"See Here, Mr. Walker..." by Kaaren Pieck - Modern Screen - May 1944

"Bob feels right at home in Private Hargrove's shoes. In fact, he
was born to 'em. And it's not so long since he outgrew them that he
can't still wriggle his toes comfortably within their familiar depths.

When 'Bataan' was released, Salt Lake City and Ogden staged a hair-
pulling match over whose local boy he was. The marquees read BOB
WALKER and BOB TAYLOR in "Bataan". Mom and Dad were overwhelmed with
attentions, and Dad had to take bows at the Rotary Club. Behind the
glow of pride ran the bewildering vision of a skinny kid whose middle
name was Trouble.

Aunt Tenny saw the picture in New York. Bob's Aunt Tenny is Mrs.
Hortense Odlum of Bonwit Teller's. What Bette Davis is to pictures,
that's what Mrs. Odlum is to department stores. With the strangers
around her, she laughed and wept over the gangling sailor, and
thought of the day she'd turned him adrift to shift for
himself. 'And boy, did he shift!' murmurs Aunt Tenny. 'My nephew.'

He was never the hellion type, far from it. A misunderstood yearling
is what he thought he was. Youngest and skinniest of four brothers,
he had no one to heckle, since he was also the skinniest kid on the
block. Only when there was a gap in the team would the guys let him

'Aw, he's no good.'
'Better'n nothin'.'
'Yeah, but not much.'

Bob thinks that's why he got such a terrific boot out of his own
son's feat. Last winter he took Bobby, the elder boy, to visit his
parents in Ogden. It was coasting weather, and the hardier kids used
a drive so steep that when you reached the bottom, you went skimming
four blocks on momentum. Bob took his youngster down that drive and
hauled him back again. At the top, Bobby looked his father in the
eye. 'I want to go down by myself.' He was three an a half.

'You can't.'
'I can, Daddy.'

What got Bob was the way he said it -- no cockiness, just a quiet
confidence that infected the parent in spite of himself. He told
Bobby to wait, posted a couple of older kids at strategic points, and
himself took a spot halfway down the hill.

Heart thumping against his ribs, calling himself all kinds of a fool,
he yelled, 'Okay!' Down came Bobby, steering like a veteran, past
his Dad, past the other outposts, straight as an arrow to the bottom
on the hill and beyond. Apprehension gave way to a surge of such
exultant pride as Bob had never known -- not even when Bobby and
Michael were born. Going down to meet his son who came trudging up
toward him, he thought: 'He's the youngest kid ever to take this
hill, and he wasn't scared. I'm his father. But he's more than just
my kid. He's a person.'

That's when the ghost voices sounded.

'Better'n nothin'.'
'Yeah, but not much.' And that's when Bob laughed out loud.

At his son's age, he was a person, too -- which was maybe the root of
his trouble. He got kicked out of kindergarten -- for what heinous
sin he doesn't recall -- but brother! when you get kicked out of
kindergarten, you're an individualist. He played hookey from
school. His folks couldn't understand why his grades were so poor,
and he couldn't understand what was so important about it. It wasn't
important to him. Nor to Adrian, his boon companion, who was also
misunderstood and played hookey with him. When the family moved to
Ogden from Salt Lake, he missed Adrian, but continued to play hookey
by himself. He and Adrian were just marking time anyway, till they
could run away. The thing was to get out on your own. Free of
pestering elders, the world was a wide and beautiful place.

They found it was wide, anyway, when they hopped a freight from Salt
Lake -- where Bob was visiting -- and got thrown off with the rest of
the stumblebums at Las Vegas.

'Let's hike out to the middle of the desert,' said Bob.

'What for?'

'They'll say, 'Look at those poor little children' an' give us a

People were allergic to poor little children that day. Nobody gave
them a lift. So they hiked back to Las Vegas, by which time home
with its regular meals didn't look so bad. But Bob had set out for
adventure, and adventure he meant to have.

In his shoe was a silver dollar which even the pal of his bosom
didn't know about. 'Let's go in this store and grab a couple of Baby
Ruths and run.'

'We'll get arrested.'

'They wouldn't arrest a couple of poor little children.' Bob liked
that line.

Ashen-faced, Adrian grabbed and ran -- straight into Bob's
arms. 'Whatcha runnin' for? I got money to pay for a million Baby

Drunk with freedom, Bob reached home to find his mother sick over his
disappearance. He got mad at her for being sick. Then he got mad at
his father. There was a good 20-buck car on the market, and he'd
saved 20 bucks, delivering papers. Dad said he was too young for a
car. Bob decided this was a kind of disease with parents, butting
into their kids' affairs. He got a job, left home and boarded out.
The elder Walker threw up his hands and called on a psychologist
friend for help. That guy must have known his business. In no time
at all, he had Bob home, bawling his eyes out.

But by now the family was walking on eggs. Aunt Tenny was drawn into
their counsels and offered to send her maverick nephew to the
military school her own boys attended -- the San Diego Army and Navy
Academy at Carlsbad. At first it was just a change of battling
locale. Bob continued to skin his knuckles and crack his head
against a world he'd never made and didn't like. Meantime, Virginia
Atkinson, who taught dramatics, watched him with an understanding
eye. And one day she said, 'How would you like to read for a part in
a play?'

It was like sulfa drugs to fever, and a bottle to a famished babe.
Six months later Bob didn't know himself. His grades had picked up,
the chips were gone from his shoulders, the sun was out, he loved his
fellow-man and worshipped Mrs. Atkinson. The whole thing looked like
magic, but was perfectly simple. He'd found in self-expression the
freedom his nature craved.

He stayed at Carlsbad five years and in interstate dramatic contests
won best-actor award twice in a row. There was no doubt in his mind
about what he wanted to do. But he was diffident, and Mrs. Atkinson
was his oracle. He couldn't ask for the go-sign, he waited for her
to give it.

She gave it one night when he drove her home from a
performance. 'You've got to decide if you're willing to face the
heartbreak. All I can say is, I think you're good enough to be an

Bob's reactions are quiet. 'That's good enough for me,' he said, and
you couldn't have told that his heart was doing handsprings up in the

The Pasadena Playhouse offered him a scholarship. Aunt Tenny offered
him a two-year course at the American Academy in New York. He'd have
liked to take both, but when you're 18 and New York beckons, you
don't give her the air -- not if you're in your right mind, you don't.

There was a girl in Tulsa named Jennifer Jones who wanted to be an
actress. Her folks happened to send her to the Academy that same
year. She and Bob met, attended classes together, fell in love,
finished their first year and went hunting for summer jobs. Jennifer
found one with a tent show in the Midwest. Bob was still luckier.
He tried out for and copped the part of a skinny boy in a Broadway
play. Jennifer was sick over missing the opening. They said good-
bye reluctantly and made a date for the fall. Three days later the
Broadway producer said, 'I'm sorry, Bob. We're changing this skinny
boy to a fat boy.'

Something happened then that hadn't happened since Bob was 13. He got
sore at the world, marched out of the theater, down 44th to the
Hudson. Nuts to the stage! He'd get on a steamer and go around the
world. The steamer happened to be a United Fruit liner that didn't
go round the world, just hauled bananas back and forth from Central
America. By summer's end he'd sweated the peeve out of his system.
Magnanimous, that was Bob. Ready to forgive. American Academy, here
I come!

He'd reckoned without Aunt Tenny, whose word was her bond and who
expected the same of others. By her standards, Bob had walked out on
their deal, quit under his first blow. That made the deal invalid.
He was on his own.

He had no squawk, thought she was perfectly right. American Academy,
here I don't come. Jennifer decided not to go either. Practical
experience, that was better than any old school. They got Paul
Gilmore to let them put on 'Springtime for Henry' down at the
Provincetown. Boy, was that fun! Money? Don't be silly. Who makes
money at the Provincetown? Besides, they didn't need any. Jennifer
ate on what the family sent her. Bob lived at a Yonkers co-op and
slung hash for his room and some of his meals. His good brother
Walter, practicing law in New York, gave him ten bucks a week.

Then came the wire. Tulsa was opening a new radio station. Would
Jennifer come back to star in a series of dramatic shows? Fourteen
weeks at 25 a week. Bob thought it was wonderful and tried not to
think what New York would be like without Jennifer. 'Of course you
must go.'

'Maybe I must,' she said, looking thoughtful. 'But come on in here

In here was Western Union. She didn't write yes, she didn't write
no. What she wrote was, 'Can you use a leading man?'

It turned out they could. Fourteen weeks later, with money in the
bank, Bob and Jennifer were married in Tulsa and spent their
honeymoon trying to crash Hollywood. Hollywood didn't know they were

Being poor didn't matter. Living in one room that cost 18 a month
didn't matter. They were young and in love and all their beautiful
life lay ahead. Daytimes Bob looked for work. Jennifer couldn't,
because a baby was on the way. At night he synopsized movie scripts
at six dollars a script. Jennifer helped.

One unforgettable day came an emergency call from a radio agent. Bob
tore up and tore back with a check for 21 dollars. Five words he'd
said. They figured it out on the back of an envelope. Four dollars
and twenty cents a word--

'One word for a hat,' said Bob. 'We're going to buy you the best hat
in New York for four dollars and twenty cents.'

They took the bus uptown. The hat was blue with white ribbons. It
cost four dollars, and the face underneath it made it look like a

Radio began breaking. The day Bobby was born, his dad got three
jobs, and they called him their good luck. By the time Michael came
11 months later, Bob was an established radio actor with five regular
programs. In addition to youth and love, they now had two kids and a
car and a house at Sands Point.

But Jennifer's craving to act was as strong as Bob's, and he had
every sympathy with it. When Michael was old enough, she began
trotting round to the agents again. One job she applied for was in
the road company of 'Claudia'.

'Road company, nothing!' said the agent, grabbing his hat. 'Mr.
Selznick's in town. Let's go see him about the picture.'

Mr. Selznick grabbed Jennifer almost as fast as the agent had grabbed
his hat. 'Claudia?' Never mind 'Claudia'. Make a test of Miss
Jones. Run the test of Miss Jones. Have Miss Jones come right up.
Mr. Selznick wants to put you under personal contract, Miss Jones.'
Those were the words, and the tune didn't matter, as Miss Jones and
Mr. Walker waltzed round and round, to the wonder and admiration of
their children.

When Jennifer was called to the coast to test for Twentieth
Century's 'Song of Bernadette', she took the kids along. If she got
the part, Bob would close the house, store the furniture and try for
radio work in California. Before Bernadette was settled, M-G-M's New
York scouts had asked Bob to make a test. Not being the hero type,
he thought his chances were slim. Besides, as a movie beginner, he'd
get only a fraction of his radio earnings. But when M-G-M offers you
a test, you make it. And when M-G-M offers you a contract, you may
fall flat on your astonished face but you take it, and to heck with
the dough.

He didn't let Jennifer know he was coming, wanted to surprise her.
She practically fainted. 'Bob! Where have you been? I've been
trying to call you, Bob. I got the part, darling! I'm Bernadette.'

'And I'm under contract to M-G-M.' So they fainted into each other's

He got really steamed up when they gave him the script of 'Bataan' at
the studio next day. That night he read it aloud to Jennifer. Baby,
what a part! He almost didn't get it, too. Played it too old when
he tested. But Tay Garnett, the director, called him to the office
and watched him as he talked. 'You don't have to test again,' he
said at last. 'The part's yours.'

'Tay Garnett, that's my pappy,' says Bob, and the way he says it, you
can positively see the halo round Garnett's head.

Everything was happy and exciting then. Everything was perfect. A
few years back Hollywood couldn't see either of them. Now the movie
plum of plums lay in Jennifer's hands. 'Bataan', introducing Bob
Walker, was finished and about to be sneaked.

Sneak previews are just what their name implies. They're run for
audience reaction. Players are supposed to stay away from their
door. But information leaks out. In this case it leaked out to Bob
Taylor, who took pity on the other Bob. 'Come on, you can go
along.' Only the other Bob wanted Miss Jones along, too, so he hid
her in the back seat of the car where Taylor found her.

'I thought a sneak preview meant you could sneak in,' said Jennifer

I don't have to tell you what the sailor did to that audience. If
you saw the picture, he did it to you, too. M-G-M promptly cast him
as Private Hargrove. Everyone said, how wonderful. Everyone said
those lucky, lucky kids -- they've got everything. Then the heavens
split with one of those lightening bolts Hollywood never gets used
to, though they're frequent enough, more's the pity. Bob and
Jennifer separated.

Only they know why. We know only that few separations have saddened
the town more. It's none of the town's business, but nobody who's
seen them together can squelch the feeling that they belong together.

Of them, the old cliche is literally true. They remain friends.
When Bob finished 'Hargrove' and 'Mme. Curie', he moved over to
Selznick's to play opposite Jennifer in 'Since You Went Away'. He's
a stickler for promptness. If he says he'll meet you at two, he'll
meet you or break a leg. One day he came in 15 minutes late, and
terribly upset. He was late because he'd stopped in to see
Jennifer. He was terribly upset because she had a cold.

His Sundays are devoted to the boys. They're three and four now, but
Michael's the same height and weight as Bobby, so they look like
twins, and they're the twin apples of his eye. When Michael was
named Michael, his parents vowed he'd never be called Mike. So he's
called Mike. Of the two, he's rather more introspective. Music
sends him off into daydreams, and he's got those bedroom eyes that
say come-and-get-me. Bobby doesn't wait to be got. He goes after
what he wants and what he seems to want most is people. Traveling to
and from Ogden, he collected every heart on the train.

Bob's been kept too busy for much social life. By the end of the day
he's generally too pooped for more than dinner and a book. When he
can, he plays tennis with Peter Lawford or Cornell Wilde. Loves all
forms of exercise, including walking, but finds walking in California
a snare and delusion. It lacks the New York tingle.

He's a friend of Keenan Wynn's, and sooner or later any friend of
Keenan Wynn gets the motorcycle bug. A car ran into Bob's bike while
he was on it, and he got his head cracked and was laid up for three
weeks. 'Keep off it,' the studio ordered. He said he would if
they'd buy it. They said they needed it like they needed a bullet in
the brain. 'Then I'll be awfully tempted to ride it,' said Bob. So
they bought it.

He loves the piano, and wants to take lessons, so he can play swing
and more swing. His favorite writers are Saroyan and Warwick
Deeping -- even if they are sentimental -- and Nancy Hale, because
she's sophisticated. He goes for anything Brooksy in clothes, plain
colors in ties and heavy wool socks all year round. Jewelry leaves
him cold, except he thinks it would be classy to own a pair of nut-
and-bolt cuff-links. All he owns now is a watch that he never wears.

He eats like a wolf, drinks two quarts of milk a day and cream when
he can get it, but doesn't gain weight. He likes pie for breakfast,
and the only thing he hates worse than cabbage is gossip.

He's in Florida at the moment, on location for 'Thirty Seconds Over
Tokyo'. Their friends can't down the hope that whatever went wrong
between him and Miss Jones may yet be mended somehow by them. They
want boy and girl together again, under the sign of a blue hat with
white ribbons. See here, Mr. Walker, that's not mere idle gossip.
That's just the good old American prayer for a happy ending to
stories of youth and love and dreams."

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