"Mr. and Mrs. Cinderella" -
Parade - November 1943
"Hollywood would label it pure 'escapism' -- the kind of thing that
keeps you from thinking too much about the war, or the high cost of
living, or next year's taxes... See something like it in a movie and
you'd leave the theatre with a faraway look and a sort of happy half
smile and a nice feeling inside because 'twas so darn heartwarming --
but of course it could never happen...strictly Cinderella stuff --
pleasant but old fashioned, like rustly 'changeable' taffeta and
grandma's cameo brooch. Yet here it is straight as a whistle and
honest as rain...a real life Cinderella love story, so simple, so
sweet, it has to be true.
It begins Once-upon-a-time in October, 1937, when a lean, lanky,
sandy-haired lad and a pretty brunette Miss happened to enroll for
the same term at American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. We
say 'happened' because maybe we're a wee bit afraid of romancing, but
you may think destiny had decreed it that way centuries before, and
you may be right. Bob came from across the continent -- San Diego.
He'd been to military school there -- a last disciplinary resort on
the part of parents who'd just about given him up as hopeless. At
the school he'd enrolled for the snap dramatic course and the acting
bug bit him. His folks threw up their hands, but a sympathetic aunt,
Mrs. Hortense Odlum, who's also head of a swank New York department
store, offered to finance him at the Academy. Phyllis Isley, who was
later to be renamed Jennifer Jones, came from Oklahoma. Her dad, a
theatre owner, figured her yen to be an actress just kid stuff, and
she'd spent a fruitless year at Northwestern University before she
came to the Academy, to convince him she was serious.
They admit theirs was no case of love at first sight. They were just
naturally thrown together in classes, at rehearsals, and appearing in
the same school plays. They became good friends. They saw plays
together, craning their necks, straining their ears from the second
balcony...and afterwards, over cokes, they'd discuss the way this
scene and that should have been done. They dreamed together a
little, too. When summer came, they bid adieu, both planning to
return in the fall. During the vacation Bob worked on a freighter
shipping out of New York. 'Phil,' as he still calls her, went home.
They wrote but neither received the other's letters. That fall Bob
found his aunt was angry with him because he hadn't consulted her on
the freighter business. He wanted to stay in New York, so an older
brother agreed to lend him $10 a week. He could eat on that, the
rest of his living he'd have to scrape up himself. When Jennifer
learned what had happened, she lost interest in the Academy, and,
together, they joined the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village,
New York. Pay: 50 cents per performance.
It was Spring. They were doing 'Springtime for Henry' together at
the theatre. They had no money to spend on fun, but one Sunday they
decided to splurge -- a nickel ride on the Staten Island ferry. It
was a clear, warm, golden day. New York's skyline was a towering
backdrop. Ahead was the Statue of Liberty, inspiring, indestructible
symbol of all the dreams and hopes of just such youngsters as these --
and of all the world. They leaned over the rail and watched the
sunbeams dance on the water and to them it wasn't just the Staten
Island ferry chugging through New York Bay -- but a majestic steamer
in the romantic Caribbean -- or the blue Mediterranean... Something
happened to Bob, something that had happened to Jennifer months
before. He realized he was in love. He wanted to be close to her,
to hold her hand, to look at her. The realization of his love
crowded all else from his thoughts.
All the way home his heart and mind were filled with it. 'Talk about
your head being in the clouds,' he says today. 'What do you think I
did, then?' 'We rode uptown in the subway, and I got off at my own
stop leaving 'Phil' to ride the rest of the way alone, and never
realized what I'd done 'til next morning!'
Shortly afterwards, a hometown radio station offered Jennifer a
chance to do an air show. She accepted, provided she could bring her
own leading man. She could. Both Bob and Jennifer received $25.00 a
week salary for the show and he earned $15.00 on the side working for
her father. They were rich! And so they were married, in January,
Next Spring they invaded Hollywood, driving West in the slick Packard
Jennifer's family had given them as a wedding present. What luck
they had was strictly bad. So they sold the car and took a cross-
country bus back to New York. There they rented a one room apartment
with a cosy arrangement where the kitchen sink drained into the
bathtub and there, with their dog and what was left from the
Packard's sale, they dug in, determined to crack the big town...
They agree on most things, these two -- not everything, that would be
tiresome, but on the essentials; about the kind of people they like,
and the kind of people they want to be, about just how important and
how unimportant the possession of money can be, and about what they
want from life. One thing both wanted was a family. They wanted to
have it while they were young so Jennifer could still have her
career. Now, they decided, was as good a time as any...no use
waiting 'til we can afford it...'til world conditions are better...'
Bob, Jr., was born that winter and Bob, Sr., was then just beginning
to get his first break in radio. By the time 'Mike' arrived a year
later, Bob was doing as many air soap operas as he could squeeze into
24 hours a day and the Walkers were in clover.
Then Jennifer was ready to resume acting. She went to see David O.
Selznick about playing 'Claudia', wound up a bit later with a chance
to go to Hollywood. It might mean her big break but it would also
mean they'd be separated for the first time in their married lives.
As show folks they knew they should condition themselves to being
apart occasionally, but they were miserable. Bob talked to his
agent. The draft had Hollywood scrambling madly for any actor who
could claim legal exemption, and M-G-M was looking for a lad to do
the sailor in 'Bataan'... The rest is all on the record, how
Jennifer snagged the most sought feminine role since Scarlett
in 'Song of Bernadette' and how Bob became the year's find
Cinderella stuff, of course, and of course it couldn't happen, not in
this brittle, brassy, sophisticated today. But it has. And right
here in Hollywood Bob and Jennifer are living the happily-ever-after-
thing, real as all get out. S'help us!"
Copyright Movie Stars Parade