Turner Classic Movies
Pieces of My Heart
Written by Robert Wagner with Scott Eyman   

robertwagner225.jpgBook Review by James Colt Harrison

Robert Wagner made his film debut at the age of 17. He grew up on the 20th Century Fox lot, fluttered the hearts of young ladies and has remained an A' list star for more than 50 years. Wagner, or "RJ" as his friends call him, has remained private throughout his life, but now has written (with Scott Eyman) a breezy, entertaining book titled Pieces of My Heart that reveals things the public never knew about him.

In the book Wagner reveals his heart-wrenching feelings about losing his wife, film star Natalie Wood, to an accidental drowning. He's kept his silence about the incident for more than 25 years. In passages that bring tears to the reader's eyes, we learn just what happened to cause Wood to drown that night off their boat anchored in Catalina.

Nobody loved the beautiful Miss Wood more than Robert Wagner. They met when they were both kids on the Fox lot. Wood told her mother she and RJ would one day be married. She was 10, and was 18. Her predictions came true, and the young couple became the hot Hollywood movie star couple of the day. Much like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are today, they were on the covers of every fan magazine, and their appearances at premieres and restaurants caused pandemonium.

The handsome young Wagner crashed into the movies by befriending film icons Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and Randolph Scott by caddying for them on the Bel Air golf course. They all took to the gregarious boy and gave him some good advice about getting into films. Wagner was so handsome at 17 he had no trouble photographing well on screen. He had everything to propel him to stardom - good looks, a killer smile, well-bred manners and talent. Plus determination. He wanted to be in the movies and he was going to make it!

Luck came his way when he signed a long-term contract with Fox and was then under the thumb of studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck. Wagner was one of a pack of good-looking young men starting out at that time including Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Jeffrey Hunter, Farley Granger and others. The pretty boy era was in. But Wagner had an advantage. He had MGM star Spencer Tracy as a mentor. Making several films with the veteran actor at Fox, Wagner learned not to fall over the furniture and learned his lines so they sounded "natural" and not forced.

Tracy was helpful, but there was someone more significant in his life. It was mega-star Barbara Stanwyck, who was twice his age at the time. He fell madly in love with her, and unknown to outsiders, they sustained a four-year love affair. She taught him many things, including advice about filmmaking. Wagner doesn't diminish this affair and admits Stanwyck was one of the most influential people in his life.

Another mature star who became a real friend was screen legend Bette Davis. Theirs was a professional relationship, and Miss Davis adored Wagner. She appeared on his television series It Takes a Thief and made the movie Madame Sin.

Behind the scenes stories are always intriguing, and there are many in the book that tickles the funny bone. Wagner had a special friendship with British star David Niven, who was a very funny man (Read his book, The Moon's a Balloon). One ribald story is a tad taboo to repeat here, but it is hysterically funny. It has to do with Niven getting extremely cold and proving theories of physics to be true about shrinking objects.

robertwagner-back280.jpgWith a five-decade career behind him Wagner has met, known, loved, laughed with, gone to parties with, and filmed with just about everybody who is anybody in the world of show business. Does Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, Sophia Loren, Steve McQueen or Laurence Olivier ring a bell? Many of his contemporary males wanted to be him.

Very few actors remain top stars in Hollywood and the world cinema if they don't have the it factor. Wagner reveals his innermost thoughts about stardom and how he managed to have a career most actors would envy. He's surprisingly down to earth and most charming in person. This innate graciousness of his is propelled off the screen and is evident as well in his writing. The book is an entertaining and charming look at Hollywood and his life with Wood, second wife Marion Marshall and his current happy home with actress Jill St. John and his beautiful daughters Katie, Natasha and Courtney. As his hair turns to silver, he is more handsome than ever, and yes, he's still a star.


Pieces Of My Heart

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-137331-2


326 pages


Photo Credit:

1. Book Jacket: Photo supplied by the author. Jacket design by Ervin Serrano. Harper Entertainment, HarperCollins.

2. Back cover photos: various credits.



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