actress by
the name of Phyllis Isley. They had two sons and Bob became a popular radio
actor, also earning a fair measure of self-confidence.
gain was lost, however, when Phyllis came to Hollywood, took the
professional name of Jennifer Jones and won an Academy Award in her first
picture. Although Bob followed her west with a movie contract of his own,
things were never quite the same. Ultimately, the secure pattern of their
admits, with remarkable detachment, that if he had had proper help at any
given point in his life, he might not have arrived at the extreme state of
depression which eventually overcame him. As it was, he kept things to
himself. He pretended he didn't care. And it was a long time before he
realized that he needed psychiatric care.
of the unfortunate shortages in this country," says Bob, "is in trained
psychiatrists. There are only about 1400 in the whole United States. Los
Angeles, a city of four million, has less than one hundred qualified men. This
means that treatments are expensive. But even if you can afford medical help,
you don't always know when you need it. And this is where public education is
course I'm not a trained psychiatrist and know only from my own experience,
but I think the next best thing to seeing a practicing psychiatrist when you're
troubled is talking to a friend or a family doctor or a minister -- someone who
will listen to your expression of doubts, and your feeling of inadequacy,
without censure. To have this confidant assure you that other people in the
world, a lot of them, are unhappy, frightened and alone is the most comforting
thing you can hear."
had plenty of friends but none of them could offer the kind of help he
needed. Instead, he did what is quite common in such cases. He turned to
alcohol. His friends watched and waited and hoped he'd snap out of it. But he
didn't. Except for the time he spent with his sons, he was miserable and
combative. He fought with the studio; he fought with the law. Every day was
just a little worse than the last.
a friend did step in. Dore Schary, production head of MGM, called Bob
to his office and laid it straight on the line. He said Bob could throw away
his life, embarrass his employers, jeopardize his sons' future, and continue on
at the reckless pace he was going -- or he could take a trip to a mental
hospital Dore Schary recommended was the Menninger Psychiatric Hospital in
Topeka, Kansas. This clinic is a well-established institution with a long
record of cures but it is a small, exclusive hospital. It only cares for about
65 resident patients and about 200 non-resident. Consequently, there is a long
waiting list; the course of treatments is expensive.
was fortunate to get in," recalls Bob. "But once in the hospital I
against help of any sort. It took one final highly publicized fight to make me
so ashamed that I wanted to meet the doctors half way."
his year was up Bob felt ready to return to work. "I'm not a new
person, as some people seem to expect me to be," explained Bob. "I know myself
now. I no longer hide my anxieties. I bring them out in the open and live
with them. And what a relief it is, too."
going back to the clinic in a few months, however, for further analysis
and a sort of renewed emphasis on my new-found confidence."
I'm doing my best to be a good father, a sound actor, and a
Walker's best is good to a superlative degree. And that's because he knows