Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

PIECES OF MY HEART: ROBERT WAGNER

PIECES OF MY HEART: A LIFE. Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman. 2008; HarperCollins.

Robert Wagner appeared in a number of high-profile movies, such as A Kiss Before Dying, before becoming even more successful as a TV star in middle-age, with such programs as It Takes a Thief, Switch, and Hart to Hart. Wagner -- via Scott Eyman -- writes about his early life and his lousy relationship with his father, his desire to be nothing but a movie star from his youngest days, his marriages to Natalie Wood and Jill St. John, and the tragic night that Natalie drowned. There are some surprises in the book, such as (a very few) details about his four-year affair with the older Barbara Stanwyck, which may have been highly exaggerated. Wagner has a sense of humor, but comes off as a rather superficial third-tier celebrity bashing a few enemies -- such as Natalie's less successful sister, Lana, whom he skewers, and co-star Stefanie Powers, whom he felt betrayed him  -- and justifying some of his bad actions as well. Wagner outs numerous people as gay or bisexual, but remains mum on the rumors surrounding his own sexuality. Although Wagner has pleasant things to say about some gay men he knew, he's not above the occasional stereotypical whack; he comes off as an old-fashioned guy trying to affect a liberal posture. If the book has any value, it is as an insider's look at old Hollywood, the dying (and now dead) studio system, and some of the characters who inhabited that long-ago world, about which much has already been written. The book is entertaining enough but overlong.

Verdict: Hardly essential reading, but Wagner's fans may eat it up. **1/2. 

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