Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pieces of My Heart by Robert Wagner

Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman. Pieces of My Heart. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008.

The author knew by age 14 he wanted to be a movie actor. He walked around Hollywood and hung around where he had heard a director hung out, waiting to be discovered. While this method didn’t work, it helped set his goal at an early age.

Losing his virginity age age 12, his youth included dating daughters of actors Alan Ladd, Harold Lloyd, and Joan Bennett. He become childhood and longtime friends with Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor.

Wagner’s father was friends with director William Weldman. His father persuaded Weldman to hire his son. Wagner earned $37.50 appearing in the movie “The Happy Years” at age 18. He later signed a $75 a week contract (for work over 40 weeks) that was later raised to $125 a week. 12 years later he earned $5,000 a week.

Darryl Zanuck then ran 20th Century Fox. Zanuck had a successful publicity expert in Harry Brand. William Goetz ran the studio while Zanuck served in World War II. Goetz tore apart Zanuck so much that when Zanuck returned the two of the fought bitterly. Goetz left and formed International Pictures which later merged with Universal.

Wagner learned some studio contract employees were more appropriately hired as prostitutes.

Wagner appeared in small parts in several movies. He once needed 49 takes to film one scene. His contract work included going on publicity tours.

Wagner’s Hollywood life included a one night stand with Joan Crawford and a three month intense flight with Yvonne DeCarlo. He was a longtime friend with Tony Curtis, except for a split that was later fixed, and with Robert Stack.

Wagner’s fan mail increased, which was good. Movie studios looked at the volume of fan mail as an indication of an actor’s popularity.

The author considers Barbara Stanwyck as his first love. They were close friends for four years even though she was 23 years older.

Wagner admired Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. They were excellent actors with strong skills in projecting their characteristics into their roles.

Fox Studios tried to hide the fact that Terry Moore was pregnant with Howard Hughes’s child. They issued a release that she and Wagner were getting married. The studio neglected to tell Wagner this. They hoped Wagner and Moore would be convinced to marry. Wagner was upset, as was his girlfriend, Barbara Stanwyck. Wagner told Fox he refused to marry Moore. Fox never issued another statement and let the matter rest. Wagner notes Moore never gave birth to the baby.

In 1953, Wagner was on seven magazine covers and was told he had passed Marilyn Monroe in the volume of fan mail. His contract increased from $350 a week to $1,250 a week.

Sterling Hayden is recalled as one of the few actors who didn’t care about the film business.

Spencer Tracy taught the author not to think about portraying each moment of a scene and not to overanalyze by considering how to overplay or underplay a scene. As Tracy put it, “don’t learn the tricks of the trade. Learn the trade!: Tracy usually needed one or two takes when filming a scene. As Wagner put it, Tracy “possessed simplicity, the most valuable thing an artist can have and the hardest thing to achieve.”

Wagner dated and then married Natalie Wood when he was 27 and she was 19. Natalie Wood started turning down parts from Jack Warner who then suspended her. Wagner continued acting. Wood returned to film a movie “Cash McCall” designed to profit from her costar Jim Garner’s recent success on TV.
Frank Sinatra felt there was a lot of wasted time involved in filming movies. He wanted scenes done in one or two takes. He also recorded music in much the same way, singing for one or two takes.

Jack Warner once walked into Judy Garland’s and Sid Luft’s house to realize they had stolen all their furniture from their set of Warner’s “A Star is Born”. Warner was upset for years and withheld roles from Garland.

Jack Warner tried to talk director Elia Kazan out of hiring Natalie Wood for “Splendor in the Grass” as Warner was still mad at her. Kazan liked how Wood was willing to let him define the role his way and Wood got the part.

Wagner denied Kazan ‘s allegations that Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty had an affair while filming “Splendor in the Grass” and that Wagner was on the set when it happened. Wagner writes he saw no reason to suspect an affair. Wagner states neither he nor Wood cheated on the other.

Wagner notes Natalie Wood’s career was growing as she continued to be in the successful “West Side Story” while his career was becoming less successful. They argued and the marriage ended, even though he still loved her. They would remarry.

Wagner burned his eyes while filming “The Pink Panther” during a bathtub scene when strong detergent was used by mistake instead of baby detergent. His eyes were shut for three weeks.

Two thirds of Universal’s work was in television then. Wagner starred in the TV series “It Takes a Thief”. The show had high ratings when canceled, yet new studio executives wanted their own new shows. Wagner married a woman named Marion and admits infidelity in that marriage. Ironically, Marion incorrectly claimed Wagner had an affair with Jill St. John, ten years before he would.

Wagner and Natalie Wood re-met and remarried.

Wagner and Wood owned half interest in the TV show “Charlie’s Angels”.

Wagner starred in the TV series “Switch” for three years. CBS moved its time slot six times which hurt the show’s chances of finding an audience for a longer run. He also felt the show should have focused more on the characters rather than emphasizing plot gimmicks.

Lawrence Olivier was the actor Wagner saw who had the least indicating. Indicating is when an actor forces trying to make audiences feel a particular emotion. Olivier had the confidence that the emotions he portrayed would create the desired audience reactions. Wagner writes Natalie Wood also had this talent.

Wagner accepted, and Natalie Wood turned down, roles on the TV show “Hart to Hart”. They decided it was best not to mix their private and working lives. Natalie Wood later drowned off Catalina Island.

Wagner married Jill St. John. After “Hart to Hart” ended, Wagner starred in a TV series “Lime Street” with a similar character. The show lasted a month.

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