For seven seasons, actor Clint Walker led the western TV series, Cheyenne, as the good-natured cowboy Cheyenne Bodie, exploring the American Frontier following the Civil War. Starring on the ABC TV show is definitely the role Walker is best known for in Hollywood though he appeared on the screen in countless other memorable roles throughout his legendary career.
Originally hailing from Hartford, Illinois, Norman Eugene Walker left high school to work on a riverboat but when he was just 17 years old decided to join the United States Merchant Marines during World War II. After the war, he worked a series of odd jobs across Texas, Nevada, and California, before he ended up making some connections in the film industry. His very first film role was in Jungle Gents followed by Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Upon hearing that the famed director was looking for rugged men for his upcoming film, Walker landed himself an appointment. But on the way to the Paramount lot, he helped a woman with her flat tire and made himself late.
"You're late, young man," Walker recalled DeMille saying when he arrived. When he explained why, DeMille said, "Yes, I know all about it. That [woman you helped] was my secretary."
Walker landed a small part which ended up helping get him connected with Warner Bros, ultimately landing the role of Cheyenne Bodie on the TV western. Standing tall at 6 ft 6 with good looks to boot, he was a perfect fit for the Wild West.
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"I think they had all the leading men available in Hollywood to test for Cheyenne two days in a row, and they had me test with them," Walker recalled in a 2012 interview for the Archive of American Television. "The first day I was very, very nervous. I could see all these people that I'd seen in pictures over the years and I thought, 'I don't stand a chance.'
"The second day, I thought, 'I'm not going to get the job anyway so why don't I just relax and enjoy it,' which I did. Then the next thing I heard about four days later was Jack Warner reviewed all the stuff, pointed to me and said, 'That is Cheyenne.'"
Starring on the classic series in the 50s turned Walker into a household name and he went on to star in multiple films like The Dirty Dozen, Fort Dobbs, Yellowstone Kelly, The Great Bank Robbery, Send Me No Flowers, Gold of the Seven Saints, More Dead Than Alive, Frank Sinatra's None but the Brave, and The Night of the Grizzly. He also went on to appear in several TV shows including Kodiak, The Lucy Show, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, The Love Boat, and Maverick, as well as numerous TV movies like Scream of the Wolf, Yuma, and The Bounty Man. His final film role was in the 1998 movie Small Soldiers as the voice of Nick Nitro.
Walker passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 90. He was survived by his daughter Valerie, who was one of the very first female airline pilots, and his third wife Susan Cavallari. But we'll always remember him as one of our favorite cowboys, Cheyenne Bodie.
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