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Jerry Walter

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With the assistance of his daughter, Rebecca, Betty Mann Doutt has put together the following appreciation and biography of Jerry Walter.

Jerry Walter was born in Chicago, March 28, 1925, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S in January 1911.  His father was a medical doctor, his mother a social worker.  Jerry learned activism while still in knee pants. In the 1930s, his parents were leaders in the Zionist movement.  Jerry used to tell about "that school teacher who came down from Milwaukee to plot and plan with his parents and their friends."  He called her "Aunt Goldie."  She was, of course, Golda Meier.

When he was about 12, Jerry's mother took him to the local radio station where his career was launched at a most propitious time, and he became a part of the "Golden Age of Radio."

His credits included Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, until his voice changed.  In addition to Jack, he played on other radio shows such as "Ma Perkins," "Woman in White," "The Guiding Light" and "Chicago Theater of the Air," to name a few.

Jerry, boy soprano, sang with the Paulist Choir, and was, as he used to say, the only "little Jewish boy" in that musical group.

His stage credits were rich and varied.  He was one of the original "kids" (Philip the rich boy) in the play "Dead End."  He always spoke fondly of his mother who guided his career in his childhood days.  Jerry would laugh when he talked about how he missed the chance to crack films at an early age when the other "kids" went to California to be cast in the version of  "Dead End Kids." His mother wouldn't let him go to the West Coast, “…too young,” she felt.

Jerry was educated at the Goodman Theater and North Western University where he majored in drama and English literature.  Later in life, he also studied at the American Conservatory of Music and at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

It was during those early radio days of Chicago soap operas that he met fellow radio actress Norma Jean Ross, who later became his wife.   As radio popularity fell prey to television soaps, Jerry and Norma Jean moved to California, settling in San Francisco, hoping for more career opportunities.  In 1944, Jerry married Norma Jean in a Redwood forest around a campfire.  Over the next decade their marriage produced three children  - Mark, Rebecca and David. They divorced in 1959 and, though Jerry never remarried, he had two subsequent long-term relationships with women he cherished.

Jerry had always been very politically involved, and was active in the first chapter of the NAACP in San Francisco and worked for a time as an organizer for the ILWU.  He was then, and remained until his death, a great champion of unionized labor and had great compassion, and a heart for serving others, without need for personal reward, other than knowing he was helping his fellow man.

After his discharge from the US Army in 1955, he and Lou Gottlieb founded The Gateway Singers.  Following breakup of the group, on July 8, 1961, Jerry teamed up with Betty "Montana" Mann, country-western singer/guitarist/ comedienne and they toured nationally as Jerry Walter and Betty Mann.  Their relationship eventually became a devoted personal, as well as a professional one, which added a richness evident in their performances.

In May 1962, Milt Chapman joined them, and The Gateway Trio was born, and they performed together nationally up to the end of 1965.

Jerry and Betty continued to live in Palo Alto, California, working occasionally as Betty & Jer and creating and producing radio commercials and slide films in the San Francisco area.

Later Jerry again became active and dedicated to union activities.   He became a Board Member, then Officer and eventually President of the San Francisco Local of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), serving for four years.  No one else had ever held that office for a longer period. During the seventies, he represented the AFTRA Local on the National Board.

Actors, announcers, singers, dancers and news people for decades to come have built their careers on contracts which Jerry, sometimes almost by himself, helped to shape.

fore his untimely death, Jerry had been a Board Member of the Credit Union that served AFTRA and  the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) members in California. He was about to take on a new job setting up a program to train unemployed AFTRA members to help them improve their skills.

In addition to his commercial work throughout the 70s, Jerry branched out into film and TV and can be seen in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Nightmare in Blood," "Freebie and the Bean" and many episodes of television's "Streets of San Francisco."

Jerry was up early, drinking coffee on his sofa overlooking San Francisco Bay, looking forward to a day of sailing with his buddies, when he died of a massive heart attack Saturday morning, February 10, 1979 in Sausalito, at the home he shared with his lady love, Dee Altick.  (Jerry was preceded in death by his parents and his younger brother, Gibby, who died of a heart attack in October 1963.)

The following Tuesday, his children, his lady, and several friends kept his yachting date by sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge close to Mile Rock.  With a cold, rainy, miserable gale blowing and small craft warnings flying, they scattered his ashes next to the City By The Bay that he loved so dearly.

Later that same afternoon, there was a memorial service at the Sausalito Episcopal Church at which some 300 (S.R.O.) were present.  It was truly a joyous service with everyone singing the recessional - “Puttin' On the Style” - as they filed out of the church and over to Dee's house for a rowdy wake of a party to end all parties.  For a guy who could never turn down a free drink or miss a good party, this was just the way Jerry would have liked it.

These biographical notes were compiled by Betty Mann Doutt, and Jerry's daughter-- Rebecca Walter Harney, July 2004.
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