Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Think I'm Ready for a Walker

I keep trying to remember the first time I noticed Clint Walker. His career was, for all intents and purposes, over before I began seeing very many movies. His hit television show Cheyenne (1955-1962) went many years without being rerun and was only recently unearthed by The Starz Westerns Channel. Perhaps it was during a viewing of his 1966 family film Night of the Grizzly, in which he went shirtless in order to chop some wood.

In any case, at some point in the early 2000s, I began to obsess over Mr. Walker to the point of hysteria. An online friend who I had met through sent me copies of two of his old Warner Brothers western films – Gold of the Seven Saints and Fort Dobbs – and the 1969 comedy, The Great Bank Robbery. That was it. From then on, I had to see EVERYTHING that Clint Walker ever did.

The epitome of a “strong but silent” type, 6 foot, 6 inch Clint Walker was a giant with a broad, strong chest, but possessing a dulcet voice which could melt a person’s ears off. His ice blue eyes were offset by silken dark hair and a suntan. He had a gentle, polite manner, but was incredibly heroic and tough when it was needed. In short, if I could be a Dr. Frankenstein and make the perfect man, Walker would be it! To give you an idea of his shape, at his peak, he had a 48" chest, but only a 32" waist.

Frequently derided as a wooden actor, he was actually a very understated, but highly committed, performer who brought nuance to the standard, cardboard roles that were always handed to him. He was brought to the attention of Cecil B. DeMille for a role in The Ten Commandments, but C.B. took one look at him and told him he would dwarf the stars, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, so he appeared as a guard instead. (Look for him in the palace scenes with a horned helmet on his head!) He then landed his signature role of Cheyenne Bodie on the Warner Brothers series and performed in occasional film roles during his off time. Many episodes featured his character stripped to the waist either to wash up or to perform manual labor. It was an unpleasant experience for him for a variety of reasons including typecasting and restrictions in his ability to do more and better film work.

Once free from the series, he tried to break the mold, to a degree, with a comedic role as Doris Day’s hunky former sweetheart in Send Me No Flowers, but generally Clint wound up in more westerns or war movies, including The Dirty Dozen. He also found work in several family-oriented films where his best assets often went wasted (except for that wood-chopping scene in Grizzly, which is legendary among his admirers.) In a nod to his work in war films, he voiced the role of Nick Nitro in the animated film Small Soldiers, his last role to date.

In 1973, Clint was involved in a bizarre skiing accident in which the tip of his ski pole penetrated his chest and nicked his heart! Though he made an admirably speedy recovery from the incident, that was the last anyone ever saw of his amazing chest on the screen. Apart from this, he was in his mid-forties and likely had tired of the beefcake scenes by then anyway. He has admitted in interviews that he shied away from many film offers that came his way from the 1960s on because he didn’t wish to use foul language or appear in things that contained, in his view, inappropriate material. Now in his early 80s, for the last several years he has lived a quiet life with his wife, occasionally venturing to a western convention here and there.

A warning to those who have yet to experience Clint Walker: Tread carefully or you will become as addicted to his face, figure and soothing voice as some people are to crack!


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