ANGELES — Robert Wagner is in a reflective mood.
last forever," noted the veteran actor
("Broken Lance," "The Pink Panther,"
the "Austin Powers" series), but the Hollywood
he once knew has all but disappeared.
turned around, and it was all gone," Wagner, 84,
said recently in Beverly Hills.
as R.J. to his friends and colleagues, he’s dapper,
charming, handsome and very much cut from the same cloth
as the suave characters he played in the TV series
"It Takes a Thief" and "Hart to
Hart," in which he and Stefanie Powers played a
wealthy crime-solving couple.
was so shocked one day when I went by Jimmy Stewart’s
house and it was knocked down and (a new house) was
built right up to the curb," he said. "The
thing is, if somebody buys a house, they can do anything
that they want."
doing nothing at all.
years ago, he and his wife, actress Jill St. John, sold
their Cliff May-designed house in Mandeville
Canyon. "And nobody has been in since the day I
sold it," said Wagner, who moved there with his
three daughters soon after the drowning death of his
then-wife, Natalie Wood, in November 1981. "It’s
just been sitting there."
his new book, "You Must Remember This: Life
and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age," Wagner and
his collaborator Scott Eyman offer a humorous, poignant
and sometimes juicy view of a vanished era.
book talks about the legendary stars’ grandiose
mansions — the majority of which have suffered the
same fate as Stewart’s — and takes us inside the era’s
famed restaurants such as Chasen’s (where Bob Hope
once rode through the dining room on a horse) and the
Brown Derby and the glittery nightclubs such as the
Cocoanut Grove, all of which have closed because of
changing times and tastes.
book gives us an intimate look at such famed movie
industry locales as the Beverly Hills Hotel and shows
how the stars maintained their high style in everything
they did, from their hobbies to their clothes (Wagner
always favored Italian tailors).
who began at 20th Century Fox at age 18, got to know
Hollywood’s elite, including Fred Astaire, Frank
Sinatra, Clark Gable and David Niven.
was the era," said the grandfather of two, who has
a recurring role as Michael Weatherly’s ne’er-do-well
dad on CBS’ most popular series, "NCIS."
actors he’s worked with recently as well as friends of
his daughters are always asking him about the old
don’t know anything about it," said Wagner, who
lives in L.A. and Aspen with St. John and their German
shepherd, Max. "They don’t know Fox had a young
talent group of 40 young actors. There was a school
there to educate people, a place where you could go and
study with coaches and do scenes."
some actors chafed under the studio contract system,
preferring to pick their own parts instead of having
their bosses select their roles, Wagner found it
was such a wonderful time," he said. "Those
people at Fox were like family to me. I was signed there
when I was 18 and I left when I was 30. They really
cared for me."
played his roles well, both on screen and off, following
the studio’s guidelines. He went to premieres and
parties to promote films, often on the arm of an ingenue
chosen to be his date for the event. He would dutifully
show up at the house of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper,
who could make or break an actor’s career, for an
interview, carrying flowers and chocolates as gifts.
played the game," he said. "You were a
property. You were someone they were grooming. You were
protected. Motion-picture actors and actresses were
thought of as royalty, and to be taken into that fold
and to be nurtured by those people was wonderful."
was Astaire who mentored him from a young age. He later
became Wagner’s golfing buddy and played his father on
"It Takes a Thief."
was in grade school when he first met the legendary star
of such musicals as "Top Hat" and "Swing
Time." He had never even seen any of Astaire’s
went to the Hollywood Military Academy and Fred’s
stepson Peter went there," said Wagner. "I was
a boarder. Boarders would go to families’ houses for
the weekend. I remember Fred Astaire came, picked me up
and put me in his car. He was always so kind to
that kindness continued for five more decades.
remember being at the Bel-Air Country Club and I told
him I got a chance to be under contract at Fox,"
said Wagner, who used to be a caddy at the golf
said, ‘That’s wonderful. Get in there and do it.’
The man couldn’t have been more encouraging."