"It was the
kind of romance that we all love to see. Two youngsters with box
office appeal. Two young actors on the road up .... together. Then it is no
more. Separation has been announced by both parties concerned. As marriage
is, even in Hollywood, a private affair, only Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker
know the bitter "whys and wherefores". All we have left is a twinge in our
hearts, for this was a marriage we thought was secure because it was based on
congeniality and earnest effort."
"In January 1938 a slender,
purposeful girl enrolled at the Academy of Dramatic
Arts in New York. Her name was Phylis Iseley, and she had come from Tulsa,
"You say that Hollywood
and careers don't mix? Well, this is one time the
blame can't be placed here! The Robert Walkers are new arrivals on the
horizon. It looked like a beautiful romance from afar, and it had a lovely
beginning, for here is the story."
"Of course, young Phylis
Iseley had no definite premonition that one day she
would be Hollywood's Jennifer Jones, or that she would be starred in her first
picture for 20th Century-Fox, 'The Song of Bernadette'. Nor did she have any
notion that she would become Mrs. Robert Walker and that Robert Walker would,
in his first screen appearance, bowl the world over in MGM's 'Bataan.'"
"All she knew that keen
January day was that she had a rendezvous with Fate.
Fate, in those days, was wearing a substantial tweed suit and an earnest air;
he was also enrolled at the Academy, and he appeared in the first class
Jennifer attended. She looked at Bob and thought, 'He's handsome, He's got
the charm of Jimmie Stewart and the comic flare of Henry Fonda, only more so.'"
"Robert Walker was given
lines to read -- an excerpt from 'Until Dawn'.
Jennifer thought him arrestingly good. Then she was given passages to read
from 'The Armless Venus'. From the tail of her eye she performed a brief
reconnaissance of Mr. Walker's features when she had finished. He seemed to
have found her performance highly satisfactory. There appeared to be
blue-flamed candles deep in his eyes."
"Day followed day, each
more divine than the one preceding. Then came the day
when the activity on the curriculum was the combining of lines into scenes;
dramatic inter-relation of play character upon play character. The play chosen
for Jennifer and Bob was 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street.'"
"How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways,
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace."
"Not, you understand,
that the little girl from Tulsa was in love with the tall
boy from Ogden, Utah. Don't be absurd. They were simply school friends,
striving toward a common goal: dramatic perfection. Poetry happened to be
lovely...and quite beside the point. (If you wish to imagine Cupid grinning in
the distance, that's your own affair.)"
"The next play selected
was 'Romeo and Juliet,' a thing written by W.
Shakespeare, the Englishman whom you may have heard. Heretofore, Jennifer had
looked upon it with favor; even, in those starry moments of one's adolescence,
she had imagined herself in jeweled cap, velvet bodice, twenty-five-yard skirt,
and estatic mood... leaning over a balcony."
"Yet I should kill thee
with much cherishing.
Good-night, good-night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good-night till it be morrow.
Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!
Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!"
"The only trouble was
that, not Jennifer, but another girl in the class was
given the soft lines with which to respond to Mr. Walker's Romeo. Jennifer sat
in the back row, lower lip out-thrust, chin sunk in palm, and glowered at the
stage. The love scenes were almost too much for her; she suddenly discovered
that it wasn't a ham sandwich she had enjoyed for luncheon, but Mexican jumping
beans that didn't like their new home."
"This proves that no one, up to this point, was in love with anyone. Um-huh."
"On Sundays, these two
earnest students decided that it would be sensible for
them to spend the day together...so they could cue one another. They rode back
and forth all afternoon on the ferry. Then leaned on the rail and studied the
skyline. They watched the people."
"There's a character
for you, Bob. I'll bet he's a visitor to New York. He's
from...well, maybe Montana. He's a miner -- notice the pork pie hat. That
suit -- he bought it for his son's wedding seventeen yers ago. If you ever had
to play a miner, Bob, you could remember him, and you'd really be convincing."
"And Bob said, paying
more attention to a nearby profile than to his study of a
quaint character, 'I'll bet you're photogenic. You have the cutest nose and
the biggest eyes. I'll bet you get a chance in pictures some day.'"
Jennifer....ruining her chances to be considered a
clairvoyant, 'be silly.'"
"Sometimes, having wearied
of the waves, they wandered along Fifth Avenue,
window-wishing. 'What is your favorite color, Bob?'"
"'Oh, blue, I guess. I really go for a girl in a blue dress.'"
"Make a mental note, Jennifer: purchase one blue dress."
"They rode a double-deck
bus and Jennifer too off her hat to let the spring
wind ruffle her hair. 'You have,' vouchsafed Bob, 'sort of nice hair. Pretty
shade of brown. Your name should have been Jeanie.'"
"They walked through
Central Park, feeding the squirrels and delighting
passerby with their quips. Bob has a flare for comedy, a droll, quiet sense of
humor. 'Have you noticed that old people, after they've been married for
years, begin to resemble one another?' he asked one day. 'Imagine me,' he
added, glancing sidelong at Jennifer's insouciant profile, 'with a lily-bud
"The summer holiday
was approaching despite one girl's subconscious attempt to
do a Lady Joshua and hold the Now forever. One day Bob announced with a grin,
'I just signed on a freighter going to South America. Won't that be an
"'Can you swim?' demanded Feminine Apprehension."
"'Aw, sure. I've been
swimming since I was knee high. Besides, I'm so tall
and thin that I'd float like a plank. On land or sea, I'm still a Walker.'"
"So Bob went south,
and Jennifer went back to Tulsa and made friends with the
postman. Not that she really expected a letter, you understand, but one can
never tell. There just might be a port of call from which a postcard could be
dispatched. Meanwhile she had the usual summer fun, dancing, working in a
little theater, playing tennis and golf."
"Long afterward she
learned that Bob had written one letter, but it must have
gone astray because it never reached Tulsa. That summer must go down in
history, notable for its refusal to pass. For three months, time stood still.
Only by some miracle did September...and the day for Jennifer to return to New
"As it was, she arrived
two weeks before school was scheduled to start. That
first night back in town, her family had arranged by letter for a priest (a
long-time friend of the Iseleys) to take Jennifer to dinner. The priest had
asked another clergyman to join them so the evening was well planned."
"Jennifer had just descended
to the lobby of the Barbizon Hotel for Women and
was chatting with the Reverend Father when a psychic summons drew her glance to
the door. There stood one Robert Walker, devouring her with his eyes. In a
scant second's elapse, his glance wrote all those letters he had never sent;
his smile sang all the love songs his voice had never uttered; his lifted
eyebrows asked all the questions his courage could never frame."
"Jennifer excused herself
from the cleric and spoke to Bob in the breathless
half-sentences appropriate for such a moment. Only one thing emerged from the
conversation that she was to remember afterward: they made a date for the
"As Bob didn't feel
that he had enough happy cabbage to go on to school, he
took a jack-of-all-trades job at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village.
Jennifer, learning about it, decided that she should be doing the same. 'If
you're going to troupe, so am I,' was the way she put it. After all, she had
done a lot of trouping on the road in the Iseley Stock Company before that."
"Entrance to this theater
was via a stairway built...doubtless...by Senor
Methuselah's grandfather. If honor is to be attached by age, this stairway was
the most honorable covey of steps on earth...and twice as rickety."
"The dressing rooms
were roofed daisy-petal style: one space leaked, one
didn't. Getting dressed and made up on a sodden night was like darting in and
out of a giant sprinkler system, some of the outlets of which were clogged, but
might give forth a fountain at any instant."
"Additional hazard was
the four-legged population, increasing with an abandon
characteristic of rats. One week each small aperture in the corners of the
dressing room was filled with bright, beady eyes. The next week the eyes had
increased by number until there was considerable scuffling to see who should
occupy the peephole to watch the pretty lady. By the end of the second week,
the curious rodents were lining up along the wall and all but demanding cheese."
"Jennifer and Bob, meeting
behind scenes, clasped one another and breathed an
ecstatic sentence. 'Darling...isn't it wonderful?'"
"Jennifer's family came
north to see just what was going on in their daughter's
life, and were shown...with adjectives...through the theater. Funny thing.
They didn't find the leaky dressing rooms quaint, the breakaway stairs
intriguing, nor the rats too, too atmospheric. With shaking head they returned
to Tulsa and Took Steps."
Jennifer received an offer from a Tulsa radio station to
select, direct, stage, and cast a series of plays as sustaining programs. She
might, the offer stipulated, select her own leading man. Which explains the
immediate presence in Tulsa of Jennifer (at twenty-five dollars a week) and
Robert Walker (at thirty-five a week)."
"On the way to the radio
station one night they came to an important
conclusion: when they had saved two hundred dollars, they would be married.
This goal was attained in January, 1939."
"They got their first
chance at Hollywood then, or rather, Jennifer got hers.
The picture was a Western at Republic, 'New Frontier.' Completed in less than
two weeks, as Westerns are, it was a hard enough ordeal on actors like John
Wayne, the star, who was accustomed to the swift technique: for a young,
inexperienced actress like Jennifer it was agony."
"Bob sat around the
stages, miserable, waiting for her. No casting director
gave him a tumble. 'Just a skinny amateur,' they called this lad whom mighty
MGM today regards as their greatest discovery since Gable."
literally and figuratively, through another Western, and
then the Walkers decided if they starved, they could take no more of it."
"Back in New York, Bob
felt he had amassed enough student hours over the air so
that he could conquer a big time station. The newlywed Walkers took a small
cottage on Long Island, and Bob's radio ambition was fulfilled."
"While Bob was building
a personal career, Jennifer wasn't wasting her time.
She and Bob had decided to have a family promptly, so that parents and children
could grow up together. By October, 1942, there were two young Walkers -- both
boys. The first born was named Michael and the next, Robert, Jr., and Jennifer
resembled a woman's magazine heroine in that she looked younger and more
winsome than ever."
"She and Bob decided
that she, too, should resume her career. After tking
several tests she was put under contract by David Selznick. Meanwhile, 20th
Century-Fox had bought 'The Song of Bernadette' and were conducting almost as
exhaustive a search as was instituted for 'Scarlett O'Hara'. One look at her
test convinced the biggies."
"She bundled up the
two youngsters and came to Hollywood at Bob's insistence,
leaving him in New York. Just before Thanksgiving, one Saturday night,
Jennifer placed a lonesome telephone call to her husband. There was no answer.
All day Sunday she repeated her call without result. She gave this failure
little thought; she knew Bob was busy and that any number of things might have
kept him beyond telephone range."
"Yet, when there was
no letter from him on Monday morning, she discovered that
she had swallowed a golf ball that had refused to budge beyond the point of her
solar plexus. Sunk in preoccupation, she took the two boys over to a
"While she was keeping
one eye on the progeny and one on her knitting, she
decided to make that long distance telephone call her life work until she
gained an answer."
"'Come on, boys, we have to go back to the house,' she called."
"Young Mike, being nearly three, had a bright idea. 'To meet Daddy?'"
"Jennifer bit her lip
and made no answer. Half a block from the apartment,
Bobbie emitted an Indian war whoop and charged down the street, straight into
the arms of the man who arose slowly from his seat on a suitcase."
"After greetings and
kisses were exchanged, Bob explained -- that incredible
grin creasing his face -- that he had tested for MGM without telling Jennifer a
thing about it, and that he was signed to a long term contract. His first
picture was to be 'Bataan' and after that, 'Private Hargrove.'"
"If Mr. Walker's sturdy
shoulder absorbed a few of his wife's delighted tears,
who is to be surprised? 'Get us,' he chuckled. 'Aren't we something?'"
"So that's their story.
Who could have predicted that such a story would be
fated to come to an unhappy ending? There seems no plausible 'why' for the
failure of a marriage given so many advantages. Explanations are lacking, but
the regrets are many; for the Walkers' was a married happiness generously
admired -- and envied."