"You Can't Do That, Bob Walker" by Alyce Canfield -
Screenland - January 1945

"Robert Walker has the setup all wrong. In Hollywood, it's
positively fatal to go around minding your own business and staying
home smoking a pipe and reading things like "Storm Point"
and "Miracle In The Rain" and letting your dinner get cold while you
look at a sunset. You see, Mr. Walker, you gotta have drama and dash
and color to be a movie star, and you'll just never get along acting
so normal all the time!"

"I appraised Bob Walker over our roast beef and coffee. He didn't
look like a movie star -- he looked like the boy next door. And what
with yelling "Hi, bub!" to this passerby and that one without malice
aforethought but just with undesigning friendliness, there was
something wonderfully wrong with the picture. Where was the famous
old Hollywood caste system (stars don't speak to extras, you know)
and where was the conceit, and the round table of yes-men? All
noticeably absent. Everyone knows you have to play it smart with the
right people, be publicity-wise and hit all the gossip columns, to be
a success. Maybe you just don't know, Mr. Walker!"

"Take that time you were five. You stumbled on a couple of drums
down in the basement, whereupon you and your older brother took a
liking to drums. I mean, you see, to do a good story we'd have to
color it up a bit, let on like you fell in the drums, or something!"

"You go on with the drum business and you say you went out and sold
magazines and bought yourself a set of drums. Well, it ought to wind
up today you just can't stand the sight of them. So when you say
that today you play the drums with recordings for relaxation, that's
not true to form. What I mean is that most people lie in the sun at
Palm Springs for relaxation, or at least just lie in the sun. They
don't go around beating drums! So perhaps you'd better soft-pedal
that part, Mr. Walker. Not that I doubt but that's exactly how you
spend a weary Sunday evening, but it's just not the kind of thing you
go around doing when you're a star. It's not commercial. You could
take baths in goat milk, you understand, and that would be unusual
too, but in a different way -- then we could say you were eccentric
or sensational or good copy."

"I asked when you had your first romance, your really serious one,
and you said when you were six. Really, Mr. Walker, that's not what
I meant! I wanted to know if you had been terribly in love when you
were seventeen or so, and you had never, never forgotten, and even
now when you heard the "Free Ittie Fitties," it DID something to you,
deep inside, you know."

"It doesn't improve matters, either, by going on to state that
between five and ten you had so many girls you couldn't keep track of
them. It might give people the mistaken idea that the same is true
today, and that's not good publicity, not unless it hits Louella O.
Parson's column with the little girls a bit older than five or ten."

"But it's no use changing you now, Mr. Walker, what with "See Here,
Private Hargrove" under your belt, and "Since You Went Away"
and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo". You can't argue with success. Only
I wish I'd been around when you were growing up, so completely
natural and on-the-level; and I'd like to be around twenty years from
now when interviews will be old, old stuff, and see, if by some
miracle, you were able to hang on to that wonderful forthrightness
and honesty and modesty in this star-studded city of fable and

"Just how did you grow up, Robert Walker? What route did you take to

"When Robert Walker was fourteen, he felt -- in common with all
normal adolescents -- that he wasn't understood. He just wasn't
understood! He was always wanting to run away and be his own boss
and snap his fingers at discipline."

"Right now," admits Bob reflectively, "when I remember how stubborn I
was, how certain my parents didn't understand me, it scares me a
little. You see, I have two boys myself -- Michael and Bobbie, Jr., -
- and I wonder how I'll ever get it across to them, how I'll ever put
it into words when they're fourteen that I DO understand them.
Because my parents are wonderful people, really, and they did
understand me -- only the connection was lost somewhere along the
line, and they couldn't get it across to me how they felt."

"Fortunately, I had an aunt, a wonderful down-to-earth person, who
volunteered to send me away to school, and although I didn't like
discipline, it's life for you that I should wind up at the San Diego
Army and Navy Academy, where discipline IS discipline!"

"I was at the so-called 'awkward' age, and although I'd always
thought girls were definitely worth my while, I got to that gruesome
stage where all little girls had bands on their teeth and giggled all
the time. I went through a period when I thought liking girls was
kind of sissy, and carrying their books home from school a sure sign
of weakness in the head!"

"But man cannot live by bread alone. With thirteen-year-old glamor
girls off my list, I immediately became conscious of the most
beautiful woman in the world -- Mrs. Virginia Atkinson, my dramatics

"I had been at the military academy about a year, and hating every
part of it, when one day Mrs. Atkinson asked me to read. She was a
kind and wonderful woman, and she must have been a really fine
psychologist, too, because she got me so interested in dramatics I
forgot how much I hated discipline. For the first time in my life,
my future came into focus. From that day to this one, I have had
just one ambition -- to be a good actor. What would have happened if
she hadn't seen something in me other people did not, what would have
happened if I hadn't taken that first course in drama, I don't know.
I think that perhaps my whole life might have been changed. Of
course, it helped that I thought she was the loveliest woman in the
whole world!"

"When anyone asks what my first 'break' was, I always say, 'Meeting
Mrs. Atkinson.' I've always kept in touch with her, and I hope some
day she'll be proud of me."

"I hope SOMEDAY! Well, here we go again! No doubt Mrs. Atkinson is
very proud of her star pupil today, but -- when it comes to talking
about himself -- Robert Walker is past-master of the art of

"After the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, Bob's aunt, Mrs. Hortense
Odlum (and Mrs. Odlum is to department stores what the Vanderbilts
are to society) sent him on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts
in New York. And there Bob met Jennifer Jones."

"They fell in love and were married, as the story books say. Then
they had a period when the going was tough. They were trying to
crack the New York stage. They lived in a sixteen-dollar-a-month
room in the rear of a tenement. But they were young, very young, and
it didn't matter much that they were two against the world. They
were deliriously happy, because in spite of heartaches and setbacks,
there was joy in their home -- Michael and Robert, Jr."

"One day luck brushed them with radio roles for Bob, and the grim
waiting for a break, the waiting so curiously sunshot with happiness,
was over. The time came when both were Hollywood bound."

"Bob met Jennifer at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, and when he was
questioned about his first real love affair, he said, "Can we say
that it wasn't until I went to New York to study drama that I fell in
love? And then can we just say, 'period'?"

"Because neither Bob nor Jennifer will speak of their break-up which
followed on the heels of Jennifer's triumph as "Bernadette". This,
too, is not traditional Hollywood pattern. No gossip columnist got a
scoop: no intimate secrets were barred; no breakfast table gossip
was furnished. Bob and Jennifer were guilty of stark good taste."

"Today, Bob is going through a change. Where before he was shy, a
home man, a family man, today he is more social. If someone happens
along at studio closing time and says, "Why don't you drop in at the
house for awhile?", Bob drops in. And he spends an evening with
them. When he leaves, he has made more friends. Making friends is a
never-ending "lift" for him. He used to feel, with typical Bob
Walker modesty, "Gosh, why would they want to talk with me?" Now,
often, he is the one to take the first step, make the first advance.
He is less shy, more sure of himself. It has come as a pleasant
surprise that any number of people are very eager to be friends. He
hasn't yet adapted that protective shell. Hollywood's famous
technique of "Don't be too nice, or they might want something!"

"Also, he's not as inarticulate as he used to be. Once on the
subject of something in which he is interested, he goes all-out.
Take Tay Garnett. "He's a swell person," says Bob, and then goes on
from there for hours. Or Robert Taylor. Let's talk about Robert

"I had my first real picture break in 'Bataan' as the young sailor.
Robert Taylor was the star, of course, and I was just a punk kid.
But he was wonderful to me -- always giving me tips, telling me about
things that would help me. The night of the preview, he came by in
his car and took me to the preview himself. Imagine that! A top
star like Robert Taylor! After the preview, on the way home, he said
he thought I had a great future. It was typical of his wonderful
generosity that he didn't keep his opinion to himself. Right after
my first preview, feeling kind of shaky, his words were heart-
warming -- an assurance I badly needed."

"Without a doubt he's the most beloved guy on the lot. Those who
know say he's never changed since the first day he came here. He's
never too busy nor too important to see people, to help them. He
doesn't have a big-shot complex. If success ever really came to me,
I'd feel very proud if I could wear it as well as does Robert Taylor."

"What kind of person am I?" I'm a mixture, I guess. For instance,
although I like to go dancing with someone like Judy Garland -- who
is a very good friend -- that doesn't mean I'm the night club type.
In fact, in contrast, I love the country. Someday I'd like a farm in
Connecticut. When I'm out in the open where there are trees and
water, I find peace and contentment. Then, too, I read an awful
lot. I like things like 'Portrait of Jenny'; I like Thomas Mann.
Sometimes I like to be alone, and sometimes I like to be with
crowds. I like to sit around with people and get into stimulating
discussions. Like most normal folks, I thrive on a balanced diet --
two parts quiet to one part excitement."

"As for my future in movies, I just want to do a good job. Years
later, I'd like to direct. I liked directing and producing very much
when I took a fling at it in the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich
Village. I've had a variety of roles since I came to Hollywood, and
I'm glad. I don't want to be typed, and no less a personage than Mr.
Louis B. Mayer, himself, promised me I wouldn't be. His word is gold
in the bank."

"I think I've been lucky. Tremendously lucky. I remember when I
left the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and went to sea. I
thought it was adventurous and romantic and perhaps I always would
have if I hadn't tried it out. It was luck that made me get on a
boat and get it out of my system, or today I might still have had a
hidden handering for the 'wind and the rain and the sea'. In
Hollywood, it's been the same way. Most comedians burn to
do 'Hamlet'; most great dramatic actors long for a fling at comedy.
But I've been lucky in having a crack at both types. Not that I want
it just to be a matter of luck, however. I want to work hard, to
give everything I've got, to keep right on trying for perfection,
until -- someday, later -- I can do something of which I am genuinely
and sincerely proud."

"Just then a man came to the table. "It's all set for that radio
show, Bob," he said. "You have a swell part, and when you can, come
up and look over the script in my office."

"Robert Walker could hardly finish his lunch. He was as excited, as
thrilled as a small boy. You would have thought being on that show
was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. No bored-with-it-
all routine. No phony "That's great, I like to dabble around in
radio now and then, old boy!" No, none of the old Hollywood line."

"I thought of "See Here, Private Hargrovde." It came to me suddenly
that the same enthusiasm and honesty were typical of that picture,
too. I went to see "Hargrove" expecting a laugh. I got it. I
almost split my seams rocking with laughter during the water
sequences, in the "little corporal" scenes. But then, at the end,
something happened. All at once it wasn't Hargrove up there, it was
all the privates in the US Army. And when the train pulled out, with
Hargrove aboard, when he realized he wanted to BE aboard and not in
some office sitting out the Big Show, a great message was in the
expression on Robert Walker's face."

"That one scene lifted "See Here, Private Hargrove" from slapstick to
immortality, made it one of the things that will last and be forever
identified with the spirit of this war, as was "Over There" and "It's
a Long Way to Tipperary" in the last."

"It wasn't the script, or the story, that lent this touch of
immortality; it was Robert Walker, himself. For a moment, up there
on the screen, he was all men of all time. Gallantry and hope,
couragte and enthusiasm were there, and I felt like getting to my
feel and cheering. Only I couldn't; I had a lump in my throat."

"I always thought there had to be flags waving and bands playing
before I felt like joining the WACS or the Waves. That's what I

"See HERE; Robert Walker, you can't do that to me!"

Copyright Screenland

Articles Index