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Robert Walker (1918-1951)

  1. Tom Drake, Meet Me In St. Louis, 1943.       "A musical? I can't carry a note and I barely get by with social dancing." Drake, Van Johnson, Peter Lawford… Most of MGM’s young blades were in the frame for The Boy Next Door to Judy Garland - livid at 21 to be playing a teenager again. She voted Walker, him, having tender memories of making him blush at her Mae Westian overtures during their first meeting. She probably did not find out about the padded harness he wore to fake big shoulders, arms and chest until their next film, The Clock. She was over three affairs and fell for her director, Vincente Minnelli. (Liza arrived in 1946). While Walker never got over losing Jennifer Jones to producer David Selznick.
  2. Van Johnson, No Leave, No Love, 1945.       The guys are returning home from WWII… But which guys? For his first MGMovie, New Jersey writer-director Charles Martin was given the choice of Johnson or Walker for the war hero Michael. When appearing on a radio show, the war hero meets a chanteuse and yadaa, yadda, yadda. On meeting his UK co-star, Johnson told Pat Kirkwood: "This picture is going to be a real stinker, so we might as well have a few laughs and forget it." Not that bad.
  3. Red Skelton, Merton of the Movies, 1946.     MGM first thought of Walker or Frank Sinatra for the film-mad klutz from Kansas who gets to take over a Hollywood drama of his favourite actor without realising he’s being used to make it a comedy send-up? Not Skelton’s best/worst. (Was there ever a best?) The funniest comedy routines were dreamt up by… Buster Keaton.
  4. Van Johnson, State of the Union, 1947.     Walker fell ill and Johnson took over as the newspaper columnist Spike McManus in the third of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s nine films
  5. Howard Keel, Three Guys Named Mike, 1950.     But the one named Robert became the one named Howard.
  6. Thomas E Breen, The River, 1951.     Among the Hollywood names juggled by the legendary French realisateur Jean Renoir for his final film in English. Before settling onthe totally inept Breen, Renoir aimed for Brando, John Dall, Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Sam Wannamaker. They all escaped a three month shoot in Indiathat became six -then, Renoir was editing for a full year. None of it could mask Tommy Breen’s ineptness.
  7. John Hodiak, The Sellout, 1951.   Walker was set to co-star with Walter Pidgeon and Audrey Totter, but died during the shooting of My Son John.  His remaining scenes were shot with a double and footage from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, 1950 - voiced by the director, Leo McCarey
  8. Arthur Kennedy, The Girl in White, 1951.    The girl was June Allyson - a woman really and New York’s first female doctor. In July, Walker was announced as her co-star in July. On August 28 he was dead. “From an adverse reaction to prescription drugs.”
  9. Robert Ryan, Clash By Night, 1952.     This was another film Walker was due to make when he died... “From childhood,” he had told Hedda Hopper, ”I found myself up against mental walls….I was always trying to escape from life.”
  10. Montgomery Clift, Raintree County, 1957.     As MGM struggled over adapting Ross Lockridge's 1,110 page novel, production chief Dore Scharyhad promised Walker he'd be Oscar-nominated as Yankee schoolteacher John Shawnessy. When shooting finally began in the Spring of '56, the tragic Walker had been dead five years.





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