Robert Walker (actor, born 1918)

Robert Hudson Walker (October 13, 1918 – August 28, 1951) was an American actor[1] who starred as the villain in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Strangers on a Train (1951), which was released shortly before his early demise.

Robert Walker
Walker in Strangers on a Train (1951)
Robert Hudson Walker

(1918-10-13)October 13, 1918
DiedAugust 28, 1951(1951-08-28) (aged 32)
Years active1939–1951
(m. 1939; div. 1945)
Barbara Ford
(m. 1948; div. 1948)
(m. 1949)
Children2, including Robert Walker Jr.

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 World War II 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


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.[citation needed]

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 married in Tulsa, Oklahoma on January 2, 1939.[citation needed] Walker had some small unbilled parts in films such as Winter Carnival (1939) and two Lana Turner films at MGM: These Glamour Girls (1939) and Dancing Co-Ed (1939).

Walker and Jones' elder son Robert Walker Jr. later became a successful film actor. Their other son Michael Walker (1941-2007) was also an actor who appeared in films The Rogues (1964), Coronet Blue (1967) and Hell's Belles (1969), as well as several 1960s television series.[citation needed]

Dorothy Patrick and Walker in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)
With Lurene Tuttle in 1946



Walker costarred in the weekly radio show Maudie's Diary from August 1941 to September 1942.[3] Isley then returned to auditioning and 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.[citation needed]

The couple returned to Hollywood, and Selznick's connections helped Walker secure a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,[citation needed] where he started work on the war drama Bataan (1943), playing a sailor who fights in the Battle of Bataan.

He followed it with a supporting role in Madame Curie (1943).



Walker's charming demeanor and boyish good looks proved popular with audiences, and he was promoted to stardom with the title part of the romantic soldier in See Here, Private Hargrove (1944).

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 a matter of common knowledge, and Jones and Walker separated in November 1943 during production of the film.[4] The filming of their love scenes was trying for Walker, as Selznick insisted that Walker perform multiple takes for each scene with Jones.[citation needed] She filed for divorce in April 1945. She and Selznick were married in 1949. Since You Went Away was one of the most financially successful movies of 1944, earning over $7 million.[5]

Back at MGM, Walker appeared alongside 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 (1945), with Judy Garland playing his love interest in her second non-musical film.[6]

He then appeared in a romantic comedy with Hedy Lamarr and June Allyson titled Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945). He next appeared in a second Private Hargrove film, What Next, Corporal Hargrove? (1945), and a romantic comedy with June Allyson, The Sailor Takes a Wife (1945).

Walker starred in the musical Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), in which he played the popular composer Jerome Kern. The film earned rental receipts of more than $6 million.[6] He starred as composer Johannes Brahms in Song of Love (1947), which costarred Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid, but the film lost MGM more than $1 million. He also appeared in a film about the construction of the atomic bomb, The Beginning or the End (1946), which also resulted in a loss at the box office, and a Tracy-Hepburn drama directed by Elia Kazan titled The Sea of Grass (1947), which was profitable.[6]

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. Walker married Barbara Ford, the daughter of director John Ford, in July 1948, but the marriage lasted only five months.[7]

Back at MGM, Walker starred in two films that lost money, Please Believe Me (1950) with Deborah Kerr and The Skipper Surprised His Wife (1950) with Joan Leslie. More popular was Vengeance Valley (1951), a Western with Burt Lancaster.[6]

Walker in Strangers on a Train (1951)

Final years


In 1949, Walker spent time at the Menninger Clinic, where he was treated for a psychiatric disorder.[8] Following his discharge, he was cast by director Alfred Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train (1951), for which he received acclaim for his performance as the charming psychopath Bruno Antony.

In his final film, Walker played the title role in Leo McCarey's My Son John (1952), a film that warned of the dangers of the virulent spread of communism. Despite the film's theme and Walker's identification as a Republican, he took the role to work with McCarey and costar Helen Hayes rather than because of any political motivation.[9] Walker died before production finished, so angles from his death scene in Strangers on a Train were spliced into a similar melodramatic death scene near the end of the film.[10]

Personal life


Walker was a registered Republican who supported Dwight Eisenhower's campaign in the 1952 presidential election,[11] and was of the Mormon faith.[12]



On the night of August 28, 1951, Walker's housekeeper found him in an emotional state. She called Walker's psychiatrist Frederick Hacker, who arrived and administered amobarbital for sedation. Walker had allegedly been drinking before the outburst and it was believed that the combination of amobarbital and alcohol caused him to lose consciousness and stop breathing. Efforts to resuscitate him failed and he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at the age of 32.[13]

In her biography of Walker and Jones titled Star-Crossed, author Beverly Linet quoted Walker's friend Jim Henaghan (who was not mentioned in official accounts of the death), as saying that he was present at the events leading to Walker's death. Henaghan stated that he had visited Walker's house in Los Angeles, where they played cards and Walker was behaving normally. Henaghan claimed that Walker's psychiatrist arrived and insisted that he receive an injection and, when Walker refused, Henaghan restrained him in order for the physician to administer the injection. According to Henaghan, Walker soon lost consciousness and frantic efforts to revive him failed.[14]

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


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

See also





  1. ^ Obituary Variety, September 5, 1951, page 75.
  2. ^ Linet, pp, 139-186, 229-232
  3. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 442–443. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  4. ^ "Jennifer Jones Sues To Divorce Actor Walker", The Washington Post, April 22, 1945, p. M4.
  5. ^ Thomson, David (1993). Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. Abacus, p. 418.
  6. ^ a b c d The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  7. ^ "Robert Walker's Wife Is Granted Divorce", The Washington Post, December 17, 1948, p. 26.
  8. ^ Linet, pp. 229-232
  9. ^ "My Son John". Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  12. ^ Morning News, January 10, 1948, Who Was Who in America (Vol. 2).
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Linet, pp. 268-271