Robert Walker (actor, born 1918)
Walker in Strangers on a Train (1951)
Robert Hudson Walker|
October 13, 1918
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
August 28, 1951 (aged 32)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||adverse reaction to prescription drugs|
(m. 1939; div. 1945)
(m. 1948; div. 1948)
|Children||2, including Robert Walker Jr.|
Robert Hudson Walker (October 13, 1918 – August 28, 1951) was an American actor, 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.
Walker was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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
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 two Lana Turner films at MGM These Glamour Girls (1939) and Dancing Co-Ed (1939).
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. Phylis 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.
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), playing a soldier who fights in the Bataan retreat.
He followed it with a support role in Madame Curie (1943). Both were notable commercial successes.
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. 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. Since You Went Away was one of the most popular movies of 1944, earning over $7 million.
Back at MGM, Walker supported Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), the story of the Doolittle Raid. He played flight engineer and turret gunner David Thatcher, and it was another box office hit.
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. It was profitable though not as successful as Garland's musicals.
He then made a romantic comedy with Hedy Lamarr and June Allyson, Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945). Then he did a second Hargrove film, What Next, Corporal Hargrove? (1945) and a romantic comedy with June Allyson, The Sailor Takes a Wife (1945).
He starred as another composer, Johannes Brahms, in Song of Love (1947), which co-starred Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid, which lost MGM over a million dollars. 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 directed by Elia Kazan, The Sea of Grass (1947), which was profitable.
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.
Back at MGM he was in some films which lost money, Please Believe Me (1950) with Deborah Kerr and The Skipper Surprised His Wife (1950) with Joan Leslie. More popular was a Western with Burt Lancaster, Vengeance Valley (1951), a notable hit.
Walker spent time at the Menninger Clinic in 1949 where he was treated for a psychiatric disorder. Following his discharge, he was cast by director Alfred Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train (1951). The film was a notable success and very popular.
In his final film, Walker 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. 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.
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.
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.
Walker was buried at Lindquist's Washington Heights Memorial Park in Ogden, Utah.
|1939||These Glamour Girls||College Boy||Uncredited|
Alternative title: Every Other Inch a Lady
|1943||Madame Curie||David Le Gros|
|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)|
- Beverly Linet, Star Crossed: The Story of Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1985) ISBN 0-399-13194-9
- Obituary Variety, September 5, 1951, page 75.
- Linet, pp, 139-186, 229-232
- John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Oxford University Press, 1998; pp 442-43.
- "Jennifer Jones Sues To Divorce Actor Walker", The Washington Post, April 22, 1945, p. M4.
- Thomson, David (1993). Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. Abacus, p. 418.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- "Robert Walker's Wife Is Granted Divorce", The Washington Post, December 17, 1948, p. 26.
- Linet, pp. 229-232
- "My Son John". Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- 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.
- 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.
- Linet, pp. 268-271
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