'The Exiles' Portrays Woman's Real-Life Struggle
LYNN NEARY, host:
Now, we're going to continue our conservation about the film "The Exiles," but with one of the original cast members, Yvonne Williams Walker. Michel Martin caught up with Walker to talk about the role the film played in her life since it was released nearly 47 years ago. Yvonne Walker described meeting Kent Mackenzie and her reluctance to join his film project.
Ms. YVONNE WILLIAM WALKER (Cast Member, "The Exiles"): I guess he was just checking around, and he met all these guys and Cliff. And Cliff was in it, so he asked me, and I told him, I don't know, you know. And they needed somebody, I guess, so I just told him OK. So I did it.
MARTIN: Cliff being Clifford Ray Sam. He was one of the folks. He was a friend of yours?
Ms. WALKER: No, he's about - he was my - we were together then.
MARTIN: Oh, you were together then?
Ms. WALKER: Yes.
MARTIN: He was your fella.
Ms. WALKER: Yes.
MARTIN: Oh, OK. And why did you agree to do it? Did it just seem like something fun to do or what?
Ms. WALKER: No. I just, you know - I knew it wouldn't become nothing, but I just figured, well, they liked it, the other guys, and so I said, OK, you know, I'll help out.
MARTIN: OK. In this film, you were married to somebody named Homer. How come...
Ms. WALKER: Yeah, he took over because the boss wouldn't let Cliff off.
MARTIN: Oh, OK.
Ms. WALKER: He had to do the night shows.
MARTIN: And the film was - it was - a lot of the filming was done at night and after work.
Ms. WALKER: Yeah, towards 3:00, 4:00 it started.
MARTIN: OK. So that's why your guy couldn't actually do the part in the movie?
Ms. WALKER: Yeah, because he wasn't working, that guy Homer.
MARTIN: In the movie you were pregnant. Were you really pregnant?
Ms. WALKER: Yes.
MARTIN: How did that go?
Ms. WALKER: Oh, he just died a couple of years ago.
MARTIN: Oh, I'm sorry. What did he die of?
Ms. WALKER: He died of diabetic. He was a diabetic.
MARTIN: Oh, I'm sorry.
Ms. WALKER: Cliff was a diabetic too, and he passed away, too.
MARTIN: I'm sorry. The thing that struck, I think, me and, I think, a lot of the people who've seen it is just the sadness, the loneliness. Did you feel that way a lot?
Ms. WALKER: No, I'm a person that's alone. I don't get involved with people. I don't, you know, like, I have a lot of people that I - people you would call friends, but to me, it's just somebody I know because I've never been close to anyone, really. I don't trust too many people, and I, like I said, I'm alone.
MARTIN: You're a loner by nature.
Ms. WALKER: Yeah.
MARTIN: So the film kind of captured that.
Ms. WALKER: I mean, I'm not unhappy, you know. I'm not sad or happy. It's just that I prefer to be alone.
MARTIN: The film was telling the story of people that Sherman Alexie called first generation immigrants, people who were the first in many ways in their families. In many cases, they were the first in their families to leave the reservation. Was that your story?
Ms. WALKER: I guess, you know, I mean, there was a lot of reason why I left. You know, it's not just because I didn't like it, you know, because I go back and visit my family.
MARTIN: Where did you come from originally? Where were you born and raised? And why did you go to Los Angeles?
Ms. WALKER: It's a long story. I mean, I can't go through this in a few seconds. I was born in Whiteriver, Arizona. It is a reservation up towards the state line to New Mexico. And my aunt lived in San Carlos, and she's the one that picked me up as my mom died. And I was there, and she sent me to a boarding school, it's a Catholic school. That's where I was raised. You know, she raised me.
MARTIN: What was that like for you? Boarding schools were not a good experience for a lot of Indian kids? What was it like for you?
Ms. WALKER: I loved it. I liked it. You know, I went back every year. So because I was out for the summer and every summer I went to work out here and I went back. And I really enjoyed it, but after she passed away, I had no one to help me anymore, so I stayed out here.
MARTIN: I see.
Ms. WALKER: Because I had a job.
MARTIN: I see. What was your work when you were in Los Angeles?
Ms. WALKER: Housekeeping.
MARTIN: And how did you find it? I mean, one of the things that the film - yeah?
Ms. WALKER: The school where I went to school at is a Catholic church, St. Johns. And they apparently got in touch with some people out here. They were looking for some people to work. And they asked us, and I said, yeah, put my name on the list. And right away, I met a lady and came out here.
MARTIN: All in all, were you happy that you went to Los Angeles?
Ms. WALKER: Yes.
MARTIN: What did you like about it? Well, you don't live there now, but sort of near, but all in all, when you think about the staying or the going...
Ms. WALKER: My kids, my kids, they're the one that keeps me around.
MARTIN: I see. And if you don't mind if I ask, what's your tribe?
Ms. WALKER: Apache.
MARTIN: Apache. Did you ever actually get to see the whole film put together?
Ms. WALKER: Yes.
MARTIN: What did you think of it?
Ms. WALKER: I really didn't care. It just made it me feel a little bad because my kids. I really don't want them to see it, but they're going to wind up seeing it because my oldest girl saw it. And she'd be kind of make some - you know, like she didn't like it.
MARTIN: How come you don't want them to see it?
Ms. WALKER: Because this thing here, I mean, it's just - it's nothing. I mean, you know, I didn't accomplish anything or I didn't - it seemed like I didn't. And well, like I said, I was asked, but I just didn't want them see it. And then now, they know about it, and they want to go see it.
MARTIN: Is there something in the film that makes you feel bad?
Ms. WALKER: No. Because I didn't want them to know exactly when it came out, but, I mean, they know, but it's just that I, you know, don't want them to feel bad.
MARTIN: Why would they feel bad, though?
Ms. WALKER: Because of my story, I mean, that's, you know, how I felt. And a lot of people probably, you know, wouldn't come out and say something like that, like I did.
MARTIN: You feel bad you were too honest about your feelings?
Ms. WALKER: I guess, I don't know how you put it.
MARTIN: And what about - there's a lot of drinking in the film, and does that bother you?
Ms. WALKER: Oh, yes.
MARTIN: You're not drinking but, I mean...
Ms. WALKER: I - that's true. I don't hang around people that drink a lot or anything. Just like my first, Cliff, I left him not long after we made the film. Me and James, we moved away because we lived near his godparents' house. And then after that, when I met George, my second husband, he was doing fine, but he started drinking, and I didn't like that. So he started losing his job and drinking and drinking. I just - we moved away, me and my kids.
MARTIN: So the drinking is true, but it's hard to watch. It's hard to see it, you know?
Ms. WALKER: I don't know. I guess people have fun drinking like that and go crazy, but I never was into it, so...
MARTIN: So overall, I can't figure out whether you're glad or sorry that you did the film at all.
Ms. WALKER: I'm not glad, really. I mean, you know, I guess people like it. I mean, what can I say? I mean, if they like it, they like it. But if it was somebody else that played me, it would have been OK. I mean, I probably would have liked it, I don't know. But it's me, and I just feel so, I don't know, self-conscious about it, and I feel like I'm, you know, I'm nobody. And yet, they try their best to make something with me, I guess. But it didn't work out, and I just don't - I just didn't care for it really, but...
MARTIN: But why do you say it didn't work out? Because, I mean, I don't - I mean, I'm not trying to tell you how to feel because people - this film is considered one of the most important films made, you know, in that era.
Ms. WALKER: I mean, people are saying, oh, it's good, it's good, you know. OK, I guess it is. I don't know. To them, it is. But, it is - or it's like saying, you know, just telling people how all the Indians are when they come out to California, you know, and some of it is not true, some is, I guess.
MARTIN: And it makes you feel kind of exposed?
Ms. WALKER: Yes, like I'm one of them.
MARTIN: I see. Do you - so how many kids do you have overall? And how many grands?
Ms. WALKER: I have five now.
MARTIN: Five kids?
Ms. WALKER: I have five kids that are living. One I lost two years ago, and then that first one I had was with Clifford. Well, I had two for him, really. And then George, I have five for him. I have three girls and two boys. Well, actually, I had six because he adopted James.
MARTIN: I see.
Ms. WALKER: So his name is James Walker too, so.
MARTIN: And you lost one?
Ms. WALKER: Yeah.
Ms. WALKER: Years ago before - when I first met Cliff.
MARTIN: Well, I'm sorry about that. You have any grands?
Ms. WALKER: Yeah, I have 12.
Ms. WALKER: Yeah, 12 grandkids.
Ms. WALKER: They're all different nationalities. They're not - none of them married Indians, really.
MARTIN: Nobody married Indians? Does that make you sad?
Ms. WALKER: No. You know, it didn't matter.
MARTIN: Well, good luck to you.
Ms. WALKER: Thank you.
MARTIN: If you go to see the film again, I hope you wear a pretty dress. Go to the premiere and walk the red carpet.
Ms. WALKER: Oh, no. I don't think it's going, you know. No, I'll just wear regular clothes. I'm not going to, you know...
(Souindbite of laughter)
Ms. WALKER: I don't know - we don't want to go, but I'm going to go, get those people happy.
MARTIN: Well, if you go, tell us how it goes, OK?
Ms. WALKER: Uh huh.
MARTIN: All right.
Ms. WALKER: OK.
MARTIN: Yvonne Walker is part of the original cast of Kent Mackenzie's 1961 film "The Exiles," and she was kind enough to join us on the phone from her home in Bellflower, California. Miss Yvonne, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ms. WALKER: All right. Thank you.
NEARY: If you want to see a trailer of the film and find out how to see "The Exiles" for yourselves, please go to our website at npr.org/tellmemore. That's our program for today. I'm Lynn Neary, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.