Daily News, December 16, 1950
by Erskine Johnson

Photos from "Stangers on a Train"


I just chucked my pith helmet, elephant gun and tse-tse fly netting into the ash-can.

The Johnson safari into darkest Hollywood to find the last exponent of movie temperament turned out to be a fizzle.

Robert Walker who's been rated high in the nerve-popping, blow-top league let me down.

As a door-slamming, director-withering, vexed-to-the-hilt star, Walker's a washout.

Yep, there's no temperament left among the celluloid Swahilis.

It's gone the way of the string orchestra that used to fiddle Gloria Swanson and Pola Negri into the right camera moods.

"Temperament?" Walker repeated on the "Strangers On A Train" set at Warners. "That's a lot of horse feathers."

I reminded him of the printed reports and Walker blinked behind his heavy horn-rimmed glasses.

"Years ago," he smiled, "I worried about the things that were written about me. Now I don't care. I'm a darned good father, I mind my own business. My last four pictures at MGM couldn't have gone more beautifully and this loanout to Alfred Hitchcock is fine, too. Do you know the only thing that would get a rise out of me? If someone wrote that I was a lousy actor. Otherwise, I don't care."

But I wasn't coming back empty-handed like Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr.

"Moody," I said, "you're supposed to be moody."

"Who isn't moody?" he shrugged. "Anybody going around happy all day is nuts."

Bob said he'd practically gone into a buck-and-wing when he was told that Hitchcock wanted him for the role of the addled, whimsical killer in the picture. He said he rushed right to the telephone and told his agent to get hold of the script.

"I'm still red-faced," Walker grinned. "I was informed that nobody reads Hitchcock stories. Hitch tells them to the actors and that's it. He told me the story and I went to work."

"Strangers on a Train" is his second whack at "viperdom - "I'm a heel in Vengeance Valley" he added - and he's curious to find out what moviegoers are going to think about him in off-center roles.

Over at MGM, shortly before he headed to the Menninger clinic, Walker balked at the series of Mr. Young Americas that were coming his way.

"The studio" he said "was very understanding". They gave me 'Song of Love'. That wasn't it. Not for me. I thought it was a very bad part and I didn't do it well. This was Private Hargrove playing Brahms."

One of these days, he's dead-set on talking MGM into letting him play a role without removing his glasses.

He groaned:

"I can't see without them. In this picture, Laura Elliott, who probably has 20-20 vision, has to wear glasses for her part. But I, who need glasses, am without them. We do a big chase scene, we pursue each other and neither one of us can see a darned thing."

Dorothy Parker's poem about girls that wear glasses strikes Walker as being highly inaccurate.

He's the type that whistles at dolls with astigmatism.

"I love glasses on women" he snorted. "Nice, heavy, horn-rimmed glasses."

An assistant director interrupted us.

"Hitch wants you, Bob."

Walker sprang up faster than Ruby Keeler in one of those vintage musicals in which Joan Blondell the star has just broken her leg and Ruby the understudy has to rush onstage and do that big number with Dick Powell.

"A very sweet guy" commented Ruth Roman, Walker's co-star.

"Loves his two sons," said the unit publicity man. "He had them for more than a year and a half until Jennifer (Jones) got back to Hollywood. Now he has them every weekend."

Walker returned, still smiling.

"That Hitch," he laughed. "Know what he said to me? You and your quiet dignity. That's what he said to me."

The press agent kept talking.

"You don't hear much about Bob after working hours. He doesn't expose himself like a lot of actors.

Walker looked down at his shoes.

"Brother" he said, "I've DONE my exposing."


Articles Index