DCS: helen walker

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With humble beginnings in local theater, Helen Walker made her big-screen debut in Lucky Jordan in 1942, co-starring with Alan Ladd in his first “leading man” role. Helen became well-known and reliable as a foil in comedies. She appeared as the female lead in the original Brewster’s Millions with Dennis O’Keefe. She later starred in musical comedies with Jack Haley, Peter Lawford and Charles Boyer.

On New Year’s Eve 1946, Helen was driving director Bruce “Lucky” Humberstone’s car from Palm Springs to Hollywood as a favor. She stopped to pick up three young men who were hitch-hiking — a soldier named Robert Lee and two teen-age students, Philip Mercado, and Joseph Montaldo. Forty-five minutes into the trip, the car hit a highway divider and flipped over. Lee was killed instantly. Helen and the two other passengers were seriously injured. Mercado and Montaldo brought a civil suit against Helen. Lee’s family also filed a manslaughter charge against the actress. Just after the trial began, Mercado was arrested as an accomplice in an armed robbery. Montaldo admitted to an earlier narcotics charge, for which he was arrested. After Helen’s lawyer proved that Helen was not intoxicated while driving, the manslaughter charge was dismissed by the District Attorney’s office. But, Helen’s days in light-hearted comedies were over.

Her first role upon her return to Hollywood was the one for which she is best remembered. Helen garnered critical praise for her portrayal of “Lilith Ritter,” the deceitful psychoanalyst in the original “Nightmare Alley.” From that point forward, Helen was cast as darker characters. She made several film noir pictures, including The Big Combo with Richard Conte and Cornel Wilde, her last role before retiring from show business at 35.

Out of the spotlight for a few years, Helen’s house was destroyed by a fire in 1960. Her former acting colleagues staged a benefit to help her recover financially. Eight years later, Helen was diagnosed with cancer and passed away at the age of 47.



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