Hart to Hart
American actor and producer Robert Wagner has been in the industry since 1950. He is probably best known for his roles of Alexander Mundy on “It Takes a Thief” (ABC, 1968-1970), Pete Ryan on “Switch” (CBS, 1975-1978) and Jonathan Hart on “Hart to Hart” (ABC, 1979-1984). He received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for “It Takes a Thief” and four Golden Globe nominations for “Hart to Hart.” He also had recurring roles on “Hope & Faith” (2003-2006), “Two and a Half Men” (2007-2008) and “NCIS” (2010). Wagner first gained success as a film actor with 20th Century Fox. Among his notable film credits during this period are “Stars and Stripes Forever” (1952), from which he netted his first Golden Globe nomination, “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” (1953), “Prince Valiant” (1954), “Between Heaven and Hell” (1956) and “The True Story of Jesse James” (1957). After he parted ways with the studio, Wagner turned his attention to television but has frequently returned to feature films. More recently, he is known for playing Number Two on the Austin Powers films (1997, 1999 and 2002). He jointly picked up a Method Fest Award for his work on the indie film “Man in the Chair” (2007). Wagner received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2002 thanks to his contribution to motion pictures. He was also awarded with Copper Wing Tribute Award from the Phoenix Film Foundation Awards at the 2006 Phoenix Film Festival.
Wagner was in a relationship with actress Barbara Stanwyck for four years before he married actress Natalie Wood in 1957. The couple divorced in 1962. He then married actress Marion Marshall in July 1963, but they divorced in 1971. The marriage produced a daughter, TV host and entertainment reporter Katie Wagner (born 1964). Wagner then had a relationship with Tina Sinatra in 1971. He remarried Natalie Wood in July 1972 and had a daughter, Courtney Wagner, in 1974. Wood passed away in November 1981. He married his longtime girlfriend, actress Jill St. John, in May 1990. He frequently tours the United States with his wife performing the play “Love Letters.” Wagner was also once romantically linked to actresses Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor.
The Brylcreem Kid
Childhood and Family:
Robert John Wagner was born on February 10, 1930, in Detroit, Michigan. His father, Robert Wagner Sr., was an affluent steel executive. When he was seven years old, his family relocated to Los Angeles and Robert attended Black-Foxe Military Institute and the Harvard School. He graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1947. Robert was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, but became interested in acting after appearing in a high school production of “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” He took on various jobs, including working as a golf caddy for actor Clark Gable, before telling his father about his intention of becoming an actor. His father gave him a year to achieve success in Hollywood or Robert had to quit acting and enter the steel business. Fortunately for Robert, his first acting gig arrived shortly after his father's ultimatum and the rest is history.
At age 27, Robert married actress Natalie Wood (born July 20, 1938) on December 28, 1957. The couple quickly faced financial problems and became estranged in September 1961. They eventually divorced on April 27, 1962. Robert then moved to Europe and met an old friend, actress Marion Marshall, there. In the spring 1963, the two (along with Marshall's two children from her previous marriage to Stanley Donen), moved back to America. They married on July 22, 1963, and welcomed a daughter, Katie Wagner, on May 11, 1964. Robert and Marshall separated in late 1970 and divorced on April 26, 1971.
On July 16, 1972, Robert remarried Natalie Wood, whose short-lived marriage to Richard Gregson ended in early 1972. Their only child, daughter Courtney Wagner, was born on March 9, 1974. They remained together until Wood's tragic death (drowned) on November 29, 1981. Robert subsequently became the legal guardian of Wood's daughter, Natasha Gregson (born October 1970), whom Robert had adopted after the couple married. He recalled, “When Natalie died, I was embittered. I still get angry about it and I wonder why it had to happen. I have all those feelings of grief and anger that people who've lost someone they love always have. I had lived a charmed life and then I lost a beautiful woman I loved with all my heart.”
Robert married his present wife, actress Jill St. John (born August 19, 1940), on May 26, 1990. On September 21, 2006, Robert Wagner, whose nicknames are RJ and The Brylcreem Kid, became a first time grandfather when daughter Katie gave birth to a son, Riley Wagner-Lewis.
It Takes a Thief
Robert Wagner made his feature film debut when he landed a bit part in “The Happy Years” (1950), a comedy directed by William A. Wellman. He followed it up with a string of minor roles but did not attract the attention of 20th Century Fox until he portrayed a hospitalized paratrooper in the Water Lang directed biopic “With a Song in My Heart” (1952), which was about American singer Jane Froman (played by Susan Hayward). He soon signed a contract with the studio.
After playing Private Lewisohn in “What Price Glory” (1952), starring James Cagney, Corinne Calvet and Dan Dailey, Wagner gained recognition for his portrayal of Willie Little on “Stars and Stripes Forever” (1952). He was nominated for a 1953 Golden Globe in the category of Most Promising Newcomer - Male for his performance. Wagner went on to costar in “The Silver Whip” (1953, with Dale Robertson and Rory Calhoun) and “Titanic” (1953, with Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck), before scoring his first lead role in “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” (1953), an adventure film directed by Robert D. Webb that was scripted by A. I. Bezzerides and based on William Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet.” The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color and Grand Prize of the Festival at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.
In 1954, Wagner starred in “Prince Valiant,” which was adapted from Hal Foster's comic strip of the same name, and played Spencer Tracy's son, Joe Devereaux, who is tortured by his brothers for being half-Native American, in the award winning western “Broken Lance,” which was helmed by Edward Dmytryk. He then starred as Josh Tanner in “White Feather” (1955), was cast as a psychotic killer in Gerd Oswald's “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956) and portrayed a wealthy playboy who experiences an emotional change during World War II on “Between Heaven and Hell” (1956), which was based on the novel “The Day the Century Ended” by Francis Gwaltney. He next starred with Spencer Tracy in Paramount Pictures’ “The Mountain” (1956), portrayed Jesse James in “The True Story of Jesse James” (1957), and worked with Joan Collins and Edmond O'Brien in Richard L. Breen's “Stopover Tokyo” (1957). He also appeared with Robert Mitchum in “The Hunters” (1958), a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by James Salter, and starred with Dana Wynter and Jeffrey Hunter on Philip Dunne's “In Love and War” (1958). He next acted with Debbie Reynolds and Bing Crosby in the Golden Globe musical “Say One for Me” (1959).
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Wagner earned major notice from the press for his marriage to another up-and-coming talent, Natalie Wood. The couple also acted together in 1960's “All the Fine Young Cannibals.” However, Wagner's status as a leading man stumbled during this period and the couple had to deal with financial difficulties after Wood's contract was postponed because she refused to appear in a film in Europe. The distresses caused a tension in their marriage and they eventually divorced in 1962.
With his career delayed because of lack of studio support, Wagner broke his studio contract with 20th Century Fox and fled to Europe to find better opportunities. While there he appeared in the Academy Award nominated for Best Picture “The Longest Day” (1962), with Steve McQueen, Shirley Anne Field and Ed Bishop in the British movie “The War Love” (1962), which was directed by Philip Leacock, and Sophia Loren in “The Condemned of Altona” (1962). Also in Europe, he found a new love in fellow actor Marion Marshall, whom he married in 1963.
After his return to the United States, Wagner experienced a substantial decrease in his film career, but managed to get a few notable projects. He appeared in Blake Edwards' “The Pink Panther” (1963) and collaborated with Paul Newman on the films “Harper” (1966) and “Winning” (1969). Wagner also appeared in “The Biggest Bundle of Them All” (1968) and “Don’t Just Stand There” (1968). It was in 1968 that Wagner made a major shift to the small screen by signing to his first television series with “It Takes a Thief.” Created by Roland Kibbee, the show debuted on ABC on January 9, 1968, and ended on March 24, 1970. Starring as intelligent thief Alexander Mundy, the actor received a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Actor - Drama and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series (both 1970) for his performance.
After his success on “It Takes a Thief,” Wagner starred as Flight Lieutenant Phil Carrington on the British series “Colditz,” which ran on BBC between October 1972 and April 1974. He also appeared in several television films, such as “City Beneath the Sea” (1971), “Crosscurrent” (1971), “Perlico - Perlaco” (1971), “Killer by Night” (1972) and “The Affair” (1973). Wagner had his first producing credit with the TV film “Madame Sin” (1972), in which he also starred with Bette Davis. After “Colditz” ended, he worked with Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway on the Oscar winning thriller “The Towering Inferno.”
In 1975, Wagner returned to series television with the CBS detective drama “Switch,” opposite his childhood idol Eddie Albert. The series ran from September 1975 to July 1978. While working on the series, Wagner landed a supporting role on the film “Midway” (1976), starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and James Coburn. The same year, he also starred with Kate Jackson and Sylvia Sidney in the TV film “Death at Love House” and was reunited with Natalie Wood for the television movie adaptation of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which also starred Laurence Olivier. In 1978, Wagner portrayed Cal Lankford in the television miniseries “Pearl,” opposite Angie Dickinson and Dennis Weaver, and Dr. Nick Sloan on the TV film “The Critical List,” with Lloyd Bridges, Melinda Dillon and Buddy Ebsen. The next year, he appeared as Dr. Kevin Harrison in the disaster film “The Concorde... Airport '79.” The film, which was directed by David Lowell Rich, was panned by critics.
Wagner experienced another big breakthrough in 1979 when he was cast as Jonathan Hart on the series “Hart to Hart,” opposite Stefanie Powers as his wife. Produced by Aaron Spelling, the show was broadcasted on ABC from August 1979 to May 1984. For his good acting in the popular series, Wagner earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Actor - Drama in 1980 and additional nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama in 1981, 1983 and 1984. In 1980, he won a People's Choice award for Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program.
Back to the big screen, Wagner reprised his role of George Lytton in “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983), the seventh installment of “The Pink Panther” series. The same year, he also supported Frank McGurran, Robert MacNaughton and Russell P. Goslant in the feature “I Am the Cheese.” After “Hart to Hart” left the airwaves, Wagner portrayed James Greyson Culver on the CBS short lived dramatic series “Lime Street” (1985), opposite Samantha Smith, Lew Ayres and Maia Brewton, was cast in the TV miniseries “Around the World in 80 Days” (1989) and acted in the TV films “Love Among Thieves” (1987), “Windmills of the Gods” (1988) and “Indiscreet” (1988). He also executive produced the television film “There Must Be a Pony” (1986).
In 1991, Wagner received the recurring role of Peter Donovan on “The Trials of Rosie O'Neil” and landed an unaccredited part in the comedy “Delirious.” He then played Bill Krieger on the Rob Cohen directed film “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” (1993), which was about the martial arts superstar Bruce Lee. Also in 1993, he reprised his iconic role of Jonathan Hart on the reunion TV movie “Hart to Hart Returns,” which he executive produced. He went on to repeat the duty on other “Hart to Hart” reunion TV films, including “Home Is Where the Hart Is” (1994), “Crimes of the Hart” (1994), “Old Friends Never Die” (1994), “Secrets of the Hart” (1995), “Two Harts in 3/4 Time” (1995), “Harts in High Season” (1995) and “Till Death Do Us Hart” (1996). In 1997, Wagner costarred in the action film “Overdrive,” opposite Steve Guttenberg and Kaela Dobkin, and played Number Two in the hit film “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” which was written by Mike Myers, who also starred in the movie. The same year, he also guest starred as Dr. Abbott on an episode of “Seinfeld” called “The Yada Yada.” Wagner next landed supporting roles in the films “Wild Things” (1998), “Something to Believe In” (1998), “Dill Scallion” (1999), “No Vacancy” (1999), “Forever Fabulous” (1999), which he executive produced, “Crazy in Alabama” and “Play It to the Bone” (1999). He then reprised his role of Number Two in the 1999 sequel “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.”
Wagner next appeared in the TV films “Die Abzocker - Eine eiskalte Affäre,” “Rocket's Red Glare,” “Becoming Dick” (all 2000) and “The Retrievers” (2001). He also portrayed Chris Burden in the independent film “The Kidnapping of Chris Burden” (2001), Curtis Sherman on “Nancy & Frank - A Manhattan Love Story” (2002), a film starring Hardy Krüger Jr. and Frances Anderson, and was reunited with Faye Dunaway for Damian Chapa's “The Calling” (2002). He next returned as Number Two in the 2002 sequel “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” In 2003, Wagner had a recurring role on the ABC sitcom “Hope & Faith,” a role he would keep until 2006. He continued to work on such films like “Sol Goode” (2003, as Sol's dad), “A Screwball Homicide” (2003, TV), “Mystery Woman” (2003, TV), “El padrino” (2004), “The Fallen Ones” (2005, TV), “Category 7: The End of the World” (2005, TV), “Hoot” (2006) and “Everyone's Hero” (2006, as the voice of Mr. Robinson). In 2006, he played Barry Goal on two episodes of ABC's “Boston Legal” and Alex Avery in an episode of “Las Vegas.”
In 2007, Wagner began a recurring role on the hit sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” The same year, he also starred with Christopher Plummer, Michael Angarano and M. Emmet Walsh in the independent film “Man in the Chair,” from which he shared a Method Fest for Best Ensemble Cast. 2007 also found roles in the TV film “Making It Legal,” the feature film “Netherbeast Incorporated,” the direct to video “A Dennis the Menace Christmas” and in an episode of “Hustle” called “As One Flew Out of the Cuckoo's Nest, One Flew In.” He then portrayed Scotch Fitzpayne in the 2008 TV film “Pretty/Handsome” and was cast in “The Wild Stallion,” a 2009 family film written and directed by Craig Clyde. In 2010, the veteran actor worked with Darren Geare, R.J. Knoll and Christopher Walken in the Tony Vitale comedy “Life's a Beach” and had a recurring role on “NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service.” He also appeared in an episode of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Wagner will play Chief Thomas in the upcoming film “The Summoning,” scripted and directed by Stephen R. Hudis. The thriller is set to be released in October 2011. It is rumored he will provide the voice of Charlie in the 2011 revival series “Charlie's Angels.”
Method Fest: Best Ensemble Cast, “Man in the Chair,” 2007
Phoenix Film Festival: Copper Wing Tribute Award, Phoenix Film Foundation Awards, 2006
People's Choice: Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program, 1980