"Hi Ho Walker!" by Jane Kessner - Movieland - December 1950

"Two small boys in western regalia strode into the hotel at Canyon
City, Colorado, headquarters for cast and crew of MGM's 'Vengeance
Valley.' The younger, a kid named Michael Walker, asked to see Burt
Lancaster. He had heard that Lancaster was going to shoot his dad,
the heavy in the picture, and Mike has seen enough westerns to know
that a good cowboy, a hero, always has a crack aim. He saw Burt man-
to-man, and tried to talk him out of it. Lancaster explained that
the script was already written and no mere actor could change it; but
he promised to shoot gently and with a blank cartridge at Mike's dad.

Later that afternoon, Mike and Bobby rode up into the mountains where
the picture was being filmed. They rode high up to a ledge where
they could rest their horses and gaze down to the level where the
cameras were grinding. There was more thrilling riding going on than
any they'd seen at Saturday matinees. As fifteen hundred head of
cattle stampeded, two men on horseback raced into the milling animals
and cut out the cattle they wanted. They raced hell for leather,
guided their horses up the mountain side, plunged them down steep
banks. Among the cowboys, the Walker boys spotted one thin chap
riding tall in the saddle. Other western fans might not have
recognized him, for although he toted his guns and jangled his spurs
with conviction, he was neither Gene Autry, Roy Rogers nor Hopalong
Cassidy; but the Walker boys recognized him at once. It was their
dad, Bob Walker -- 'Hi-Ho Walker,' as they promptly dubbed him.

This picture, of all Bob has made, most intrigued his sons for two
reasons. First of all, he plays the villain instead of the hero; 'a
fascinating, mean, conniving cruel man,' as Bob explains him, 'but
not without humor.' Secondly, they knew that he was having the time
of his life riding the western pony, Indio.

Indio and Bob had gotten acquainted five weeks before 'Vengeance
Valley' started shooting. They became friends when Bob, who has
always been a perfectionist, sauntered out to the MGM 'homestead' for
a riding lesson. This 'homestead' is Lot 5 at Metro and it is a
world to itself. While movies are being made on the big sound
stages; business is transacted in the offices; and wardrobe, make-up
and set design people struggle with the thousand glamorous facets of
show business; Lot 5 looks like any Bar X ranch on a lazy afternoon.
Horses graze in the sun and nuzzle their favorite ranch hands -- all
except the black horses, they have to stay in the stalls lest the sun
fade them. There are some thirty-six horses in the Metro corral and
they are all veterans of the camera. They've carried heroes on
horseback from here to Keokuk under fire and through flood. Indio
has faced movie audiences in 'Annie Get Your Gun,' 'Sea of Grass,'
and is now working in 'Across the Wide Missouri.' He is excellent at
running, jumping, swimming and roping -- top qualifications of a
western horse. He is sensitive and high-strung and he and Bob Walker
liked each other at first sight.

Bob had ridden before, of course -- he used to ride bare-back when he
was a kid in Utah; and he's ridden with Bobby and Mike since they
were old enough to hold their feet in the stirrups. 'I didn't know I
didn't know how to ride,' he says, 'until I got my first pointers
from Tommy Sutton out on Lot 5. (MOVIELAND was along and agrees with
Sutton that that's nonsense.) Sutton's been with MGM for more than
twenty-five years, and has taught plenty of movie actors how to
ride. Recently he's given tips to Ricardo Montalban, Burt Lancaster,
John Hodiak, Bob Taylor and others. Tom says, 'Hi-Ho' is an
excellent rider, a natural rider; and he should know -- for they rode
together for three hours every day for five weeks after these first
pictures were taken.

'Without that practice, I'd have been in trouble when we got out on
location,' Bob says. 'The horses get winded up there with the
elevation 9000 feet. I couldn't always ride Indio, the horse I was
used to. You have to be able to jump on a strange horse and go off
at a gallop. During a round-up, you switch horses and ride like
mad. The pointers Tom Sutton gave me helped me in handling my mounts
going up-hill and down-hill where, if the horse should fall, you'd be
in trouble.'

One of the hazards were the fast rides the script called for through
tricky mountain passes. With his glasses on, it was a breeze, but Hi-
Ho couldn't wear his glasses with the cameras rolling, so he and
Indio would rehearse the route slowly first, feeling their way along
the prescribed route until it was familiar. Then, when the director
yelled, 'Camera!' off they'd go, faster than the wind.

One thing Indio would not stand for was the firing. Every time Bob
would level his rifle and fire, Indio would grow skittish and move
out of the camera range. They had to get a cow pony and paint it to
match Indio so it could substitute for him in the shooting sequences.

Bob and his boys had a wonderful vacation even if it was a rugged
location. When he was working, he'd fish with them at noon; but for
Bobby and Mike there was no time-clock and they fished with two other
boys, sons of the doctor assigned to the unit. They hung around with
the ranch hands on the 200,000 acre ranch where the filming was
done. When Bob had a free morning or afternoon, the three of them
would ride up over the hills to a high look-out and watch the
shooting down below. Bob thinks horses and horse-back riding are
wonderful for children. To ride well not only gives them a sense of
self-confidence, it develops a sense of responsibility as well. That
horse is theirs to take care of. What's more, the obedience a child
demands from a horse, reminds him subtly of the obedience requested
from him. 'Bobby sits a horse well,' Bob says. 'Mike has been
scared, but he's getting over it. He fell off once but he picked
himself up and got back on.'

The Walker boys are all for the western life; so is Bob Sr. He likes
boots and saddles, he loves horses, and he's keen on western
pictures -- casting directors please note!"

Copyright Movieland 1950

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