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Belleville had its share of fame: Nice guy Clint Walker became Hollywood hunk

Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie.
Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie.

How does a Belleville boy get his big break in Hollywood?

Clint Walker's deep voice and handsome face helped, but it was his good nature that landed him a minor role in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments." In the early 1950s, Walker was driving to Hollywood to meet with DeMille and noticed a woman whose car had a flat tire on the side of the road. He stopped to change it. "She asked what to pay me, and I said she didn't owe me anything," said Walker, now 81, in a telephone interview from his home in Grass Valley, Calif. Clint looked at his watch and knew he was late.

"I knew my career might be over before I even started."

When he finally arrived to speak with DeMille, Clint apologized.

DeMille told Walker he knew why he was late.

"He said, 'That was my secretary you helped.' He cast me as the Sardinian in 'The Ten Commandments.' That was the big guy in the helmet when Charlton (Heston) comes in," said Walker.

More roles soon followed.

From 1955 to 1962, women swooned at brawny hunk Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie in the weekly western series "Cheyenne."

Walker lives in northern California with his wife, Susan, and stays busy manning a Web site with "Cheyenne" memorabilia. Clint has a daughter from a previous marriage, two stepsons, a stepdaughter and a grandson.

He still doesn't see what all the fuss is about concerning his looks.

"I don't know about that. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. There are plenty of good-looking people outside of pictures," said Walker.

He stays healthy by lifting weights twice a week and eating organic foods.

"We eat lots of salads and fruits. We don't eat beef, but we eat chicken and salmon."

Walker's last film work was in 1998 as a voice-over for the character Nick Nitro in "Small Soldiers."

"I said "Dynamite!" Walker said in his deep, booming voice.

Walker was born Norman Walker in 1927 in Hartford. He had a twin sister, the late Lucy Walker Westbrook. The family moved to Belleville for a short time as Clint's dad looked for work.

He wasn't always the big, tough hero type.

At age 12, Lucy inadvertantly hit Clint in the head with her book bag while trying to hit a bully who was picking on him.

"I was 12 years old and the school bully was on my back. She started wacking away and hit me,"said Walker, with a deep chuckle. I rolled over on the ground and saw her sitting on the ground crying. That ended the fight right there," recalled Walker.

He was in Belleville four years ago to visit Lucy, shortly before she died.

Walker left school at age 16 to work in a factory, later joined the Merchant Marines then ended up working as a deputy sheriff at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

While working there, patrons and even actor Van Johnson said he should head to Hollywood try his luck in pictures. Walker took their advice and the rest is history.

Walker was advised to change his name.

"The first one was Jet Norman. I hated it," said Clint.

Then Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros. studios, suggested Clint Walker and the name stuck.

Clint Walker auditioned for and was cast in "Cheyenne." His bouncer days were over.

"This time I was still carrying a gun, but the bullets weren't real and the pay was a lot better, said Clint with a hearty laugh. I don't think (show producers) thought it would last more than a year."

The show lasted eight seasons.

Walker prided himself on performing his own stunts. He learned to ride his horse, Brandy. He had no choice.

"The director said 'You'll end up a good rider, or you'll end up dead."

Walker had his share of bruises but learned to ride.

Besides "Cheyenne," he also appeared in "Dirty Dozen" and "Send Me No Flowers." He got to know movie stars, including Van Johnson, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.

Clint still reads scripts, but none with four-letter curse words.

"I didn't want to use bad words because it sets a bad example for the kids," he said.

His advice to young actors?

"Play yourself." said Clint. "Some people might say it was being lazy, but I was being myself."

He has also written a novel, "Yaqui Gold," about the late 1980s gold rush, and is working on a second book.

For more information about Clint Walker and to order "Cheyenne" and other Walker movie memorabilia, log on to www.clintwalker.com or send fan mail to Clint Walker Photos, 101 W. McKnight Way, Suite B 303, Grass Valley, CA 95949.

Contact reporter Jaime Ingle at jingle@bnd.com or 239-2640.

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