"From His Father, A Gift of Life"
Hollywood Family Album - No. 11 - 1962
his father. He remembers him well. And the pain is still there, for even today,
11 years after his death, it's hard to talk about the man. Friends will come
up to him and remark upon how
much they had respected and admired his father, and he's appreciative but when he's asked about what he remembers he'll say only, 'I'd rather not talk about that.'
He was just
five when his mother, Jennifer Jones, and the father for whom he was named were
divorced. He was much too young to understand
why daddy was no longer with him every day. But daddy was around often enough so young Bob was never really lonely. Except perhaps for the six months when his father wasn't in Hollywood. But even then, frequent and loving letters would arrived post-marked from Topeka, Kansas, and there was no way of Bob Walker Jr. knowing that his dad wasn't away making a movie somewhere, but in a hospital, under psychiatric care for a severe nervous breakdown.
Senior worshipped his sons. Even after his divorce from Jennifer, and even after
her subsequent remarriage to David Selznick, his sons were his very reason for
existence. Once in a
moment of candor, for he was a shy man and found it difficult to talk about the things he felt too deeply, he admitted: 'I want desperately to live a long time and see them through to manhood and make sure they will never suffer the torments I have.' In spite of published reports, he retained no bitterness toward Jennifer, who gave him the children three months out of the year.
Jr. remembers the time he and his brother spent with his father as perhaps the
happiest of his childhood. He remembers the
way his dad taught him to hunt and fish, and the rabbit hunts they went on from which they came home with lots of imaginary adventures
and no rabbits. He remembers the ranch next to the Will Rogers home, which Walker bought so the boys could have their own horses, and the nights when the three would sit together like three stringbeans on the curb of Sunset Boulevard, watching the cars whizz toward the beach. Maybe he can't remember which things happened which year, but there was one period which had to remain in his mind. The very last time they spent together, the summer of 1951, when Walker was working in 'My Son John', and, by the sheerest coincidence, a scene for the
film was shot at the military institute the boys were attending. They were allowed time to visit the set and watch their father act.
Their mother usually spent the summer in New York with Selznick, and the boys stayed at the ranch, and on weekends they'd all go down to the beach and romp on the sand and in the sea. A friend took 'home movies,' and the memories are still there, to relive whenever Bob Jr. wishes.
was sudden, abrupt. The boys saw him early on the afternoon of the day his life
was snuffed out. (He died from a respiration failure caused by a dose of sodium
to quiet one of his frequent emotional outbursts.) The next thing the boys remember is their mother's sudden return from New York, explaining as gently and tenderly as she could, that the man they
worshipped was 'gone'. But they didn't attend the funeral in Utah. Jennifer wanted it that way so 'they would remember their father as he was.'
were a montage of places and schools, as he went from Hollywood to New York
to Switzerland and Spain. 'My school career
was less than a success,' he admits. 'I got up to high school. I went to 14 or 15 different schools and didn't like any of them. I didn't do any acting in school. I wasn't the least bit interested in
it. If I did think about it, I did so subconsciously, because I was never aware of any yen to be an actor. That only came in the last year or two. I was taking a playwriting course and decided I should
know about the problems of acting. But once I started acting -- that was it.'
He ran into
no difficulties in getting jobs. The talent was inborn. Summer stock was followed
by a TV role in 'Portrait of Dorian Grey,' and then MGM, the studio at which
his father became a star, signed
him for a role in 'The Hook' -- that of a sensitive young soldier who defies orders to kill a prisoner. A contract was inevitable. And in some ways it was like two decades had melted away and the Bob Walker that used to be was again passing through the studio gates. 'I don't want my sons to suffer the torments I have,' Walker had said. Walker
Jr. is hoping to fulfill his father's wishes. Married to a pretty southern girl, Ellie Wood, and the father of a new baby girl, he's trying to be realistic about his life and his career. Of his mother he says, 'I don't see her much, but I think she's pleased about my
becoming an actor. I even think she's pleased about becoming a grandmother.' When he sees himself on the screen, he has to see his father, for physically he's almost a reincarnation of the man. And
maybe he's hoping to bring the Walker name the glory it once came so close to having."
Copyright Hollywood Family Album