Jennifer Jones and Bob Walker are the original Mr. and Mrs. Cinderella
This was one of those Sunday afternoons when all you wanted from life was a place to lie down. But I'd made a date to go see a couple of actors in the wilds of Hollywood. The actors were the original Cinderella kids - Jennifer Jones and Bob Walker. And I was sure the Walkers wouldn't be happy either about having their Sunday broken up by an interviewer.
That's how things stood when I swung open the gate to the Walkers' rambly house. The first thing I did was catch my foot in a kid's wagon and slide halfway down the path. I heard two wild guffaws coming from an upstairs window. Two towheads were leaning out, laughing fit to die.
A long, tall drink of water answered the door. "I'm Bob Walker. Won't you come in? Phyl's upstairs putting the kids to bed."
"I thought your wife was Jennifer Jones."
This began to sound like a Burns and Allen script, so we sat down. The room looked as if a family really lived there. Bob started talking about the kids - Bobby, three, Michael, two. When he smiled, I stopped worrying about ruining his Sunday. He was enjoying himself.
Then his wife came down the stairs. She was wearing a sweater and skirt and her black hair tumbled down to her shoulders. When she smiled you could see why they're going to be crazy about her in "Song of Bernadette."
I ended up, of course, having a wonderful Sunday afternoon. Get this picture, a young married couple, very much in love with each other and their two children. They're neither famous nor rich. But that doesn't make much difference. Then somebody starts waving a magic wand.
First step: Twentieth Century-Fox needs a star for "Song of Bernadette". That's Mrs. Walker. Overnight - boom! Mr. Walker stays behind in New York. But ten days after his wife's been signed, M-G-M signs him. He's a sensation in "Bataan". He's put in "Madame Curie." He becomes the star of "See Here, Private Hargrove."
So now they're the miracle children of Hollywood. Bob is 25, Jennifer is 24. And this is their story as they tell it. Bob starts off:
"I ran into Phyl - Phylis Isley is her real name - six years ago at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She came by way of Oklahoma. I did it from California. We went to work together at a small theater in Greenwich Village. At the end of the first performance, because the manager didn't have the change, he handed me our pay - a buck, to split two ways.
"After that get-rich-quick routine, I went out with Phyl to work on her hometown radio station. What it all led up to was our getting married. Some relatives gave us a car for a wedding present. We went to Hollywood."
"Boy, this town was the deadest place in the world for us then. Phyl got a couple of bits in Westerns and serials. I had two lines in a picture called "Winter Carnival."
"But, honey," Jennifer breaks in, "you were the only laugh in the picture."
"Yeah, some laugh. But the biggest one came later - when Paramount tested the pair of us."
Mrs. Walker giggled: " You should have seen that. I was eighteen, Bob was nineteen. And they had me playing Bob's mother! Really discouraged, I went tragic on him that night. Didn't I, dear?" she asked.
"She did. But you'd be surprised at how good she looks in tears. That test really finished us. We were stony broke but we still had the car. So we sold it for railroad tickets back to New York."
"Times were very tough there for a while. And the fact that Bobby was coming along complicated things a bit. We began eating regularly again when I broke into radio. Then Michael arrived and added to the happy throng and we were all set to grow old without glamour when the little woman began getting ideas. You can take it from here, Mom."
During all this, Jennifer was sitting on the edge or her chair, mouth wide, just as if she were hearing the story for the first time.
"Well, two years ago this summer, I heard David Selznick was looking for a girl to play in the movie "Claudia". I parked the kids and went down to his New York office. They let me read the part and I was very, very bad. I thought they were just trying to comfort me when they told me to come back tomorrow and see Mr. Selznick. I was busy with the children next day when the phone rang and Selznick's office wanted to know where I was.
I ran almost all the way. Mr. Selznick was sweet as he could be to me. The next day he gave me a screen test. Then he signed me. Then we just sat around forgetting about my career for almost a year and a half. Then I got a call to rush to the Coast to test for "Bernadette". But I was sure I didn't have a chance."
"Yeah." Said Bob, "and two weeks after she arrives in Hollywood she calls and says 'I'm Bernadette.' Ten days later, she meets me at the Los Angeles station all because a friend of mine had been telling Metro they should test me. They did - and you're now talking to the two luckiest people who ever lived."
Without looking at each other, they both knocked wood. Jennifer said: "We knock wood all the time." "That's no joke," added her husband "We've been here almost a year now but our furniture is still in storage in New York. Nobody can convince us that this whole thing isn't a dream."
"I still jump
when somebody calls me Jennifer."
"You should," said Bob. "You know how she got that name? Mr. Selznick always said if he had a little girl he'd name her Jennifer. But, like us, he never got anything better than a couple of boys."
A voice piped from upstairs: "Mommy!" Another one chimed in: "Daddy!" They looked at me a little sheepishly. "We've got to go up and kiss them good night.
I stumbled over that wagon again on my way out. It had turned out to be a very nice Sunday.