Got a Lot to Live Up To" by Tim Burkett -
Screen Parade- June 1963
and warm affection greeted young Robert Walker when he walked onto a studio
sound stage for his motion picture debut in 'The Hook'. The scene was MGM,
the studio where his father, Robert Walker, Sr., had risen to worldwide
There were no strangers for Bob to meet. 'The Hook' is a William
Perlberg-George Seaton production; these are the same two men who introduced a young actress named Jennifer Jones to film audiences in 'The Song of Bernadette', a movie for which she won an Oscar. Jennifer is Bob's mother.
Bob's startling feature-for-feature resemblance to his father opened the floodgates of memory to still another -- the five-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer, Joseph Ruttenberg, who filmed Walker Senior's first screen test at MGM. Now, 19 years later, he was photographing the late actor's son; the test won Bob the role of the idealistic GI with Kirk Douglas in 'The Hook' plus a five year, one-picture annually, deal with the studio.
The first thing young Robert did after signing his contract was to drop the 'Jr.' from his name. He says he isn't trying to disguise his relationship to two famous motion-picture names but, at the same time, neither is he trying to cash in on his heritage. Others with somewhat similar backgrounds could tell young Bob that his name will only get him into the business; that his own talent is what is necessary to keep him there. And the people who've been watching Bob with cold, business-like interest believe he's got what it takes to be around
for a long time to come.
'I don't consider my name a handicap,' Bob says, still reluctant to talk about himself. 'But I realize people will make comparisons. I've got a lot to live up to in trying to become an actor of my father's caliber. I choose to look on it as an incentive to work harder.'
Bob, who was born on Long Island, New York, had no intention of becoming an actor when he skimmed through some 14 different schools located everywhere from New York to New Mexico, California to Switzerland, France to Italy.
'When I was young I was torn between three interests,' he says with a grin, 'none of them acting. I didn't know whether I wanted to make a career out of playing the bongo drums, photography, or writing.'
Finally deciding on writing, Bob enrolled as a student under drama coach Lee Strasberg.
'That's not as crazy as it sounds,' Bob insists. 'Since I planned to write for actors I felt I should know something about acting.'
Strasberg suggested to Bob that playing in summer stock would be a helpful experience in creating scenes. So Bob went out on the straw hat circuit. The moment he stepped on a stage -- as Sebastian in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night,' of all things -- the acting bug bit him, and hard! Within the next two years he worked in summer stock (with Celeste Holm in 'Bells Are Ringing'; as Ensign Pulver in 'Mr. Roberts'; as the schoolboy in 'Tea and Sympathy'); appeared in an
off-Broadway children's musical, 'The Emperor's New Clothes', in which he had to sing for the first time; appeared in two television plays -- 'The Story of Dorian Gray' and a segment of 'The Defenders'. A visit to Hollywood for a month's holiday catapulted him into the role of movie actor. His agent suggested he try for the youthful GI in 'The Hook'. He did; got the part, and the MGM contract.
In addition to becoming a movie actor, Walker also became a father, and at just about the same time. His daughter was born a few days after he started his film career. She was named Michele for his younger brother Michael.
Bob and his wife Ellie met during their student days in New York City. Bob says he saw her first when he studied with Lee Strasberg, but it wasn't until both were in a modern jazz dance class that he really found her. They were married in August, 1961, in New York -- and now share the problem of where to make their permanent home. Ellie is all for New York. Bob sighs for Italy. Right how it's Hollywood and a home in Beverly Hills which Bob says was built for him as a boy and 'has unhappy memories'. He would like to start from scratch with a home of
his and Ellie's choice. But he wants a secluded place; she likes 'neighbors and sidewalks'.
Bob admits that his mother is 'delighted' that he's started his new career, 'not so much because I've become an actor, as that I've finally found a job to which I can give my sole and serious attention. She never tried to push my younger brother Michael or me in any particular direction,' he points out. 'I guess she figured that if I was meant to be an actor, I'd come around to it in time.'
Michael is currently studying to be an archaeologist and has no interest in Hollywood or the theater. But Bob's interest is more than enough to carry on the family name.
'He's better looking than his father,' says George Seaton, who directed 'The Hook'. 'He has eyes that melt you. It's delightful seeing this kind of human being on the screen again.'
Copyright Screen Parade 1963