The handsome actor reminisces about the passing of a more glamorous Hollywood, settles some old scores and examines his passionate relationship with Natalie Wood.
Perhaps best known for his role as the suave, mystery-solving millionaire on the TV series Hart to Hart, Wagner grew up struggling to please his distant, disapproving father. As a young actor, he was drawn to an older generation of male stars, idolizing and befriending the likes of James Cagney and Clark Gable in a bid for more congenial paternal lights to steer by. This identification with an older style of movie glamour slightly marginalized Wagner as the Method propelled intense, mumbling actors like James Dean and Paul Newman to superstardom, leaving him to flounder in a series of forgettable, lightweight parts. The preternaturally good-looking young man still managed to enjoy himself, cutting a mighty swath through hordes of hopeful starlets and not a few more mature actresses, including a memorable layover with the sultry Yvonne De Carlo. Wagner recounts these adventures in surprisingly salty detail, which is great fun. Less fun are his gripes about producers’ and directors’ unfairness or incompetence, tales of real-estate deals, anecdotes about children and the like, which will tax the patience of even the most generous reader. Fortunately, he provides much more gripping material concerning his stormy relationship with Wood. They were one of the original celebrity couples: Married in 1957, separated in 1961 and divorced a year later, they remarried in 1972 and were still together when she tragically drowned in a 1981 boating accident that has invited morbid speculation for decades. Wagner is open about the emotional torment he suffered during their separation, confessing to murderous feelings toward Warren Beatty, Wood’s post-divorce boyfriend. His account of the fateful boat trip, which included a protracted, nearly violent argument between Wagner and eccentric actor Christopher Walken, delivers a mesmerizing sense of queasy fatefulness.
A diverting meander through a life in showbiz.