Robert Walker (actor, born 1918)

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Robert Walker
Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train trailer (2)..png
Walker in Strangers on a Train (1951)
Born Robert Hudson Walker
(1918-10-13)October 13, 1918
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Died August 28, 1951(1951-08-28) (aged 32)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death adverse reaction to prescription drugs
Occupation Actor
Years active 1939–1951
Spouse(s) Jennifer Jones (m. 1939–45) (divorced)
Barbara Ford (m. 1948) (divorced)
Hanna Hertelendy (m. 1949)
Children Robert Walker Jr.
Michael Walker

Robert Hudson Walker (October 13, 1918 – August 28, 1951) was an American actor,[1] best known for his starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Strangers on a Train (1951), which was released shortly before his death.

He started in youthful boy-next-door roles, often as a World War II soldier. One of these roles was opposite his first wife, Jennifer Jones, in the war epic Since You Went Away (1944). He also played Jerome Kern in Till the Clouds Roll By. Twice divorced by 30, he suffered from alcoholism and mental illness, which were exacerbated by his painful separation and divorce from Jones.[2]

Early life[edit]

Walker was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the youngest of four sons of Zella (née McQuarrie) and Horace Hudson Walker.[3] Emotionally scarred by his parents' divorce when he was still a child, he subsequently developed an interest in acting, which led his maternal aunt, Hortense (McQuarrie) Odlum (then the president of Bonwit Teller), to offer to pay for his enrollment at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in 1937. Walker lived in her home during his first year in the city.

Career and personal life[edit]

While attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Walker met fellow aspiring actress Phylis Isley, who later took the stage name Jennifer Jones. After a brief courtship, the couple were married in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on January 2, 1939. Walker had some small unbilled parts in films like Winter Carnival (1939) and These Glamour Girls (1939). Following a marriage to Barbara Ford, Walker eventually married Ilona Hanna Landy Zimka (1919–2008) on July 27, 1949. Ilona subsequently married actor Stephen Bekassy,

Radio[edit]

Walker found work in radio while Phylis stayed home and gave birth to two sons in quick succession - actor Robert Walker Jr. (born 1940) and Michael Walker (1941 – 2007). Walker co-starred in the weekly show Maudie's Diary from August 1941 to September 1942.[4] Phylis (Jennifer) then returned to auditioning where her luck changed when she was discovered in 1941 by producer David O. Selznick, who changed her name to Jennifer Jones and groomed her for stardom.

MGM[edit]

The couple returned to Hollywood, and Selznick's connections helped Walker secure a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he started work on the war drama Bataan (1943). He followed it with a support role in Madame Curie (1943).

Walker's charming demeanor and boyish good looks caught on with audiences, and he worked steadily playing "boy-next-door" roles in films such as See Here, Private Hargrove (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945).

He also appeared in Selznick's Since You Went Away (1944) in which he and his wife portrayed doomed young lovers during World War II. By that time, Jones' affair with Selznick was common knowledge, and Jones and Walker separated in November 1943, in mid-production.[5] The filming of their love scenes was torturous as Selznick insisted that Walker perform take after take of each love scene with Jones. She filed for divorce in April 1945.

That same year, Walker starred as a GI preparing for overseas deployment in The Clock, with Judy Garland playing his love interest in her first straight dramatic film. He also made a second Hargrove film, What Next, Corporal Hargrove? (1945) and a romantic comedy with June Allyson, The Sailor Takes a Wife (1945).

In 1946, Walker starred in the musical Till the Clouds Roll By, in which he played the popular composer Jerome Kern. He starred as another composer, Johannes Brahms, in Song of Love (1947), which co-starred Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid. In between he made a film about the construction of the atomic bomb, the flop The Beginning or the End (1946), and a Tracy-Hepburn drama, The Sea of Grass (1947).

In 1948, Walker was borrowed by Universal to star with Ava Gardner in the film One Touch of Venus, directed by William A. Seiter. The film was a non-musical comedy adapted from a Broadway show with music by Kurt Weill. He married Barbara Ford, the daughter of director John Ford, in July 1948, but the marriage lasted only five months.[6]

Back at MGM he was in some films which lost money, Please Believe Me (1950) and The Skipper Surprised His Wife (1950). More popular was a Western with Burt Lancaster, Vengeance Valley (1951).

Final Years[edit]

Walker spent time at the Menninger Clinic in 1949 where he was treated for a psychiatric disorder.[7] Following his discharge, he was cast by director Alfred Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train (1951).

In his final film, he played the title role of Leo McCarey's My Son John (1952), made at the height of the Red Scare. Despite the film's anti-Communist themes, Walker was allegedly neither liberal nor conservative and took the job to work with McCarey and co-star Helen Hayes.[8] Walker died before production finished, and so angles from his death scene in Strangers were spliced into a similar melodramatic death scene near the end of the film.[9]

Death[edit]

On the night of August 28, 1951, Walker's housekeeper allegedly found the actor in an emotional state. She called Walker's psychiatrist who arrived and administered amobarbital for sedation. Walker had allegedly been drinking before the outburst, and it is believed the combination of amobarbital and alcohol caused him to lose consciousness and stop breathing. Efforts to resuscitate Walker failed. The loss of such a promising young Hollywood actor was widely lamented.[10]

In her biography of Walker and Jones, Star-Crossed, author Beverly Linet quotes Walker's friend Jim Henaghan, who was not mentioned in official accounts of Walker's death, as saying that he was present at the time of the events leading to Walker's death. Henaghan stated that he stopped by Walker's house, where they played cards, and Walker was behaving normally. Walker's psychiatrist arrived and insisted that he receive an injection. When Walker refused, Henaghan held him down in order for the physician to administer it. Walker soon lost consciousness, and frantic efforts to revive him failed.[11]

Walker was buried at Lindquist's Washington Heights Memorial Park in Ogden, Utah.

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1939 Winter Carnival Wes Uncredited
1939 These Glamour Girls College Boy Uncredited
1939 Dancing Co-Ed Boy Uncredited
Alternative title: Every Other Inch a Lady
1943 Madame Curie David Le Gros
1943 Bataan Leonard Purckett
1944 See Here, Private Hargrove Private Marion Hargrove
1944 Since You Went Away Corporal William G. "Bill" Smollett II
1944 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo David Thatcher
1945 The Clock Corporal Joe Allen Alternative title: Under the Clock
1945 Her Highness and the Bellboy Jimmy Dobson
1945 What Next, Corporal Hargrove? Corporal Marion Hargrove
1945 The Sailor Takes a Wife John Hill
1946 Till the Clouds Roll By Jerome Kern
1947 The Beginning or the End Colonel Jeff Nixon
1947 The Sea of Grass Brock Brewton
1947 Song of Love Johannes Brahms
1948 One Touch of Venus Eddie Hatch
1950 Please Believe Me Terence Keath
1950 The Skipper Surprised His Wife Commander William J. Lattimer
1951 Vengeance Valley Lee Strobie
1951 Strangers on a Train Bruno Anthony
1952 My Son John John Jefferson (final film role)

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary Variety, September 5, 1951, page 75.
  2. ^ Linet, pp, 139-186, 229-232
  3. ^ "Robert Walker". Find A Grave. Retrieved 29 January 2017. 
  4. ^ John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Oxford University Press, 1998; pp 442-43.
  5. ^ "Jennifer Jones Sues To Divorce Actor Walker", The Washington Post, April 22, 1945, p. M4.
  6. ^ "Robert Walker's Wife Is Granted Divorce", The Washington Post, December 17, 1948, p. 26.
  7. ^ Linet, pp. 229-232
  8. ^ "My Son John". Retrieved 29 January 2017. 
  9. ^ René Jordan. "Now you see it, now you don't: the art of movie magic," in The movie-buff's book, ed. Ted Sennett, New York: Bonanza Books, 1975, pp. 132-142.
  10. ^ Brettell, Andrew; Imwold, Denis; Kennedy, Damien; King, Noel (2005). Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Leonard, Warren Hsu; von Rohr, Heather. Barrons Educational Series. p. 253. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9. 
  11. ^ Linet, pp. 268-271

External links[edit]