is a typical movie actor in all respects save one. On the screen
there is a sureness in his work, a confidence in his manner, a capability
that is frank evidence that he is a ham -- a ham being anyone who likes
acting and honestly revels in it.
The single difference between Robert Walker and his fellow stars is that he has never become accustomed to the situation of a writer or a fan being deeply interested in him, except, of course, from a specific vantage point -- a seat in a darkened theater. Walker's attitude toward other interest than this is an embarrassed confusion, much the same as
that of a small boy who has been caught practicing expressions before a mirror. The emotion stimulating the expressions is sincere, but exhibition of them anywhere except where they are accepted as being legitimate is an offside peek into a man's soul.
To state it simply, Robert Walker thinks he is a splendid actor. If you pay for looking at him, he expects you to think so, too. But if you catch him in mufti and ask him to talk about it, he hangs his head and becomes as inarticulate as an off-duty bartender.
Hunger and allied discomforts are accepted as the normal and natural sufferings to be endured by actors before they reach the pinnacle of stardom. Some time, many years ago, such a struggle to the peak was recorded in some movie magazine. Fans loved it, and from then until now few players have been willing to admit that they were prodded to the top by their agents or doting relatives. A scanning of their true backgrounds, however, would disclose that actually very few stars lost much weight or sleep on their way up. About all the real suffering Robert Walker did for his profession, for example, occurred at the age of ten when he "drank" a cupful of sand. The intense desire for realism that drives otherwise stable souls to mimicry was to be noted in him even then.
It was one of those spontaneous performances that in lesser children are called play. An entertainment was begun on a sandy lot in Salt Lake City. Young Bob chose the role of a rich king. A toast to the monarch was proposed, and Robert filled a tin cup with sand and downed it enthusiastically. The results were a joy spiritually -- and turned out not to be tragic gastronomically.
At 27, an age not officially acknowledged by his studio, Bob virtually has the future by the tail. His salary is magnificent* (see footnote), contract long and loaded with heartening stipulations. His personality and competence insure many fruitful years in Hollywood. Searching for investments for his money and vehicles for his talents is his prime concern, and he has established his ability to manage these matters well.
Physically, he is definitely not the movie star type. He is tall and lean to the point of being actually skinny. There is something ungainly in his stance. This is no demerit in the appeal department, for, of course, Lincoln was the same in spades. Walker's rather narrow face is not handsome. Its principal features are a fine, thin mouth, wide forehead and quite misplaced shock of curly, auburn-brown hair. The
face, however, has been dubbed "cute" by millions of women and "pleasant" by men. On the screen, his eyes are big and soft and brimming with sympathy for mankind. This is due, in the main, to his inability to focus properly without glasses. As a matter of fact, he considers himself not at all unattractive when wearing his heavy tortoise-shell cheaters. Once he seriously considered manufacturing the things and posing for advertising to popularize the style, which he regards as a sort of trademark. He likes the nickname "Speck," too. A fan with a camera has to beg to get him to remove his glasses for a
Other characteristics, which are seldom noted on the screen, are a maturity of manner, a habit of hunching his shoulders to straighten the back of his jacket, a nervous adjustment of the tips of his collar and a shucking of his cuffs. His mien is usually sober, almost solemn; but good company induces a delighted expression to flood his face, and a really good joke brings forth a hearty laugh that is said to register on the Pasadena seismograph.
Fun, to Walker, is the fun native to a man his age who has enough money to cater to his likes. Nightclubs, when they are gay, are not unimportant, although he will go months without visiting one. Dancing, with a companion whom he has reason to believe has a crush on him, is his favorite way of disposing of a social evening. During daytime hours
his amusements are healthful -- if they don't one day prove fatal. He likes to ride fast in his Cadillac, with the top down; to chase the white line down the middle of a highway on a powerful motorcycle (this the studio has now tabooed); to sun himself on a lawn or take long walks on a beach. He is without apparent fear in his more daredevilish sports.
A bachelor of some two years' standing, Bob has a reasonably varied taste in girls, with perhaps a preference for rather thin, exquisite, probably-intelligent girls in their early twenties. Many of his warmest romances have never been publicized, because he deliberately and carefully keeps them quiet. His long suit in selling himself to girls is a natural one. Although he doesn't quite like it about himself, he is well aware that much of his appeal before introduction is due to his "little boy" charm. He uses this asset ruthlessly in pursuit -- but after the first kiss insists on becoming earnest and adult. He's so clever at this that it generally works. With girls he doesn't like, he adopts a stiff and cool politeness that can shrivel even the most persistent doll.
With men -- and he has few men for close friends -- Bob is a regular guy. He likes going to fights. Monday and Friday nights are open to nothing else, for he goes steady with the squared circle on those nights and sits in the front row. He once said that the nicest present he ever got was a regular weekly pair of seats at the Hollywood Legion Stadium.
He keeps in shape himself, too, without too much effort. He bought a set of bar bells weighing something like 150 pounds two years ago -- and the only person who has touched them since is the man who cleans the house. They look nice in front of the fireplace, however. His slight frame is wiry and strong, a fact which he threatens to demonstrate every
once in a while. But someone generally talks him out of it.
Enthusiasm is one of his really strong points -- enthusiasm for people and what he calls "living," This reporter sat in a cafe in Hollywood with him one night last winter and, after a casual conversation about the delights of New York, found himself the next morning riding at Walker's side from LaGuardia Airport to the Waldorf. It is typical of the actor that the reporter hardly saw him again during the week that
they were in Gotham.
Bob is a great reader. His liking for an author or book usually winds up as adulation. A good many nights he spends alone with a James M. Cain novel or Philip Wylie essay that he can't leave. Sometimes these excursions into literature last for days, and he lies to everyone like fury to stay with his new love, even going so far as to invent a terrible illness which, he claims, forces him to stay home alone.
Probably due to his first rude shock of discovering that honesty in conversation often winds up in scare headlines in the newspapers, Walker is so secretive about his personal affairs that it is downright annoying to his friends. His divorce from Jennifer Jones and his life with her are strictly taboo. His children, whom he adores, are also required to
be left out of conversations. Any infraction of these unposted
restrictions is met with an icy reserve which may last for weeks. Consequently, even with his intimates, he seldom says anything that couldn't be printed in an ad for a movie.
Walker's prime peeve is his youth -- and what it might do to him socially and professionally. He actually hates the fictional Corporal Hargrove, if not the real one, although he credits the character with giving him a boost toward where he is now heading. He wants to be known in social circles as a sophisticated man of the world, and on the screen
as an actor who can play anything from a tough bus driver to the ghost in "Hamlet." He is particularly pleased at the moment that he was chosen to portray Jerome Kern, from youth to old age, in "Till the Clouds Roll By," and a completely efficient lieutenant colonel in the
atom bomb film, "The Beginning or the End." Both roles are in contrast to the ingenuous, impulsive youngsters that have been Walker's screen specialty since his first hit as the brash sailor in "Bataan." ingratiating as these parts are, they are at variance with his own personality. His ambitions are therefore based on something more than protest against type-casting.
Gratitude toward people and situations that gave him his big chance is also one of his long suits. He never forgets them. One night in a fashionable nightclub, he forgot all about the celebrities he was with to cut up touches with a camera girl who had been on a bill with him at the Cherry Lane Theater when each of them was paid fifty cents per performance. He has a fond attitude toward radio soap operas, for it was this medium that kept him in folding money during the early days in New York. His friendships date back a long time because of this characteristic.
Although his devotion to his mother and father, his brothers and the other members of his family has never diminished, his life now provides little time for them. But when the opportunity to be with them does present itself, he is extremely happy. He speaks of them as the greatest people in the world. He is proud of his father's career as a
newspaperman, and of his older brother's rise as an attorney. He went through hell a few months ago without a convertible Cadillac -- something that means as much to him as a right arm to you -- simply because his father admired his and he gave it to him. He'd go to any lengths to keep his family's love and respect for him.
Bob Walker's background is actually very ordinary. He was not a particularly attractive youngster. Why he was bitten by the acting bug will always be a confused miracle, for no one in his family has ever been remotely connected with the theater. He attended military school, where he was most noted for his acne and his playing of the drums. He was not an unusually popular boy, principally because he possessed a
somewhat perverted sense of humor which counterbalanced any likable qualities he had. He loved to challenge a bigger boy to a fight and then not show up at the appointed battleground. He won the head seat at the school dining table solely so he could serve his fellow students exactly what they didn't want to eat. If he hadn't been such a good
drummer, he probably would have ended his education at fourteen. The school band needed him -- and Bob was fully conscious of the fact.
Walker's life today is a simple one. He has two homes. One is an apartment in Beverly Hills that is decorated like an impoverished actor's dream of a rich actor's beautiful apartment. The other is a beach house at Malibu. Because of the fact that his sons are with him, he has this house constantly patrolled and electrically protected like
the Philadelphia Mint. His servants include a middle-aged man named Harry in the apartment, whose eccentricities are a continual delight to Bob, and a couple who look after the beach house. His tastes in food are strictly provincial, starting with artichoke salad and going as far as lamb chops. The menu at the Walker home is regulated by the day of
the week -- and is the same every week. He likes beer in hot weather and Scotch whisky for an alcoholic refreshment. All other liquor can be consigned to sewers as far as he is concerned. Like all normal imbibers, he gets somewhat tight only accidentally.
Bob's fondness for people is generally predicated on something unusual he sees and likes in them -- for instance, the above-mentioned eccentricities of his man, Harry. Harry looks like a banker -- dignified, neat, paunchy and important. However, upon the slightest provocation, he drifts into a near-hysterical nervousness. If the phone rings when he has a plate in his hands, he's just as likely to put the
plate in his employer's lap as not, while he races like a frenzied doe to answer the bell. He has been so well schooled in the "I may not be in" routine that he stammers and evades answering like a frightened bookmaker with a cop on the other end of the line, no matter who calls.
He finds lying difficult; so oftentimes when Walker is signalling frantically that he is not at home, Harry is quite likely to say, "Just a moment -- he's right here." In order to give the place a homey touch, he bought a director's chair, had his name painted on it and sits regally in the kitchen between chores. If his master offends him, he stays on the job and continues to work all right -- but spends every
possible moment sitting out front in his car, in silent protest.
Politeness is one of Walker's strong points. However, he seldom permits people to take advantage of him or get away with placing him in a position where he must be a gentleman. One night last winter, he had an important engagement. Before the appointment, he agreed to drive a girl
home, because it was raining cats and dogs. When they reached her house, she didn't want to get out of the car. Bob begged, but she had him. You can't throw a lady out of a convertible in the rain; you can only sit and plead with her to let you get on your way. Bob was as polite as ever, but he pressed a button and let the top down -- and when the girl got wet enough, she finally left and went into the house.
One time he was approached by a man at an amusement park who straightforwardly gave the opinion that movie stars used doubles for everything but breathing and suggested that in his opinion Bob was a well-dressed bundle of no talent. Bob had the time and the inclination; so he offered to beat the fellow at any endeavor he chose. They started
out throwing darts, went through breaking dishes with slingshots, archery, rifle shooting and driving a Dodgem car, and wound up with bowling and a game of kelly pool. Walker lost everything -- but the man left with a better feeling for actors.
If you were to see Bob Walker on the street, he would appear to be just a normal, nice-looking American boy, with possibly a few complexes, a few annoying habits and many attractive qualities. His work is acting, and it's glamorous work -- but aside from that he's a kid from Utah. Maybe even a nice kid from Utah.
*His salary is $2,500 a week under a seven-year contract with no options, is said to be raised $1,000 a week each year. That makes the total value of the pact about $2,000,000.
Copyright Screen Guide