"Oh What a Beautiful Morning..."
stopped to glance apprehensively at his watch just
outside the door of Stage 11. The time, nine thirty A.M. on the
nose. Bob's call was for nine. Which meant 'Private Hargrove' was
thirty minutes late. Something that just never happens at a studio.
(Well rarely. Even Spencer Tracy would scarcely dare to arrive a
half hour late on the set.)
Bob swallowed, squared
his shoulders, fastened a grin on his face,
and opened that door. Inside he observed a dead silence. The red
light was not buzzing the 'all quiet' warning. So more
optimistically Bob began whistling, 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning.'
This might have been 'Pvt. Hargrove' reporting to his top sarge that
he was in a 'jam'. Except this was painfully real!
'Just how does a
new player go about explaining being late,' Bob
thought as he advanced towards the far end of the stage where 'Thirty
Seconds Over Tokyo' was on the final wind. 'Maybe for thirty minutes
they'll all be standing around waiting for me!' He'd heard that
production costs of movies ran about a thousand dollars a minute.
Sometimes more. 'Gosh, what if I'm $30,000 worth late!'
'Mr. Leroy has been
so nice -- so swell to me, and there he is
standing, looking at me. So's everyone else. What will they do to
me? How can I explain that I didn't hear the alarm go off? That
funny little tinkle on that gosh-awful little traveler's clock. I
can't get a telephone. Well, I just didn't hear that alarm if it
Then Bob did explain,
'I'm very sorry, Mr. Leroy. Honest -- it was
nine-fifteen when I woke up. I was just sleeping away waiting for
the alarm to go off. I've never been late before. I don't know what
What a grand feeling.
What a relief, when young Bob was put straight
into the scene. 'If we had any garbage cans, Private Hargrove, you'd
be scouring them for the next week,' Mervyn Leroy said.
'Poor Bob Walker,'
everyone was saying at lunch in the studio
commissary. The word had spread -- 'He was late -- and so scared.
Poor kid, he's having his lunch in his dressing room today.' Everyone
was sympathetic, so glad that Mervyn Leroy had been such a prince!
For Bob Walker is a great favorite on the lot. His wistful, kid-
appeal was not lost when he got himself into a private jam.
I was taken into
Bob's little portable dressing room on the set later
in the day. Bob was in a scene, and I could hear the assistant
director calling, 'Places, please. Quiet, everyone! Quiet.'
Then, 'This is a Take.'
Glancing over the
tiny dressing cubicle on wheels, I noted Bob's
script on the table. It was signed with a dozen names. Autographs
of members of the cast and crew. There was a piece of apple pie,
left untouched on a luncheon tray. A half eaten chocolate bar rested
with a small roll of dollar bills. 'Taps for Private Tussie,' a
book, reposed on several motion picture magazines. Three white
jersey under shirts and two pairs of white shorts were stretched on
the walls, drying from water scenes.
'How are you?' It
was Bob stepping in, with that affable grin, blue
eyes merry and twinkling. For years Bob had set his wagon to a star,
and got no further than the back gate policeman of any studio. He'd
studied dramatics at the American Academy of Dramatic Art, and he'd
won honors. Nevertheless, he'd rated only 50 cents a performance on
his initial try on the Cherry Lane Theater Stage in Greenwich
Village. He'd tried Hollywood, equipped with letters from relatives,
and he'd been given the brush-off. And he'd returned to New York
broke. He'd taken bits in radio, not befitting a young actor who was
prepared to set the world on fire. And he'd swallowed his pride, and
sought office work during odd hours. And then -- after a four-year
struggle, just when he was nicely set in radio, his agent had sent
him to MGM's New York office. L. B. Mayer sized young Bob up in one
glance. 'He's just the boy we want for Bataan,' and Bob was
Of course, if 'Private
Hargrove' had been a 'turkey' instead of a
smash-hit, young Bob might have been New York bound again, but fast.
So small wonder he is excited with his sudden luck in the world's
most glittering profession.
'Just think,' he
announced all in one breath, 'I got the lead
opposite Judy Garland in "The Clock"'. To Bob that's the news of the
hour. Previously he had told me he was to play opposite her in 'Meet
Me in St. Louis'. He was elated. But it didn't jell, since he was
hoisted away to Florida for 'Tokyo'. 'But this is on the level,' he
said. 'Gosh, am I glad!'
Bob is a shy, overgrown
kid. He has no inhibitions. No axes to
grind. A kid with a grin, a thoroughly likable kid. Somewhat like
Jimmy Stewart, but with added exhilaration. (Perhaps he took more
vitamins as a baby.)
In his shy moments
Bob is very shy. While playing the role of Staff
Sergeant Dave Thatcher, the real life Sgt. Thatcher, with his medals
and his ribbons, visited the set. Surely there would be a great deal
to discuss between the Tokyo hero and the youth who was bringing his
valorous deeds to life on the screen. But Sgt. Thatcher, too, proved
to be a shy young man, who hails from Montana. Bob, who hails from
Utah, said, 'So happy to meet you.' Followed a dead silence. Bob,
who so greatly admired the man he was portraying, just couldn't think
of anything adequate to say. Neither could Thatcher. Members of the
cast and crew said it was quite a sight, these two shy young men
trying to make conversation.
At this point, Van
Johnson stopped by to tell Bob, 'Major Ted Lawson,
the real one, and his wife, have just arrived on the set to visit.'
'Gosh,' said Bob,
'I'd certainly like to meet him.' Then, 'Please
excuse me for one second,' and Bob was tearing out to pay his
'His wife is very
sweet,' Bob said thoughtfully on his
return. 'Looks a lot like Phyllis Thaxter, who portrays her in the
picture. Phyllis is a sweet girl, I took her to Robert Nathan's
cocktail party the other day. She's a very nice girl.'
What does Bob do
when he's not before the cameras? 'Oh, just what
the average young bachelors do,' he grinned. There's Peter Lawford,
a young actor on the lot. We go about together. Have dinner at the
Brown Derby. Take in a movie, or go to the fights. Since this
picture, however, there hasn't been much time to go out. We've had a
lot of tough water scenes. Mr. Leroy asked everyone of us to take
special care to avoid catching colds. I've been going to bed every
night at nine-thirty.' Which reminded him of the morning's
fiasco. 'Gosh, to think I didn't hear that alarm this morning!'
'Scenes for the
plane crash in the water were made down on the back
lot,' Bob continued. 'The Coast Guards are stationed down there.
One of the guards told me, 'We got a dog down here that we named
after you, "Private Hargrove"'.
'Yeah? Let's see
him.' Of course I visioned a Great Dane. They
brought up a washed-out flea-bitten collie. That was my namesake.'
Bob grinned. 'But he was perhaps a very smart dog,' he winked.
'Down at the public
play park, where I take Bob, Jr. and Michael, to
play on Sunday afternoons, the folks all come round and talk to us.
Some of the kids say, 'Where's your garbage cans, Private Hargrove?'
Everyone's friendly and swell. Too, they ask if we're going to make
another Hargrove. I don't know, but I'd like to.'
'As for my kids,
they saw their first movie when their grandparents
took them to see Hargrove. 'You went to New York, Daddy,' Bob, Jr.
said. 'You fell in the water,' Michael added. Then both, 'We saw
you in the show, Daddy. Did you see us?'
'Well, sir, this
winter, about February, I took Bob with me to Ogden,
Utah, to visit my folks. That was wonderful, being home. I had told
Bob about getting on a sled and coasting down Marilyn Drive. It's a
steep hill, and how a fellow can coast! After several rides, that
little four-year-old tyke went sledding down alone. Gosh, was I
'I went down to
the Standard Examiner, where I used to have a paper
route. I talked to my old boss. Frank Francis, the columnist, gave
me a write-up. Everyone seemed glad about my good luck in Hollywood.'
'It was pretty tough
on Mother though. Every night kids from the
schools would come up. We'd have twenty and thirty at a time.
They'd come in, and we'd all just sit and talk.'
'Then I made an
appearance on a war bond drive at the Orpheum
Theater. Ross Glasmann, the manager, remembered me when I was a
little freckle-faced kid, standing out front wondering if I could
figure some way of getting in free. Then there were the boys and
girls I'd gone to school with. So many are married. So many at war.'
At this point Director
Leroy stopped at the door. He looked at Bob
gravely. Bob looked questioningly. 'He's really a great boy,' Mr.
Leroy said. Bob relaxed. 'Gee, thanks, Mr. Leroy,' his face broke
into a grin. Bob began whistling.
'One of the sweetest
things about Bob,' Mr. Leroy said, 'is what
he'll do for others. Take his stand-in, a fellow probably fifty, who
still carries shrapnel in his leg and his elbow from the last world
war. He's had a time getting enough work. Bob had gone to the front
office and asked for a contract for him. Bob'd never barge up to ask
any favors for himself. The stand-in, whose wife is expecting a
baby, now knows he has steady work, whether Bob works or not. Bob
has a great heart.'
stammered Bob, blushing. 'It really wasn't anything
at all. Gosh, Mr. Leroy is certainly swell about my being late.'
'If I could just
get a telephone, or a good alarm clock,' Bob's brow
furrowed into a perplexed wrinkle. 'But you can't get a telephone.
I'm even lucky to have an apartment. But I can't let it happen
again. Being late, I mean.'
When Bob was apartment
hunting, everyone in the studio assisted in
the grand search. Bob, finally ensconced in one, only to have his
landlord tell him he'd have to move in two weeks. The landlord
needed the place for himself. So Bob scurried around and found
'It's just a room.
A place to sleep. I never try cooking or
housekeeping.' He was a bit apologetic about the latter. 'I am so
busy working. Have to be at the studio most of the time,' he
explained. 'If only I could have worked myself out of this morning's
jam by scrubbing garbage cans. I'm not worth $30,000 worth of
tardiness!' Bob frowned."
Copyright Screen Stars October 1944