Johnnie Walker

Active - 1920 - 1933  |   Born - Jan 7, 1894   |   Died - Dec 4, 1949   |   Genres - Adventure, Drama, Western, Crime, Comedy

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Biography by Hans J. Wollstein

A breezy All-American leading man, a type much favored in the 1920s, handsome, dark-haired Johnnie Walker (aka John Walker and Johnny Walker is remembered for two very disparate pictures: the tearjerker Over the Hill to the Poorhouse (1920), immensely popular with moviegoers, and the historical epic Old Ironsides (1926), mostly heralded by the critics; Walker played Steven Decatur in the latter and garnered the best reviews of his career.

From a prominent New York Irish family, Walker began his show business career in a vaudeville act known as "Walker & White" and did some chorus work on Broadway in The Pearl Maiden (1912) and Channing Pollock's My Best Girl (1912). He himself credited actress (and future star) Viola Dana with introducing him to motion pictures and he appeared in numerous Edison two-reelers in 1915 before switching allegiance to first Universal and then Fox. Walker hit pay dirt for the latter, playing Mary Carr's reformed son in Over the Hill to the Poorhouse (1920), an incredibly popular version of the Will Carleton poem. The studio advertised him as "America's Favorite Son" and raised his salary to 1,000 dollars, but his subsequent films for the company, mostly romantic action-dramas with Edna Murphy (the future Mrs. Mervyn LeRoy), were in the programmer category.

Striking out on his own in 1922, Walker produced several low-budget films starring serial ace Eddie Polo and acted in a series of routine melodramas for Poverty Row company FBO, few of which, if any, have survived. With co-stars such as Silverstreak, a Rin Tin Tin wannabe, and Rin Tin Tin himself, Johnnie Walker quietly dropped out of the Hollywood A-list, a situation briefly remedied by director James Cruze, who surprised everyone by awarding the has-been a plum role in Old Ironsides (1926). But although the epic was esteemed by big-city critics, the average ticket buyer stayed away and Walker's career remained in the doldrums.

Johnnie Walker can be seen starring in such minor efforts as Gotham's Bare Knees (1928), a delightful comedy with Virginia Lee Corbin, and The Matinee Idol (1928), the latter directed by Frank Capra but minor nonetheless. Sound reduced him to supporting roles but there were stints in vaudeville and Walker produced several short subjects, some in connection with columnist Ed Sullivan. He is listed as associate producer on old friend William K. Howard's New York-lensed Back Door to Heaven (1939), which proved slightly more successful than his final ventures, producing and directing the Broadway shows Make Yourself at Home (1945), with Hollywood actress Bernadene Hayes, and The Haven (1946), with Melville Cooper and the singer Dennis King. Both folded after a mere handful of performances. Johnnie Walker married and divorced vaudeville performer Rena Parker and former Mack Sennett "Bathing Beauty" Maude Wayne.

Movie Highlights

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