Robert Hudson Walker Sr. (1918 - 1951)

A photo of Robert Hudson Walker Sr.
Robert Hudson Walker
1918 - 1951
October 13, 1918
Salt Lake City, Utah United States
August 28, 1951
Brentwood, California United States 94513
Robert Hudson Walker Sr. was born on October 13, 1918 in Salt Lake City, Utah United States. He died on August 28, 1951 in Brentwood, California United States at age 32.
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Updated: October 14, 2021
Film Star. Born October 13, 1918 in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA Died August 28, 1951 in Los Angeles, California, USA (adverse reaction to prescription drugs) Birth Name Robert Hudson Walker Nickname Bob Height 6' (1.83 m) He possessed the same special brand of rebel/misfit sensitivity and charm that made superstars out of John Garfield and (later) James Dean and Montgomery Clift. In the war-torn 1940s, Robert Walker represented MGM's fresh, instinctive breed of up-and-coming talent. His boyish good looks combined with an attractive vulnerability came across the screen with such beauty, power, and naturalness. He went quite far in his short life; however, the many tortured souls he played so brilliantly closely mirrored the actor himself, and the demons that haunted his own being wasted no time in taking him down a self-destructive path for which there was no return. Walker was born Robert Hudson Walker in 1918 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the youngest of four sons of Zella (McQuarrie) and Horace Hudson Walker, a news editor for the local paper. He was of English and Scottish descent. His maternal aunt, Hortense (McQuarrie) Odlum, was the first female president of Bonwit Teller. His parents separated while he was quite young and the anxiety and depression built up over this loss marred his early school years, which were marked by acts of belligerent aggression and temper tantrums, resulting in his being expelled from school several times. To control his behavioral problems, a positive activity was sought that could help him develop confidence and on which he could focus his energies. It came in the form of acting. Following a lead in a school play at the San Diego Army and Navy Academy at Carlsbad-by-the-Sea, California, Walker entered an acting contest at the Pasadena Playhouse and won a top performance prize. A well-to-do aunt paid for his tuition at the American Academy of Dramatic Art (AADA) in 1938, and he was on his way. Things started off quite promisingly. While there he met fellow student Phyllis Isley who went on to play Elizabeth Barrett Browning to his Robert Browning in the production of "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (Phyllis was later renamed, Jennifer Jones). The couple fell in love and both quit the academy in order to save money and marry, but they found little work other than some small parts at a Greenwich Village theater. They eventually found a radio job together in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and married on January 2, 1939, honeymooning in Hollywood in order to secure more acting parts. Other than some radio jobs and bit parts in films, the movie didn't pan out. The couple returned to New York and started a family. Sons Robert Walker Jr. (born 1940) and Michael Walker (born 1941) would both become actors in their own right. Following their births, Jennifer returned to auditioning and caught the eye of producer David O. Selznick, who took an immediate interest in her and signed her to a contract. Selznick was also instrumental in securing a contract for Robert over at MGM. Stardom would be theirs as a result of this Selznick association, but at quite a cost to Robert. Robert gained immediate attention in his first important MGM role as a shy, ill-fated sailor in Bataan (1943), but was miscast as a scientist in the Greer Garson biopic Madame Curie (1943). Hollywood notice would come in the form of his sweet, sad-sack title role in the service comedy See Here, Private Hargrove (1944), the story of a cub reporter who is drafted into the army. The role brought out all the touching, fascinating qualities of Robert. In the meantime, Jennifer became so caught up in her obsessive relationship with mentor Selznick that she broke off with Robert. The actor was devastated and abruptly turned to heavy drinking. He would never completely recover from this loss. The first of many skirmishes with the law came about when he was arrested on a hit-and-run charge. In another self-destructive act, he agreed to appear with his estranged wife in the Selznick film Since You Went Away (1944). Although he suffered great anguish during the filming, the movie was praised by critics. He played a young soldier who dies before the end of the last reel, and audiences identified with him in both his troubled on- and off-screen roles. Another vivid part that showed off Walker's star quality came opposite the equally troubled Judy Garland in The Clock (1945), a simple romantic story of two lost souls, a soldier, and a girl, who accidentally meet while he is on furlough. The tumultuous state of Walker's not-so-private life began to seriously affect his screen career in the late 1940s. In the musical Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), he played composer Jerome Kern but was eclipsed by the musical numbers and flurry of special guests. He was third billed behind Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid, who portrayed pianist Clara Schumann and mentally unstable composer Robert Schumann, in Song of Love (1947). Robert played famed composer and friend Johannes Brahms. Following a lead part as a love-struck window dresser in One Touch of Venus (1948), which focused more on Ava Gardner's creative vision of loveliness, he impulsively married Barbara Ford, the daughter of famed director John Ford. The marriage ended in divorce after just five months, following more erratic outbursts, including arrests for drunkenness. By this time Jennifer had married Selznick, and this pushed Robert over the brink. He was committed to a sanatorium and not released until the middle of 1949. After his recovery and release, he was back to work with top roles in the comedy Please Believe Me (1950) opposite Deborah Kerr and the western Vengeance Valley (1951) starring Burt Lancaster. Robert happened to be loaned out to Warner Bros. when he was handed the most memorable film role of his career, that of the charming psychopath who attempts to trade murder favors with Farley Granger in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Strangers on a Train (1951). Hailed by the critics, Robert was mesmerizing in the part and part of the Hollywood elite once again. He had begun filming Paramount's My Son John (1952), which included Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, and Dean Jagger in the cast when the tragedy occurred. Robert had just finished principal photography and was making himself available for re-shoots for director Leo McCarey when, on the night of August 28, 1951, his housekeeper found him in an extremely agitated state. Failing to calm him down, she panicked and called his psychiatrist, who, upon arrival, administered a dose of sodium amytal, a sedative, which Walker had taken in the past. Unfortunately, he had been drinking as well and suffered an acute allergic reaction to the drug. Robert stopped breathing, and all efforts to resuscitate him failed. His death cut short the career of a man destined to become one of the most charismatic actors in the film. As for life imitating art, perhaps Robert's agonies are what brought out the magnificence of his acting.
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Robert Walker was born on in Salt Lake City, Utah United States
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Robert Walker Obituary by Gladwin Hall (New York Times, August 30, 1951) Actor Walker Dies After Drug Dosage Breathing of Film Star Stops When Doctors Use Sedative in Emotional Crisis LOS ANGELES, Aug. 29 – Robert Walker, a 32-year-old film star whose own desperate and protracted struggle with dark emotional forces topped any of his conflicts on the screen, died last night while undergoing medical treatment for the latest of many tragic crises in his life. The actor, who attracted national attention in December, 1948, when he fled from a Topeka, Kan., psychiatric clinic and smashed up the local police station after being arrested for drunkenness, succumbed to what was reported as a “respiratory failure” after receiving a sedative injection at his Sunset Boulevard home in suburban Brentwood. Dr. Frederick J. Hacker, a psychiatrist who had been treating Mr. Walker for eighteen months, said he had been called about 6 p.m. by the actor’s housekeeper and found him in “a highly emotional state.” He kept saying, “I feel terrible, Doc – do something quick,” the psychiatrist reported, adding that he did not know whether the actor had been drinking. After two hours’ pleading failed to calm Mr. Walker, Dr. Hacker said he called Dr. Sidney Silver to administer sodium amytal, which “we had given him twenty-five to thirty times in the past without ill effects.” A seven-and-one-half grain dose was given, Dr. Hacker said, only a fraction of previous doses the actor had received, but almost immediately he turned blue and gradually stopped breathing – a reaction which, Dr. Silver aid, occurred only about once in 10,000 cases. He certified the death as natural, due to respiratory failure. Dr. Victor Cefalu, the assistant county coroner, said today that a fifteen-grain dose could be toxic, and that the drug accumulated in the system. The coroner’s office said there would be no autopsy unless a member of the family requested it. Mr. Walker, whose career as a star in a score of pictures had been concentrated in a brief eight years, only last Saturday had completed work in the Helen Hayes film “My Son John” at Paramount studios and had been reported in an apparently cheerful mood. His death cut short what had been regarded as a successful comeback from a severe psychological crackup. This manifested itself in 1945, when he was divorced after a marriage of six years by Jennifer Jones, the film actress, who subsequently became the wife of David O. Selznick, film producer. Although at that time, only two years after his debut in “Bataan”, he was making $100,000 a year according to the divorce testimony, the actor suddenly disappeared in the midst of the filming of “See Here, Private Hargrove,” and was located only after two days. A year later he was arrested for hit-and-run driving in Beverly Hills and fined $500. In July, 1948, he married Barbara Ford, daughter of John Ford, the producer-director, but they separated after five weeks and she subsequently obtained an annulment. Shortly after their separation, he was arrested for drunken driving, and his treatment at the Menninger clinic in Topeka became known with his outburst there. However, he left the clinic in May, 1949, reported completely readjusted, and returned to Hollywood to resume his film career. Though Dr. Hacker said that the actor’s psychiatric difficulties dated back to 1943, it was generally supposed (and occasional comments of Mr. Walker himself lent substance to this? that his separation from Miss Jones had precipitated his distress. They had two children, Robert, 11, and Michael, 10, who had been visiting the actor this summer, but who were away from the home visiting friends when Mr. Walker died. Since his return to Hollywood, the actor had played in “Vengeance Valley” at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, where he was under contract, and, on loan, in “Strangers on a Train” at Warner Brothers before his recent Paramount assignment. Leo McCarey, producer and director of the last picture, said: “I have worked closely with Bob during these past few months and learned to know him as both a fine gentleman and a great actor. We had our final working session together only last Saturday. At that time he showed no indication of being in ill health. On the contrary, he did his final recording with great zest. I had just run the rough-cut of the picture for him, and, although a modest fellow, he fairly beamed at the results.” His films also included “Madame Curie,” “See Here, Private Hargrove,” “Since You Went Away,” “Thirty Seconds Over Toyko,” “Till The Clouds Roll By,” and “Sea of Grass.” He was the son of Horace Walker, Salt Lake City newspaper editor, who is flying here with Mrs. Walker. The actor attended the San Diego Army and Navy Military Academy, the Pasadena (Calif.) Playhouse dramatic school and the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. After an unproductive stage debut in Greenwich Village, he did radio work in Tulsa, Okla. and in New York, where his voice attracted the attention of Hollywood scouts.

1918 - 1951 World Events

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In 1918, in the year that Robert Hudson Walker Sr. was born, on November 1, an elevated train on the Brooklyn line of the subway - driven by an inexperienced operator because of a strike - tried to navigate a turn at 30mph. The limit on the curve was 6 mph. The 2nd and 3rd cars of the 5 car wooden train were badly damaged and at least 93 people were killed, making it the deadliest crash in New York subway history.

In 1927, Robert was only 9 years old when aviator and media darling Charles Lindbergh, age 25, made the first successful solo TransAtlantic flight. "Lucky Lindy" took off from Long Island in New York and flew to Paris, covering  3,600 statute miles and flying for 33 1⁄2-hours. His plane "The Spirit of St. Louis" was a fabric-covered, single-seat, single-engine "Ryan NYP" high-wing monoplane designed by both Lindbergh and the manufacturer's chief engineer.

In 1933, by the time he was just 15 years old, on December 5th, the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The 21st Amendment said "The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed." Alcohol was legal again! It was the only amendment to the Constitution approved for the explicit purpose of repealing a previously existing amendment. South Carolina was the only state to reject the Amendment.

In 1947, at the age of 29 years old, Robert was alive when on November 25th, the Hollywood "Black List" was created by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Ten Hollywood writers and directors had refused to testify to the Committee regarding "Communists" or "Reds" in the movie industry. The next day, the blacklist was created and they were fired.

In 1951, in the year of Robert Hudson Walker Sr.'s passing, on February 27th, the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution (which limited the number of terms a president may serve to two) was ratified by 36 states, making it a part of the U.S. Constitution. The Amendment was both a reaction to the 4 term Roosevelt presidency and also the recognition of a long-standing tradition in American politics.

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