Helen Walker was a beautiful and bright actress whose career never reached its full potential, in spite of her evident talent. She was a successful actress on Broadway, and in 1942 her performance in the play “Jason” was so impressive that she was signed up to act in films. She immediately earned good notice and received star billing in her film debut, Lucky Jordan (1942), starring Alan Ladd. During the mid-1940s she had continued success with strong performances in offbeat but entertaining and successful films like The Man in Half Moon Street (1945), the satirical Brewster’s Millions (1945), and the murder spoof Murder, He Says (1945), which starred Fred MacMurray. Achieving both artistic and box office success, she was clearly on the brink of major stardom. She won the starring role in the prestigious film Heaven Only Knows (1947). But all that changed on New Year’s Eve of 1946 when she picked up three hitchhiking World War II veterans while driving to Los Angeles from Palm Springs, where she had been vacationing. She had a terrible accident, hitting a divider and wrecking the car, which flipped several times. One of the soldiers died and the other two were severely injured. Walker herself was seriously injured, including a broken pelvis. But her career suffered even greater and longer-lasting damage. The survivors of the accident accused her of driving drunk and speeding, and she was brought to trial. She suffered bad press and faced a public that was grateful to World War II veterans for having won the war, and was replaced in Heaven Only Knows (1947). Although she was acquitted of criminal charges, many fans turned against her and major studios were hesitant to hire her. She tried to adapt by portraying ruthless and manipulative women in dark murder mysteries, in which she again showed great talent. She performed with great aplomb in Nightmare Alley (1947), the gritty urban police drama Call Northside 777 (1948), and Impact (1949), an unconventional murder drama that featured a fatal automobile accident her character helped cause. But she could not overcome the stigma of the veteran’s death. By the 1950s, she was reduced to low-budget films that received little notice. After winning a minor role in the Cornel Wilde police drama The Big Combo (1955), her film career ended and she only appeared in a few television shows. In 1960, she made her last television appearance, and that same year her house burned down. Some remaining friends from show business helped her, with some fellow actresses staging a benefit for her, which touched her deeply. She faded from the public view and during the 1960s she experienced health problems. In 1968, she died of cancer. She was 47 years old.
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