Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.
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Pieces of My Heart: A Life (Robert J. Wagner) 2008
He grew up in Bel Air next door to a golf course that changed his life. As a young boy, he saw a foursome playing one morning featuring none other than Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Randolph Scott, and Cary Grant. Seeing these giants of the silver scree…more In this moving memoir, Robert J. Wagner opens his heart to share the romances, the drama, and the humor of an incredible life
The crux of ‘Pieces of My Heart’ however, revolves around his first and third wife, Natalie Wood, who died in 1981. For the first time since her death, Wagner talks publicly about the fateful night. But there are no surprise revelations in his account for he simply reiterates what the coroner and police concluded; namely that Wood’s drowning was accidental.
The whole episode of his wife’s drowning and the aftermath of the tragedy is afforded a mere twenty pages in the actor’s autobiography. I was particularly drawn to a nondescript comment he makes on page 266, where he writes about the mere nine days he remained at home before returning to work on the ‘Hart to Hart’ television show:
‘Before that happened, Thomas Noguchi, the Los Angeles celebrity coroner made various speculations, just as he had with Bill Holden, and as he would when he re-opened the investigation into the death of Marilyn Monroe. Noguchi seemed to enjoy his celebrity status and his speculations put him right in the spotlight. Frank sinatra was furious – he adored Natalie and knew the truth of what happened. He would never have been so loyal if there was even a shadow of doubt.’
I must take issue with this point. Firstly, Wagner’s ghostwriter Scott Eyman does not add the all important words – ‘in his own mind’ to the last sentence. This suggests that Sinatra’s loyalty and support was borne, not merely out of personal conviction, but some well connected, nay pseudo supernatural ‘all seeing, all knowing’ power.’ How on earth could he have known the truth of what happened? He was presumably nowhere near Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend 1981, his daughter Nancy, chronicling a work engagement in Los Angeles in the week leading up to the tragedy. Sinatra may have ruled Hollywood with a song in his heart, a clenched fist, and ties to the mob, but his unswerving support for Wagner means absolutely nothing within the context of Wood’s death. One suspects the actor may have felt better recounting the events of that fateful weekend, by making reference to Ol’ Blue Eyes in his autobiography, but frankly, his comments hold no sway either way with me.
The official site with photo galleries, news of his public speaking appearances and movie credits. Nice and safe, as all stars like their websites to be.
According to Wikipedia, Robert Wagner is best known for starring in the television shows ‘It Takes a Thief’ (1968–70), ‘Switch’ (1975–78), and ‘Hart to Hart’ (1979–84). For British viewers of a certain age, one might also add ‘Colditz’ (1972-74). In films however, it says much for a prematurely stalled career that he is now best known for his role as Number Two in the Austin Powers trilogy of films (1997, 1999, 2002). Nevertheless, he has consistently found work in that most insecure of professions, maintaining an enviable reputation as a hard working, punctual, self effacing star.
In his lifetime, he has taken plaudits where due, and shrugged off criticism of his less demanding roles. Unfortunately, what he cannot escape is the suspicion that he murdered his wife in 1981 – a feeling shared by millions. In 2012, the Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner amended Natalie Wood’s death certificate and changed the cause of her death from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” The document also stated that the circumstances of how Wood ended up in the water were “not clearly established.” The police however, stated that Wagner was not a suspect in the case. Nevertheless, such a statement was unlikely to appease his detractors, and viewed with the benefit of hindsight, he may, on that fateful night, have simply been too sagacious for his own good.