"Meet the Winner" by May Driscoll - Motion Picture - September 1943

"Bob Walker is a snub-nosed, grinning version of Jimmy Stewart.  He's twenty-five, looks eighteen, is the tall, thin kind whose clothes look a little large on him and he's news in Hollywood right now.  News, because the fellow is a standout in his very first picture, Bataan, where he's stacked up against such Class-A's as Bob Taylor, Thomas Mitchell, George Murphy and Lloyd Nolan.  Bob plays a teen-age sailor caught in the fury of Bataan and when Bob Taylor saw the film he said, 'That kid's got the picture wrapped around his little finger.'

As a result, MGM regards him with the happy affection of a proud mother and promptly cast him in one of the plums of the year, the gawky, always-in-a-jam young hero of See Here, Private Hargrove.  In between you'll be seeing him in Madame Curie and after that plenty, heaven and the draft permitting.

One of the nicest things about Bob's success is the way he got it.  For a brief period it almost looked as though he'd sail into Hollywood as Mr. Jennifer Jones, the husband  of a girl who rose to immediate fame upon being cast as Bernadette.

If that had happened, no one would have believed that Bob Walker was an experienced actor, a good actor on his own, for Hollywood's funny that way.  Let the distaff member of the household make her way first, and the poor male is forever doomed as Miss Glamor's husband, and from then on is seldom taken seriously.

But that didn't happen to Bob because he wouldn't let it.  Don't think he wasn't tempted.  For instance....

Last year in New York when Jennifer was signed up by the great Selznick and was about to be sent to Hollywood with contract under arm, a representative of the office asked Bob to lunch.  During the course of the meal the representative asked Bob politely, 'Would you like to be in pictures, too?'

'Would a duck like to swim?' answered Bob.

'Well, then--uh--we can arrange a test for you.'

That would have been an easy way to get in.   Once before he had gone to Hollywood for the try and had gotten no farther than a roast beef sandwich at a vegetarian's picnic.  But his answer was as quick as it was firm, 'No, thanks.'

'You see,' he will tell you very earnestly, 'I didn't want to do it that way.  Getting in on my wife's skirt strings, so to speak.'  The way he walked into screen prominence on his own size twelves makes the rewards all the sweeter, his story all the more worth telling.

Life began for Bob at 16 when he discovered that he wanted to act.  Behind him lay a childhood in Salt Lake City where he was known to a certain thin-lipped contingent in the neighborhood as an incorrigible.  He used to run away from home regularly and skip school three days out of five.  When he cut one shenanigan too many he was sent to a military academy in California in the firm hope that he would learn discipline.  But he learned something else -- that acting was the life for him.  He enrolled in the dramatic course because he figured it would be an easy class, but he became bitten by the acting bug and neither a baseball game, good fishing weather nor the flu could keep him from regular attendance.

Such perseverance won him a scholarship at the Pasadena Playhouse and his family, delighted that Bob had found something he wanted to stick to, aided and abetted him.  A kindly and wealthy aunt offered to see him through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and Bob jumped at the chance.

Attending drama classes at that time was a long-legged dark-haired girl with a baby face and gigantic ambitions, to wit:  Jennifer Jones.  They rehearsed together, played scenes together, and over a cold drink at Walgreen's, the fabulous drugstore where would-be actors congregate to sip sodas and talk theater, they found themselves falling in love.

Vacation time.  Jennifer went home to Tulsa on a visit and Bob, finding New York suddenly empty, shipped off as a stoker on a South American freighter.

Two good storms, the sight of a man washed overboard and a general dislike for cramped quarters soon convinced him that there was a great difference between sea adventure as written in books and the real thing.  He hightailed it back to New York and Jennifer, who forgave him for writing only once.

Instead of returning to the Academy, Bob decided to brave the world.  After a general freezing at the offices of casting agents he wished he was back in school, but he couldn't back down now.  His income was $10 a week, borrowed from a brother, and he made it do by living in a co-operative lodge in Yonkers where everyone labored for their beds.

'That left me enough nickels with which to harass producers, but for all the good it did me I could have sunk it all in a good meal, which I needed,' he recalls laconically.

Finally he and Jennifer, who had also left the Academy, landed a part in a Greenwich Village stock company and were paid fifty cents a performance.

'Somehow,' says Bob, 'we managed.  I ate so many hamburgers and hot dogs that no animal has looked the same to me since.'

Then came a welcome rift in the clouds when Jennifer got an offer from a radio station in her home town to appear in some of the dramatic sketches.  'We need a leading man too,' they added, so she and Bob got on the first bus to Tulsa.  They received $25 a week apiece, and with Bob doubling as assistant manager in a local movie house, they felt affluent enough to try marriage.

With two such acting fanatics now joined forces there was nothing to stop them.  'Hollywood?' said Jennifer.  'Hollywood!' Bob agreed.

They got into a car, presented as a wedding gift by the bride's father, and were on their way for the Big Try.  It fizzled into a succession of promises that never materialized and tests that might just as well have been made without film.

'Too adolescent looking,' was the general verdict when Bob's lanky form sidled up to casting offices.  It's that same 'adolescent' quality that's his great appeal today.  He doesn't cut a notch for handsomeness, he owns neither soulful eyes nor football shoulders, but he does remind you of the boy who was your first crush or the gangling kid next door who's now in North Africa, and you take to him instantly.

Once he was practically set for a good juvenile role, but the director as an afterthought demanded, 'Take off your coat.'

Bob removed his coat and displayed his long, rangy torso.  'Nope,' said the director, dooming Bob's hopes.  'You're supposed to run around in one scene with a towel wrapped around you, and on you it won't be becoming.'

After pushing around, and being pushed around in turn, the discouraged young Walkers sold their car to replenish their flattened finances and made quick tracks back to New York again.

They installed themselves in a $16 a month room in the rear of a tenement in Greenwich Village with a puppy and a parrot and all lived happily in one room.

Still getting by on the money they had collected for the car, Bob and Jennifer went job hunting.  Jennifer eventually had to give up the pursuit for the more urgent business of successively presenting Bob with two male heirs a year apart, Bobby and Michael, now age three and two.

Broadway was still indifferent to Bob's talents, so he turned to radio where the glory is negligible but the eating regular.  Soon he was playing in enough air dramas to keep the wolf from the door, and he moved the family to a small house in Long Island.

Jennifer began to get restless after the second baby was born and she set out on the rounds again.  One day she came home beaming and slightly incredulous with the magnificant news that David Selznick had interviewed her and offered her a Hollywood contract.

It was at this point that the Selznick office, upon hearing that their new discovery had a husband who was an actor, thought it would do the right thing by offering Bob a screen test.  But they didn't know that the kids had figured the thing out in advance and that Bob had a good reason for turning down the offer.

'Jennifer and I always had an agreement not to use any influence in helping the other,' Bob explains.  'We knew that one of us would have to get a break sooner than the other.  Only by a miracle would a producer want to sign the two of us.  So our pact was that whoever got the breaks first must be left free, while the other would try to make good without tagging along.'

Jennifer left for Hollywood with the children, and Bob planned to follow later, after he had finished his radio commitments.  Then he would plug away and see what luck he'd have.

Was there any jealousy about Jennifer getting the Hollywood call while he languished undiscovered?  Was he at all afraid that the big build-up and attention showered on her would affect their idyllic marriage?

No such thoughts ever bothered him.  'Say, what sort of marriage do you think ours is?' he asks, and that seems to answer everything patly.

Bob was getting ready to leave for Hollywood and join Jennifer and the kids, when by one of those amazing finaglings of Fate his agent brought him to the New York office of MGM.  The studio wanted a boyish-looking actor for the part of the young sailor in Bataan, and Bob was given a tryout for the role.  One look at the test and officials were pumping his hand, thumping his back and shoving a contract under his unbelieving eyes.  Before he could recover his surprise, Bob was heading for Hollywood -- but as a star-in-the-making in his own right!

He didn't tell Jennifer but barged in on her and surprised her with the news.  She collapsed weakly, unable to believe it at first.  'It can't be,' she mumbled happily.  'Lightning just doesn't strike twice in the same house.'

But it did -- and now the Walkers comprise Hollywood's newest two-star family.  Their simultaneous double success hasn't gone to their heads, and there are no indications that it ever will.  They moved out of their small apartment into a large white Colonial house that has lots of ground around it, not because they've gone doggy but because the children can whoop it up without getting in anyone's hair.  They live quietly -- 'Jennifer's practically taken the veil while she's making Bernadette,' says Bob -- and evenings they talk shop, compare studio notes, read scripts and still gasp about the wonderful thing that's happened to them.  They live in slight confusion, great hopes and sublime happiness.  You never saw two people so happy.

Jennifer's a very proud Mrs. Bob Walker -- with good reason.  And while Bob's proud of his Jennifer, not for a moment could he ever be known as Mr. Jennifer Jones -- also with good reason."

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