"Kid Brother" by Jean Kinkead - Modern Screen - September 1946

(Interview with Robert Walker's older brother, Walter.)

"All kid brothers were pests, the Walker boys decided grimly. But
that Bob! He was a downright menace!"

"Walt Walker was reading the letter postmarked Ogden, Utah, out loud,
and his brother was hanging on every word."

"You mean Bob's coming here?" His gesture took in their comfortable
bachelor apartment, symbolic of their nice, well-ordered lives."

"Well -- to New York," Walt told him. "And we can't let him go to
the Y.M.C.A."

"Okay," said Dick, who was two years Bob's senior and a bit on the
cynical side. "Only what do you bet he installs a-tight-rope and a
lion's cage?" It was 1937 and Robert Walker was fresh out of San
Diego Military Academy, Broadway-bound and primed to set the world on

"Look," Walt said, tolerant and mellow at 28. "He's reformed. It
says here."

"That," Dick said, "I want to see." They sat down then, lit a couple
of cigarettes, and began to reminisce."

"Their brother Bob's birth, they remembered, was somewhat eclipsed by
the Salt Lake City fire, both of which occurred on the same night.
When -- next morning -- their dad told his three sons that they had a
new brother, they were unimpressed. Having sat up watching flames
and fire engines well into the night, they were three pretty weary,
pretty blase characters. If it had been a sister, now -- but a
brother? Brothers they had. Robert Hudson Walker took his place in
the Walker household with a minimum of fanfare."

"The three senior Walkers, Walt, aged 12, Wayne, 10, and Dick, 2,
were pretty average kids. No angels, to be sure, but not too fiend-
like, and for a while it seemed as if Bob were going to be a good
kid, too. There were small boy scrapes, of course. The inevitable
broken windows, stray dogs and cats brought home to be fed on the
grounds that they were "starrrving," that sort of thing. It wasn't
until he was between ten and twelve years old -- around the time the
family moved from Salt Lake City to Ogden -- that the Walkers
discovered that in son No. 4 they had a handful."

"There was the time Mrs. Walker took Dick and Bob to Washington, D.C.
to visit Walter, who was at George Washington University. Walter
knew from his mother's letters that Bob was giving them a bit of
trouble, but he hadn't bargained for anything like this. How did it
get started exactly? Bob wanted to go to see the Capitol early one
morning. The others weren't dressed yet, so Mrs. W. said it would
be better if he'd wait a little while. His hair trigger temper went
into action."

"I don't want to wait," he stormed. "I'm going right now."

"But you're not," his mother shook her head decidedly."

"Okay," he told her. "Then I'll jump out the window." They were on
the fifth floor of the hotel, and in a split second he had vaulted
over to the window and stood poised to leap. The family stood in
shocked silence, until -- just as suddenly as he'd hopped up on the
window ledge -- he turned and came back into the room."

"What makes you do a thing like that?" Walter asked him when they
were alone."

"I just felt like it," Bob scowled. What he felt like doing, he
did. He was a holy terror."

"Sitting now in their quiet apartment, the boys remembered that, and
Dick said, "The landlord won't like it. Why, that kid could hire out
as a professional lease-breaker."

"Once, after he'd been punished for some misdemeanor, he hopped a
freight for points west. His family didn't know where he had gone,
and they were frantic. From Las Vegas, Nevada, he telephoned to say
he was all right, and the next day he came home, bearing a couple of
chocolate bars as a peace offering. That was the funny thing about
Bob when he was going through this phase. The endearing thing that
made his flare-ups bearable. He would follow up a tantrum or a piece
of flagrant disobedience with some self-imposed penance or a small
present. Once when he'd all but broken his mother's heart with a
series of "I will not's," he tried to make amends by doing dinner
dishes for a week. During these trying years, Bob's mother kept in
close touch with her sister, Hortence Odlum, retired head of Bonwit
Teller's. Aunt Tenny, unbelievably wise, and herself the mother of
two boys, never lost confidence in him. "Bob's not bad," she would
write, "He is just mixed up. He hasn't found himself." His mother
and dad took him to doctors and to psychiatrists to no avail. And
then, like a double miracle, two things happened that changed his
whole life."

"Bob had had from his early years very poor vision. Each year it
seemed to get a little worse, and his eye doctor finally admitted
there was nothing he could do about it. He was afraid Bob would
utimately be blind. His mother couldn't and wouldn't believe it.
She scouted around until she learned of a specialist in San Francisco
who'd be able to help him if anybody could. They trekked west, and
after a series of examinations, the doctor said he could arrest the
condition, although he couldn't promise to improve it. It was like a
reprieve for Bob."

"Shortly thereafter, at Aunt Tenny's suggestion, Bob was sent off to
the school in San Diego. Not many people went to see him off but
there was, however, one friend on hand: Alice West, the drama critic
on the Examiner, who had praised Bob's work in a couple of plays at
Madison Grade School. She patted his thin shoulders and whispered in
his ear. "You show 'em out there, mister. You've got the makings of
a darn fine actor." The words warmed him all the way out there, and
sustained him through the first lonely weeks. He rebelled against
the regimentation, did miserably in his lessons, was even too
apathetic to seek out the dramatic club. So -- as you well know, if
you know your Walker -- the mountain came to Mohammed. Virgina
Atkinson, the school's dramatic teacher, who knew youngsters' hearts
so well, approached Bob and interested him in the play tryouts. You
all know how brilliantly successful he was in his first play, and
how -- subsequently -- he did well in his studies, in athletics, in
his relations with other people. He wrote to Walt, 18-year-old
cockiness mixed in with a bit of awe over the whole business: "I
guess I'm pretty good at this stuff."

"Aunt Tenny had offered to stake him to the American Academy of
Dramatic Art, so he was coming East. And, considering his past, it
was not too odd that Walt -- now practising law in New York, and
Dick -- studying accounting at Columbia -- should have had some

"Who'll go meet him -- you?" Dick said. Walt grinned. "Sure," he
said. And so it was Walt who was waiting at the head of the ramp
when Bob's train came in. Walt's handshake that said, "Welcome,"
that first day in the big town. Both of them knew, smiling at each
other a little shyly that first day in the big town."

"Oh, there were some changes made at the apartment, all right, but
they were nice changes. Bob prevailed upon their maid, who never
("positively never, Mr. Walker") appeared before nine or ten, to come
in and get them their breakfast every day. Not reluctantly, mind
you. She actually suggested it herself. "Young Mr. Walker" became her
pet, and choice morsels were invariably earmarked for him. Of an
evening, whereas the apartment had once harbored fairly quiet groups
of people, it now jumped with life."

"It was one night quite a while after he came to New York that Dick
and Walt first discovered he had talent. Another of their mother's
sisters, Mrs. Boyd Hatch, had a dinner party, and the Walkers were
invited. Afterwards, when everyone was sitting around in the living
room, Aunt Tenny said, "Bob, are they teaching you anything over at
that place?"

"Bob said, "Heck yes. I can throw my voice and -- "

"Let's hear you throw it. Do something you've learned."

"Here?" Bob screwed up his face the way he does when he's

"Why not?" asked Aunt Tenny briskly. So he did a monologue
called "The Jew," and did it so magnificently, so sensitively, that
his audience scarcely breathed while he spoke. When it was over,
Aunt Anne and Aunt Tenny were frankly bawling, and Dick and Walt were

"Bob had been at the Academy just a short while when he met a gal.
Obviously. Always a sort of casual dresser, he began to take endless
pains with his tie, he started laboring over his hair."

"Who is she?" Walt asked him one morning, waiting for a turn at the

"Who? Oh, her?" Bob swiveled around, blushing. "Name's Phyllis
Isely." And that was Jennifer. For weeks his brothers listened to
Bob eulogize her acting."

"What does she look like?" they'd ask, envisioning something very
blond and vaguely hussy-ish."

"She's beautiful," he'd say. "Eyes like -- I don't know. You can't
describe Phyl."

"She lived in Oklahoma and during Christmas vacation she went home
for a visit. Bob was lost for two weeks, feverish on the day she was
due back. "Take it easy," Walt said. "She can't be that good."
Accompanied by Walter and his mom -- who was in town for the
holidays, Bob met her train."

"There she is," he yelled, and he ran to meet her. "Mom, this is
Phyl," he said when he could get his breath, and he was so proud of
her he could hardly stand it. Mrs. Walker,who had been prepared for
mascara and black lace stockings, looked at the sweet heart-shaped
face, the gentle brown eyes."

"Why, hello, dear," she said, and she took her arm and walked up the
ramp. A pace or two behind them, Bob turned to Walt, and they
exchanged a wink that was the equivalent of a long, low whistle."

"Say, she's all right," Walt whispered."

"The family definitely approved, and just about a year later, when
they were eighteen and nineteen respectively, Phyl and Bob were
married. They were working in radio in Tulsa (Phyl's hometown) and
they were married quietly at her home. When it was over, they called

"Hey, Walt," Bob shouted, rice and confetti in his voice, "someone
wants to talk to you."

"Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Bob Walker. We just got married."

"Eighteen and nineteen -- a couple of infants, Walt thought. But
they were really in love."

"By the time the came back to New York, via an unsuccessful go at
Hollywood, Dick was working in San Francisco and Wayne was still in
Washington. The kids sort of clung to Walt. He was always there
with the moral support, and as often as not a ten-spot to help them
through their unemployment crises. "Look," Bob would say every once
in a while. "Supposing I never get an acting job. I'm going to get
a job at Macy's or some place."

"Don't be a dope," Walt would tell him. "You're not some dime-a-
dozen ham. You're good." It was Walt who'd periodically restored
their faith in themselves, who'd stake them to steak when they looked
kind of lean and hungry, who thought it was swell, not grim, when
they told him he was going to be a godfather. When Bob got his first
real break in radio, you'd have thought it had happened to Walter, he
was so happy. He couldn't listen to him on the morning soap operas,
but his maid did, and she'd regale him with a blow by blow account at

"It was like this in 'John's Other Wife' today, Mr. Walker," she'd
say. Or, "'Stella Dallas' was terribly sad this afternoon. I almost
hate to tell you..." In the evening, Walt would arrange his dates so
that he could keep up with 'Maudie's Diary.'"

"Things were picking up for the young Walkers about then, and they
moved from their $16-a-month flat in the Village to a place in the

"Now and then they'd lure Walt down. Some vital course of the Sunday
dinner invariably burned; he had to share the couch with Inky, the
cocker. Why, he'd sometimes ask himself, would he leave his
comfortable apartment for a deal like that? The answer was, of
course, that he was fond of the Bob Walkers, kind of nuts about their
little Bobby."

"As their prosperity increased, they moved first to Garden City,
where Michael was born, then to Sands Point. At that juncture, Bob
was doing very well, and they were able to have a nurse for the
youngsters. Phyl began going into the city job-hunting and -- if
you'll forgive a twice-told tale -- that was when one of Selznick's
talent scouts saw her. She went to Hollywood to test for "Keys to
the Kingdom," telephoned Bob to say she'd landed "Bernadette".

"She took the children with her, and Bob, with a dozen radio
commitments, stayed home. Finally, sick with loneliness, he
persuaded his agent to wangle him a screen test at M-G-M, and he and
Walt closed the house in Sands Point. Walter went to the train with
him, and when they said goodbye that time, it was for more than three
long years. Those were eventful years. For the world generally.
And for the Walkers particularly. When Walt came back from the ETO
this sping, they had a lot of catching up to do."

"He was discharged from Camp Kilmer, and right afterwards he got a
plane West to spend two weeks with his kid brother. Only he wasn't
his kid brother any more."

"You look fat."

"Sure. I live right," Bob told him."

"You mean you're actually eating now?"

"Three times a day." Maybe oftener, as it turned out. Bob's a snack
man now. An avacado here, a hamburger there. It was a revelation to
his brother. They walked into Bob's apartment and Walt was floored."

"It's so neat...." Walker was never like this. There were other
surprises. He saves his money now, he's developed a fabulous
business head, he's crazy about music -- knows something about it."

"They were a wonderful two weeks, with a lot of serious talk, but
with a lot of fun too. There was the night Miss Photoflash of 1945
from Chicago appeared in Hollywood. She was to have a screen test
and a date with her favorite movie star -- Bob Walker. They made it
a foursome (Hedda Hopper went along with Walt) and it was a gay, gay
business. There were so-called quiet evenings at home when Pete
Lawford would drop in and play every record Bob owned, with the
volume pushed up high. There was the exciting day on the set
of "Watch the Clouds Roll By" when Walt saw Bob doing Jerome Kern at
seventy, complete with paunch and grey hair; saw him do a scene over
five times without getting edgy or self-conscious about it."

"How come?" Walt asked him, remembering the old days. "What did you
do with your nerves?"

"Bob grinned, the slow one that starts in his eyes and works
down. "I'm a big boy now."

"The day he was leaving, Walt smacked him on the shoulders. "Hate to
see you go, kid." Bob looked at him, and looking remembered a lot of
things. Sentimental, corny, heart-warming things. He stuck out his

"Give the lady your ninety-nine cents," he said. "You can see me any

"And, speaking as a Walker fan, for our dough that's the nice part of

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