Where does one even start with Christopher Walken? Probably with more cowbell and less kids if you know what’s good for you. The quirkiest actor of our times began life as Ronnie Walker (after his mother’s favorite actor, Ronald Coleman) but legally changed his name to Christopher in the sixties when cabaret singer Monique van Vooren told him “he didn’t seem like a Ronnie.” The eccentricity streak continued as he took a lion-taming job in a single-ring circus, danced with Judy Garland at Liza Minnelli’s 16th birthday party, put on a cable television cookery show with crockery-smashing artist Julian Schnabel, and confessed a deep passion for collecting Tupperware. After all this, one would think there’s little more to Christopher Walken that could possibly raise a brow.
But to some, the most unexpected thing about him is what he hasn’t done: have kids. Married to the same woman – Georgianne Walken, his on-stage sweetheart in a touring production of West Side Story – for over forty years, the only pitter-patter of little feet are coming from the Abyssinian cats they keep in their Wilton, Connecticut home. Not exactly putting out the fatherly vibe, Walken has largely escaped the media’s “Where’s your celebrity babies?!” spotlight so often aimed at other actors like Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney. Perhaps it’s because the thought of Christopher Walken rarely summons soft, fatherly images (despite his first paying gig being photographed as a naked 14-month old baby with two cats for a popular calendar). This, in combination with his aloof nature and habit of meandering off subject in interviews, has left relatively little information about how he arrived at the Childfree lifestyle. But it’s clear he’s comfortable without kids in his life, after saying in an interview, “’When I’m with them, I think, “Gee, I wish this would end so I could have a conversation or something.”
Or in his case, get to work. He cites the absence of children and any desire to travel or pick up a hobby as the reason he takes on so many acting projects. It’s led to an Emmy, a Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination, and an Academy Award after more than 100 movie and television roles. It’s given him the courage to spit in Robert DeNiro’s face in Deer Hunter – unscripted! It’s resulted in an open invitation from Lorne Michaels to host Saturday Night Live whenever he’s available after his legendary “More Cowbell” performance on the Blue Oyster Cult skit. When speaking about his success, he says, “I always felt I would do okay, but I assumed I would be fairly anonymous. The fact that I get some respect in my craft is something I didn’t anticipate. I am financially better off than I ever thought I would be. I’ve already done more than I thought. That amazes me.”
Would he feel the same way if he’d had kids? While they might have been added to his list of accomplishments, would soccer games and kindergarten graduations have taken the place of his amazing dance routine for Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice? Or maybe his breakout performance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall? If they’d come too early, maybe he would have traded in the precarious actor’s life altogether for the reliability of a 9-to-5 gig to support a family. I’d like to think not, since entertainment seems to be in his blood (as evidenced by his age three start at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan where he learned to tap dance). But like so many things in life, it might’ve come down to timing.
Walken’s wildly diverse career can also be at least partially attributed by his inability to sit around and wait for something better. He never holds out for the “perfect script” and instead chooses from the best of what’s available to him at the moment so he can keep doing what he loves, all the time. Kind of fits in nicely with the Childfree lifestyle: being totally content with what’s out there right now instead of chasing after a future idea of happiness that may not end up being any better than what he’s got.
Makes sense to me, but I’m sure it leaves some of his fellow actors and fans scratching their heads. But in Walken’s opinion, that’s not such a bad thing. “When they see me in a movie,” he said, “they expect me to be something nasty …. That’s why it’s good to defy expectations sometimes.”
I, for one, am glad that attitude has carried over to his thoughts on having kids. Because let’s be honest: who among us couldn’t use a little more cowbell in our lives?
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