Sunday, October 19, 2008

Robert J Wagner

I've been reading a number of new biographies lately. The first I've finished is PIECES OF MY HEART by Robert J. Wagner. Now the first obvious question is why the "J?" Over the years he's been billed as Robert, Bob and RJ but as far as I know never "Robert J. Wagner." With no obvious answer, let's move on.
First of all, I've never been a huge fan of Mr. Wagner but I have enjoyed his work over the years. Some readers will recall that only just recently I was watching IT TAKES A THIEF episodes for the first time on the 'Net. No, what convinced me to read it was the remarkable photo seen here. This is the very young RJ in a studio ballet class in the late 1940's. Note that also in the class was his future wife, Natalie Wood at far left in the pic! As if that weren't interesting enough, the young lady behind his hand is his OTHER future (and current) wife, Jill St. John! But wait, there's more!! That sad looking young thing on the end next to Jill happens to be none other that RJ's future TV wife, tiny Stefania Federciwicz (soon to be Stefanie Powers)!!!
You definitely develop an insight into the man in this book and he does have some admiravble qualities. I have to say, however, that I believe I like him a bit less having read this. The book is filled with interesting anecdotes about Hollywood touching on Errol Flynn, David Niven and Tony Curtis up through Christopher Walken and Mike Myers. My problem is that Wagner's morality seems a bit askew. It's not as if he's immoral but his morals are questionable. For instance, he talks about his long affair with Barbara Stanwyck and how he remained utterly faithful to her...except, of course, when he was away from her on location. Ummm...Bob? That's NOT being utterly faithful. In fact, that's not faithful at all!
Strangely, I think I'd respect him more if he were cheerfuly amoral (as was Flynn). The problem seems to be that he was raised with one way of thinking about things and that way is different from the way most people think about things. In spite of a surprisingly dysfunctional beginning, he seems to feel entitled to money, success and privilige.
The expected centerpiece of the book comes when he deals with the tragic death of Natalie Wood and he does an excellent job detailing what happened that night. In fact, he does an excellent job throughout with the various stories he tells. By the end, though, even though he's aged remarkably well and seems very happy, I felt sorry for him. I was sadly more impressed with the man's stories than with the man.


Nancy said...

Sorry, but that's NOT RJ (Robert John Wagner)in the ballet class!!

Rick said...

I would imagine with how many times over the years he has been asked bout Natalie's death that he could tell the story in his sleep.

Booksteve said...

Hmmm... Maybe it's not. Guess I misread that. Looks a bit like him but...Still, it is all 3 of his "wives!" A bizarrely cool shot nonetheless!