"A Love Story That Turned Into A Success Story" by Constance Palmer - "Movies" Magazine - November 1943
story of Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker is a love story, sweet with
trust, and mellow now with success and accomplishment. It is a story of
working and planning together in discouraging hours they hardly knew were dark
because their love was so bright and that glowing future they dreamed of was
always such a little way ahead."
the glowing future is the full present. Both are stars: Jennifer at 20th
Century-Fox in the recently completed 'Song of Bernadette,' and Bob at MGM in
'See Here, Private Hargrove'. It's the first time two young married people
have reached stardom at the same time at two major studios. Now, besides a
part in 'Madame Curie', with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, and his shining
success in 'Bataan,' Bob is cast in a film with Jennifer -- the David O.
Selznick picture from the book, 'Since You Went Away.'"
and Jennifer's paths crossed first at the American Academy of Dramatic
Arts in New York, back in 1937. Both were young and intensely earnest about
acting. Life was wonderful -- so full of enthralling plays to act in, rich
lines to rehearse, plans for tomorrow and tomorrow to talk about together. And
what was more natural than that they should fall in love? It was just like any
boy and girl story anywhere, anytime, except that marriage for them meant a
partnership in careers. Bob's plans were Jennifer's plans, and hers were his."
-- born Phylis Isley -- is the daughter of theatrical parents, owners
of the Isley Stock Company which was touring the Southwest as a tent show when
she was born. Her baby days were spent backstage and she learned to talk from
listening daily to the sonorous speeches of 'East Lynne' and 'The Old
came motion pictures, and mama and papa with a canny eye to the future
abandoned the stock company and bought a movie theatre. Now they own a
prosperous chain in Texas."
shortly before switching occupations, mama and papa made another wise
move. They decided that backstage was not the right playground for their baby."
"So they put her in the pre-school class of the Ursuline Academy in Dallas."
love of the drama started with the sweet portrayal of a stick of
peppermint candy! -- and grew steadily through her school years. By the time
she entered the Monte Cassino School, which is conducted by the Benedictine
Sisters in Tulsa, she was serious enough about it to specialize by taking three
years of drama and speech training, and acting in such supernally-named plays
as 'Mrs. Moonlight' and 'Sun-Up.'"
now the family began lengthy discussions as to what Jennifer was going
to do with her life, but everyone concerned might just as well have saved time
and breath, because it was as plain as the nose on You-Know-Who's face which
way she was heading."
went right on heading that way by playing ingenues with the Ted North
Players and the Harley Sadler Players, both of them well-known Middle West
theatrical groups. In between these engagements she went to Northwestern
University, near Chicago, attracted by the speech courses."
this preparation was leading her closer and closer to New York, which, as
a matter of fact, had been her goal all the time. Though Papa Isley thought she
ought to try Hollywood, Jennifer was convinced she wasn't ready yet. And with
a father-daughter relationship like theirs, you know very welll who won. Just
as a matter of record, Mr. Isley had wanted her, after she had graduated from
Monte Cassino, to study to be a lawyer -- and probably had some basis for his
contention, because she persuaded him right out of that idea in almost no time!"
now she had arrived at the place she had been heading for all along: the
American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she could plunge into comprehensive
study with some of the best teachers in the country to guide her."
she met a nice, rather shy, quiet young man with a great capacity for
earnestness and worry. His name was Robert Walker and he too had come there to
learn to act."
that Bob's interest in the drama had been aroused in -- of all places
-- the Army and Navy Military Academy in San Diego. At San Diego he had
enrolled in the dramatics class because he thought it would be an easy course.
But Fate, with a neat fillip, played a wiley trick on him: he became so
interested in acting that he decided then and there to make it his profession."
a fellow is really interested enough to study hard he is pretty apt to
make good. Bob Walker was no exception to this rule and before lone was
rewarded with scholarships at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, that incubator
of talent and opportunity. But Fate wasn't finished with him. He was just
about to take up the scholarships when an aun offered to finance a course at
the American Academy. This was something he hadn't dared hope for, and he
grasped the new opportunity with grateful joy."
"And that's how boy met girl in New York."
the course of true love didn't run on greased wheels right away. They
didn't make a mad dash for the altar with impulsive vows of eternal love and
devotion. They thought it over pretty carefully first."
one thing, Bob went to sea on a freighter in the summer after his first
year at the Academy. It was precisely the romantic and adventurous thing he
had always wanted to do -- he'd been reading Melville, Conrad, and Jack London.
He shipped as a hand, with high hopes of derring-do and the great wide world
two terrific storms and seeing a man washed overboard changed some of his
romantic notions about the sea, and when the ship docked again in New York, Bob
came ashore with every intention of staying there."
he felt he was ready to try for a career on his merits. To anyone less
young and ambitious the months that followed would have left an embittered and
defeated soul. He tramped Broadway; he haunted theatrical agencies; he lived
in a cooperative lodge, where everyone worked for the beds they slept in. He
borrowed ten dollars a week from his brother and used it to buy what little
food he ate and what few clothes he could manage to get."
this time, not one door opened for him, not one opportunity was offered
to prove the faith he had in himself."
there was a person who never lost faith: Jennifer was his constant
encouragement, his source of hope and inspiration. He says now that without
her pat-on-the-back, chins-up attitude, he couldn't have gone on."
time she had taken up the search for work, too. Eventually they
landed an engagement together at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York's
Greenwich Village, for the munificent payment of fifty cents a performance."
must be something to the old cliche about things being darkest just
before the dawn, because just when they both felt they couldn't last any longer
the radio station in Jennifer's home town of Tulsa wired her an offer of a job
as leading lady in a series of dramatic sketches. And, they asked, did she
know a leading man?"
saved and scrimped and pinched every penny for fourteen weeks to collect
enough money for his fare to Tulsa."
with the security of the radio contract to back them up and with all
parents concerned contributing not only their whole-hearted approval but also
their beaming presence, they were married on January 2, 1939, in Christ King
be nice to say that everything went smoothly from then on. But it
didn't. On some ill-timed advice they came to Hollywood, all set to storm the
portals. But the portals wouldn't storm. Jennifer and Bob were just two
unknown kids who had nothing to offer that the picture busines wanted to buy."
took four discouraging months of this. Then they sold the car their
parents had given them for a wedding present and used the money for fare back
to New York, where they rented a sixteen-dollar-a-month room in the tenement
district on the fringes of Greenwich Village. Jennifer did her best to fix it
up into a semblance of home. She painted the rickety furniture in gay colors,
and sewed curtains and a cover for the couch out of whatever cheap material she
could manage to buy. They had a cocker spaniel and a parrot to come home to
after they made the rounds of agencies, theatres and radio stations."
about the worst time that such a thing could happen, according to
every good and substantial rule of economics, they discovered something they
both wanted with all their hearts."
"Jennifer was going to have a baby."
were wildly happy. Both jobless, both broke, they welcomed this
catastrophe with the complete joy and abandon of youth, trust and love.
Everything would turn out all right."
it did. Of course. Nice young people like that are always taken care of.
Bob got a job reading scripts for a radio station and Jennifer helped him by
reading, too, at home. Not much money, but enough."
money, as a matter of fact, to leave the tenement-room and take a
little cottage on Long Island. It wasn't much, but it did have a bathroom of
its own and not one down the hall open to the population in general, and the
dishwashing facilities were entirely separate from those used for bathing. In
other words, after the place they'd been living in, it looked just like Heaven."
packed up the curtains and couch-cover, and the parrot and the dog and
set forth in a driving rainstorm for their new home."
what with the packing and excitement of moving, the blessed event (who
subsequently turned out to be young Robert, Junior) chose that rather confusing
time to make his entry into this vale of ups and downs."
Senior, says that as long as he lives he never will forget that wild ride
to the hospital. Would they make it? Would the baby have to say in later
years that he first saw the light of day from the windows of a taxi-cab? Well,
they did make it -- with not a minute to spare."
Robert brought luck with him, because before too long his proud father
was promoted from the reading department at the broadcasting station to the
portrayal of juveniles in soap operas. 'Yesterday's Children' was the first,
and others followed."
here they decided that if they were going to have a family, now was the
time. Since Jennifer had had to give up her career temporarily to take care of
one baby, she might just as well take care of another. So, in the course of
time and Nature, young Michael was born."
as she could afterward, Jennifer got back into the dogged round of
job-hunting -- and with more success. At one of Chamberlain Brown's Sunday
auditions, she gave readings which secured an engagement in summer theatres,
where she played in 'Our Town' and 'The Shining Hour.' Later, in the Little
Theatre on 48th Street, she did 'The Family Upstairs' and at the Cherry Lane,
'Springtime for Henry'. She caught the interest of an important agent, Robert
Kennedy, who helped out first by getting Bob a job on the radio program, 'Myrt
and Marge,' at a good salary."
timidly suggested to Kennedy that she try out for the Chicago company
of 'Claudia', which Dorothy McGuire was heading in New York. He disagreed;
suggested she try for the part in the picture which was to be made from it. So
Jennifer said all right, and they went to the office of David O. Selznick, who
had bought 'Claudia.'"
a big moment for her -- so big that she muffed her chance. She knew
the reading was bad, keyed too high, too tense. (Dorothy McGuire kept the part
in the film which she'd been playing for two years on the stage.)"
the astute Katherine Brown, Selznick's New York representative, saw a
quality in the frightened, overwrought girl that fitted into plans she knew Mr.
Selznick had made. So she told Jennifer to come back next day."
rest of the story is too well known to repeat at length here. Eventually
began one of the longest build-ups to, and rehearsals for, stardom that the
picture business has ever known."
there were many delays that tried Jennifer's soul. After the first bright
flush of excitement, she began marking time on her Selznick contract. A whole
year went by. She went on with dancing lessons; went back to the Academy to
study diction with D'Angelo and acting with Sanford Meisner. She had been out
to the Coast and back without being cast in one picture! She was unhappy,
bewildered and doubtful about how the producer was going to handle her career,
and felt forgotten and lost. She asked Selznick to release her from the
Mr. Selznick counseled patience and let drop a hint that he had great
things waiting for her."
then, with a suddenness that ended all boredom and bewilderment, came the
wire to rush to the Coast for tests for 'The Song of Bernadette'. Off she
went, happy and excited, with the two children. She took an apartment and
started a barrage of wires, letters and phone calls to Bob, urging him to join
he couldn't come on those terms. Being merely the husband of a busy,
absorbed and rising star was not to his taste. When he came to the Coast, he
must come with a definite standing and place of his own."
reflection of all this glittering success, Bob was plugging along at
his radio jobs. They didn't seem so big and important now, but he kept right
along at them, between times making the same old round of the agencies and
theatres. He says with the most complete modesty and candor that not one
person showed the faintest glimmer of interest in him."
suddenly it happened: an MGM scout saw him and snapped him up for a big
role in 'Bataan'. Robert Taylor, Thomas Mitchell, George Murphy, Lloyd Nolan,
Lee Bowman and Desi Arnaz were in it too, so he was up against some pretty
say a word about it to Jennifer and when she got no answer to her
long distance calls over a period of days, she didn't know what to think. She
took the children to the park nearby and wandered sadly around, trying to think
it out. She walked slowly back home, her steps lagging, her mind lost in the
problem she was trying to solve."
cries of the children aroused her -- and she looked up into Bob's smiling
"They live now in a charming, rather small Colonial house in Bel-Air."
never be living in such a swell neighborhood," says Bob, with a grin, "if
we hadn't arrived just when gasoline rationing started. Those places so far
from buslines and streetcars are a headache to the owners and we got the house
so cheap we couldn't resist."
have both been working almost continuously since they came. As I
mentioned earlier, she has just finished 'Bernadette' and he 'Bataan' and
'Madame Curie', opposite Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Now he is starring
in 'See Here, Private Hargrove.'"
just been announced that after Bob finishes 'Private Hargrove,' he is
to go into 'Since You Went Away', which Selznick is producing and, since
Jennifer is also in the all-star cast, this clears up a question of policy that
has puzzled both studios every since she was cast as 'Bernadette.'"
of the spiritual quality of the little peasant girl in the picture, it
was first thought best to tone down the married-woman-with-two-children angle
in her private life. But with Bob's quick success and because of the big
future his studio has waiting for him, it was finally decided to capitalize on
the very fact they have been trying to keep quiet. Casting them together is a
smart piece of showmanship."
ease up what must be a rather hectic situation at home, too, for as
Jennifer's working, usually I'm not -- and vice versa. And then sometimes
we're both working at once and we come home so tired we can hardly think, much
less talk to each other. Being in the same picture and at the same studio will
make it easier and pleasanter!"
they spend as much time as they have free with their children, who
are now three and two years old, respectively, and just as lively and noisy and
healthy as young commandos of that age would be."
suppose I'd be considered an A-Number-One mother," Jennifer said
doubtfully, "because I have to be away from home so much. There's the problem
of getting help, too, that everyone's having. We get the very best we can and
pay them well, but they don't stay very long. Just when I think we're all set
and I begin breathing easier, off they go to a defense plant." She laughed a
little ruefully. "But we manage." Of course she manages. She's that kind of
and Bob don't go to nightclubs much, because they like staying at
home. Their finances are handled by a business manager who gives each a modest
allowance. They borrow from each other -- and don't pay back! Both are
omniverous readers and Bob, in his shy, worried way admits he likes to write
but thinks he hasn't done anything good enough to send to a publisher. They
both play tennis and golf and enjoy swimming. She plays the piano a little and
has stacks of recordings which are her delight."
and Jennifer are as sane, handsome, healthy and earnest a pair of young
people as one could have the good fortune to meet. They have worked hard and
untiringly to gain the places they fill now, and are a credit to themselves and
the movie business."
"May their love story always be a success story!"
Copyright "Movies" Magazine