Gossipy Kate's

                      unscripted endings

remembers

those

who have gone

too soon.

 

Robert Walker

1918 - 1951

the public heartbreak of

“Private Hargrove”

 

Robert Hudson Walker had one great love in his life and when she left him the hole in his heart was so deep that, no matter how hard he tried, nothing on earth could fill it. He was born on Sunday, October 18, 1918 in Salt Lake City, Utah and the only one paying any attention to him was his mother. It seems his father and three brothers were busy elsewhere watching a fire!

 


Robert at 18 months

...with mother and brothers Wayne and Richard

Horace Walker was the city editor of the “Deseret News” and that night he was so tied up with a fire in the city that it was hours later before he could check with the hospital to find his wife Zella had another son. In fact, it was Horace who put the birth notice in the paper. Back home the other boys....Walter aged 12, Wayne, 10 and Richard just 2...were at the window as fire engines raced by to a fire that would blacken whole city blocks. A sister would have been more interesting to them but another boy was just more of the same. It didn't take long for the family to realize that Robert Hudson Walker would be very different from his brothers.


The Deseret Building

As soon as Robert was barely mobile, he would toddle out the door carrying his teddy bear, and heading for parts unknown. Temper tantrums became his usual answer to that terrible word “No”. In elementary school he was always being sent home for annoying the little girls or running away. Mrs. Walker became more familiar with his teachers than her next door neighbors. Robert was also the one who had trouble with the neighborhood “bad boys”...when he couldn't lick them he just joined them. But he was also one of the most enterprising kids in town. He was weeding and mowing lawns when he was just barely tall enough to push the mower. He sold magazine subscriptions and made enough money to buy Christmas gifts for his parents and an electric train for himself.


The old Salt Lake Theate



Robert's fascination for acting and theater became apparent even then. He had seen plays put on by touring companies at the old Salt Lake Theater and decided to produce his own in the backyard. He and his friend Adrian even “procured” the old ticket machine from the abandoned theater to print tickets of their own. Robert recruited his pals to be actors but, of course, he was always the star and, once, his bent for realism almost did him in. The “play” involved props, buckets of sand that stood in for buckets of water. Robert got so wrapped up in his role that when he tilted the bucket to his mouth, the sand actually went down his throat. They had to call the doctor to clear it out.

 

 

 


Aunt Tenny (Hortense Oldum)

A cadet!

When he was twelve, the family moved to Ogden, Utah 30 miles away. . He upset his parent's hopes that his behavior would calm down by hopping a freight train with his friend Adrian and disappearing for several days. So, with financial assistance from wealthy Aunt Tenny, Robert was enrolled in the San Diego Military and Naval Academy.



Bob's drama teache
r

A graduate!

It was at the Academy that Bob's acting talent came to the attention of a drama class instructor, Virginia Atkinson. He was trying out for a small part in a class play “The Other Side” and he did so well the instructor gave him the lead. Robert Walker won the San Diego County Best Actor trophy for that performance.. The next year he won a scholarship to the Pasadena Playhouse but poor grades kept him from graduating and the scholarship was put on hold. It was a wake-up call and Bob's grades improved so much that Aunt Tenny paid his way to New York and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA). It was there that Bob met Phylis Isley. The attraction between them was deep and immediate.


Bob meets THE GIRL....

...and marries her!

Phylis Isley was the only child of Phillip Ross Isley and his wife, Flora. Phillip was a Dallas Texas theater entrepeneur with a chain of over 80 theaters across California, Texas and Oklahoma. Phylis had been raised in Catholic private schools much differently than Robert who was a devout Mormon. But the two became inseparable, studying scenes together and going from one audition to another. With help from Phillip, the two got parts on a Tulsa radio program at $25 a week. Thirteen weeks later, Robert Walker, age 19 married Phylis Isley, age 18 and, with the car her parents gave them as a wedding present, the bride and groom headed to Hollywood with stars in their eyes.


Having fun!


reading scripts

kitchen duty

on the air

In 1939 all that was available were the low budget “B” pictures along Hollywood's “Poverty Row”. Phylis reluctantly used her father's letter of introduction at Republic Studios and was cast in small roles...a John Wayne western “New Frontier” and a Dick Tracy serial. Bob found bit parts at Warner Bros. (“Winter Carnival”) and MGM (“These Glamour Girls” and “Dancing Co-ed”). But nothing substantial turned up and so they headed back to New York and a tiny apartment on the fringe of Hell's Kitchen.

with the boys!

The Walkers welcomed their first child on April 15, 1940, a son they named Robert, Jr. His pop got more good news...NBC hired him for a radio soap called Yesterday's Children and he soon became so popular on radio dramas he scarcely had time to eat between dialogue bits. He became a steady cast member on Myrt and Marge by the time a second son, Michael, was born in 1941 and they moved on up to a six room house on four green acres in Garden City, Long Island. They bought a Buick convertible and a nurse for the kids and went into town to catch up on all the hit performances. Bob even joined the exclusive Sands Point country club where he played tennis with Phylis while the boys splashed around in the kiddie pool.


The old Walker and the “new Jennifer”

Then, as the boys got a little older, Phylis began to think of a career again. When she heard that the play Claudia was being considered for a film, she decided to test for it at David O. Selznick's New York office. According to Selznick, “ he was deeply moved by her sensitivity and a rare quality difficult to define”. What Phylis didn't realize at the time was that it was the beginning of Selznick's obsession with her. An obsession that would give her all the things she always dreamed of, the chance to be a great actress. It would also become the nightmare that haunted Robert Walker for the rest of his life.


“Bataan”


“The Song of Bernadette”

Phylis Isley Walker became Jennifer Jones and was groomed by Selznick to play the title role in Franz Werfel's “The Song of Bernadette”. There would be no mention of her marriage or her children. And, most of all, Robert Walker was to be kept very busy elsewhere. When the new Jennifer Jones went to Hollywood in 1942 the old Robert Walker and two little Walkers followed. On December 9, 1942 the press announced that Jennifer Jones had been signed to play Bernadette. The Walkers found a place to live where the family could spend Christmas. It would be the last Christmas Bob and the new Jennifer Jones would spend together as the Robert Walkers.


“Madame Curie” with Greer Garson

 

 

Once they were all in Hollywood, Selznick arranged with Louis B. Mayer (his father-in-law) to add Bob to the cast of “Bataan” with Robert Taylor. The role was that of a gum-chewing, baby-faced sailor but Bob stole the picture from the veteran Taylor with a heart-breaking death scene. Variety took notice. “Picture focuses attention on the screen debut of Robert Walker who smacks over an arresting portrayal as the sensitive and sympathetic young sailor who attaches himself to the outfit to get a crack at the enemy.”

 

 

 

 

 


“Since You Went Away”

Jennifer was now totally immersed in her role and often too tired to talk or even sit and talk with Bob when she was home. He understood reminding himself she had the fate of a two-million dollar production resting on her shoulders. While he was still working on Madame Curie, Walker was called into Eddie Mannix's office to witness his old contract torn up. Then Eddie handed him some papers with a new 7-year contract and a healthy four-figure salary. But when he rushed over to Fox to let Jennifer in on the good news, they guard refused to let him enter the gates. At home when he finally told her of his good news, Jennifer seemed less than enthusiastic. He was stunned when she told him she wanted a separation. It was not until the day after she received the Oscar for Bernadette that the press announced that Jennifer Jones was filing for divorce. It was also when Robert found out that Selznick cast him in Since You Went Away as Jennifer's love interest. Bob's friend Keenan Wynn later gave his opinion to anyone who would listen..

 

 

 


Keenan Wynn

 

“The film was emotionally disastrous for him. Did Selznick do what he did maliciously? I don't know. But it was heartless for him to bring Bob together with his estranged wife for intimate love scenes. I could see how badly this affected Bob. He was a very sensitive guy.” Actor Keenan Wynn

Screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen was on the lot during the filming and was even more frank than others when talking about it.

“It was too damn bad, really tragic, that Selznick had to break them up. However, I guess the stardom and loot he offered her were irresistible. But my heart went out to that boy. He was obviously so in love with the woman and she was so patently rejecting him. I think everyone connected (with the film) was on his side. But no one dared say a word.” Screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen

 

 


DeWitt Bodeen

 

 


David O.Selznick




There was also some talk among insiders that Selznick seemed to delight in asking for repeated retakes especially the love scenes. But no one wanted to speak on record. It was also that the last words spoken between the stars on screen were from Jennifer ‘Good-bye, darling, I love you. Good-bye, darling.’ Bob's last words to her was also “Goodbye, darling”. The words were written by David Selznick.

 

 




 

In 1944 “See Here, Private Hargrove” opened to rave reviews. His next film “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” did little for Walker but it was one of the year's top grossing films. Bob played Sergeant Dave Thatcher, the navigator of the lead bomber. He met the real Thatcher on the set.


on the set with Sgt. Dave Thatcher

“The Clock

“The Clock”, with Judy Garland, followed and also garnered attention. In his autobiography, director Vincente Minnelli wrote:



Vincente Minnelli

“ I had heard that Bob Walker, suffering from the heartache of a broken marriage, was looking at life through the bottom of a liquor bottle. And yet he was always cheerful and on time. I wasn’t aware of the toll the picture was taking on his nerves. But Judy knew. She believed in Bob, and she believed in the picture.” Director Vincente Minnelli

 

Bob's close friends remarked it was his “cheerful” manner between takes that deserved an Oscar. They knew how much he was suffering inside over the break-up of his marriage and began gently prodding him to attend parties and meet other people. Bob went along half heartedly but nothing ever came of it. It was his meeting with Jim Henaghan, a columnist with the Hollywood Reporter, that would make this year one of the most important in his life. Jim became the closest friend he ever had and the bond between them lasted a lifetime.

 

 


Jim Henaghan

By late 1946 Walker became very dissatisfied with the films he was doing. He also began drinking heavily. Jim Henaghan noticed that no matter where they went or what they did the same thing happened....Walker would find some connection to Jennifer. It was Jim who went out with Bob even on what became some very wild binges.


“I guess I loved the guy too much to accept the fact that he was seriously ill. ...that it would take more than a few laughs to save himself. He was hell-bent for self-destruction. I don't think anyone realized it then”. Jim Henaghan


 

 

 

 

 

 


Barbara Ford

Bob rented a cottage in Malibu the summer of 1947 where he could spend weekends with his sons outdoors swimming and enjoying themselves. He never used alcohol while the boys were with him. A long pause in his career also ended that summer when MGM loaned him out to Universal International for “One Touch of Venus”. Then, suddenly, at a yacht party Bob met John Ford's daughter, Barbara and just as suddenly married her. It lasted 5 weeks. Bob called it “a bad dream.” and told Jim “Next time I'll insist on a long engagement”.

His career again in limbo Bob's drinking increased and, in October 1947, he was arrested on a drunk driving charge. His unruly behavior at the police station was caught on camera and splashed all over the daily papers. Dore Schary, the new MGM boss, decided only one thing could stop Walker's path to destruction and that was treatment at Menninger Clinic. He made it a prerequisite for Bob's contract at the studio. Walker was still at the hospital when news broke that Jennifer Jones had married David O. Selznick.

 

 

 


Walker booked


The odd couple Jennifer and Selznick

Walker returned to his career with the 1950 light romantic comedy “Please Believe Me” with Deborah Kerr. The studio kept it light by following it up with “The Skipper Surprised His Wife” co-starring Joan Leslie. The roles disappointed Bob who was looking for more meaty fare but he was grateful to keep busy. There were brief romances and periodic bouts of depression but Bob managed them with the help of Dr. Frederick Hacker, a psychiatrist recommended by Louis B. Mayer.



“Please Believe Me”

“The Skipper Surprised his Wife”

“Vengeance Valley”

Then MGM gave him the villain's role in “Vengeance Valley” opposite Burt Lancaster. Not only was it a role with teeth but it was filmed on location in Colorado where he could share the great outdoors with the boys.

 


When Bob returned he found a bonanza waiting for him. Alfred Hitchcock wanted him for the part of Bruno Anthony, the charming murderer in “Strangers on a Train”. It would become the signature role of his career


 

 

 

“Strangers on a Train”


Bruno demonstrates....

Bruno and Guy (Farley Granger) and..the lighter!

“He was so damn excited about working with Alfred Hitchcock. Suddenly there was a radical change in his attitude. Now, for the first time he wanted to be accepted as a real actor”. Jim Henaghan

Things continued to go well for Bob. He started an anti-communist film “My Son John” opposite Helen Hayes, “America's First Lady of the Theater”. He even had his two boys (in their new school uniforms) on the set from time to time so they could see him at work. He was also seeing a lot of Kay Scott Nearny. Jim Henaghan had played matchmaker.

 

On the set of “My Son John” with the boys...


checking out the props

with Helen Hayes

Kay Scott Nearny

On August 28, 1951 Bob slept late. He had the boys but they were spending the day at a friend's home. It was raining outside and the only other one in the house was Emily Buck, the housekeeper he hired to keep things in shape while the boys were there. He had no visitors and no messages except a brief call from his business manager according to Mrs. Buck. Then, also according to Mrs. Buck, he had a severe panic attack and was uncontrollable so she called Dr. Hacker and his best friend Jim Henaghan. On the other hand, according to Henaghan, he had dropped over after work to find the doctor there and Bob and Mrs. Buck playing cards. Walker seemed to be in good spirits.

Despite Walker's protests he was fine, Dr. Hacker and his associate Dr. Silver, who had just arrived, insisted he needed the medication. While Jim helped to hold him down, the psychiatrist administered a hypodermic of sodium amytal, a sedative that Bob had taken before. But this time something went terribly wrong. Within seconds Bob stopped breathing. Despite the efforts of the two doctors and the emergency rescue team, all resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. . What should have been a mild sedative had become a death sentence. Robert Walker was dead at 32.

“I returned to Bob's bedroom and uncovered his face. I spoke to him as if he could hear me. And I thought about the events leading up to his needless death. I saw it happen. And I held him down. I could have stopped them. But I allowed it. I felt like a murderer. I sat there reflecting numbly”. Jim Lenaghan

 

Walker's death certificate read “died of natural causes after receiving a dose of sodium amytal and had been a victim of of schizophrenia of an undiagnosed nature”. No autopsy was done. His body was taken to to a nearby funeral home until final arrangements could be made. Broken-hearted, Jim Henaghan did not go to the funeral home or the funeral. Kay Scott Nearny spent an hour alone there. She had just had dinner with Robert the night before he died. Tearfully, she bid goodbye to the man she had hoped to marry.


The Selznicks

Jennifer Jones and David O. Selznick canceled their trip to Venice and Jennifer picked up the boys. She would not permit them to view their father's body at the mortuary. They sent flowers to the funeral signed Mr. and Mrs. David O. Selznick.

 

Zella and Horace Walker canceled plans made for Robert's funeral and interment at Forest Lawn Cemetery. They had his body flown back to Ogden, Utah for burial in Lindquist's Washington Heights Memorial Park, Weber County, Ogden, Utah.

 

 

Neither Jennifer Jones or David O. Selznick ever discussed Robert Walker publicly after his death.

 

 


In Memory

 


Robert Walker talks about Robert Walker

 

“What kind of person am I? I’m a mixture, I guess. For instance, although I like to go dancing with someone like Judy Garland – who is a very good friend – that doesn’t mean I’m the night club type. In fact, in contrast, I love the country. Someday I’d like a farm in Connecticut. When I’m out in the open where there are trees and water, I find peace and contentment. Then, too, I read an awful lot. I like things like ‘Portrait of Jenny’, I like Thomas Mann. Sometimes I like to be alone, and sometimes I like to be with crowds. I like to sit around with people and get into stimulating discussions. Like most normal folks, I thrive on a balanced diet – two parts quiet to one part excitement.’'