Robert John Wagner, Jr. (pronounced //) (born February 10, 1930) is an American actor of stage, screen, and television, best known for starring in the television shows It Takes a Thief (1968–70), Switch (1975–78), and Hart to Hart (1979–84). In movies, Wagner is known for his role as Number Two in the Austin Powers trilogy of films (1997, 1999, 2002). He also had a recurring role as Teddy Leopold on the TV sitcom Two and a Half Men.
Wagner's autobiography, Pieces of My Heart: A Life, written with author Scott Eyman, was published on September 23, 2008.
Early life and career
with Wagner in Broken Lance
Wagner was born in Detroit, Michigan. He is the son of Hazel Alvera (née Boe), a telephone operator, and Robert John Wagner, Sr., a traveling salesman who worked for the Ford Motor Company. His paternal grandparents were born in Germany. Wagner has a sister, Mary. He graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1949.
He made his film debut in The Happy Years (1950). He was signed by agentHenry Willson and put under contract with 20th Century-Fox, where he gained attention with a small but showy part as a shellshocked soldier in With a Song in My Heart (1952). This led to star roles in a series of films including Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953) and Prince Valiant (1954), and White Feather (1955, with Debra Paget and Jeffrey Hunter), A Kiss Before Dying (1956, a rare villainous role) and Between Heaven and Hell (1956).
Wagner appeared with veteran actor Clifton Webb in Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) and Titanic (1953). Wagner starred opposite Steve McQueen in The War Lover (1962). Roles soon followed in The Condemned of Altona (1959) and The Pink Panther (1963).
In 1967, Wagner signed with Universal Studios. In 1968, Lew Wasserman convinced Wagner to make his television series debut in It Takes a Thief. While the success of The Pink Panther and Harper began Wagner's comeback, the successful two and a half seasons of his first TV series completed it. In this series, he acted with Fred Astaire, who played his father. Wagner was a long-time friend of Astaire's, having gone to school with Astaire's eldest son, Peter. Wagner was suggested to play James Bond after On Her Majesty's Secret Service was released.
In 1972, he produced and cast himself opposite Bette Davis in the television movie Madame Sin, which was released in foreign markets as a feature film. and was a regular in theBBC/Universal World War II prisoner-of-war drama Colditz until its end in 1974. He reunited with McQueen, along with Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway, in the disaster film The Towering Inferno released in the same year.
By the mid-1970s, Wagner's television career was at its peak with the television series Switch opposite Eddie Albert, after re-signing a contract with Universal Studios in 1974. Before Switch, Albert was a childhood hero of Wagner's, after he watched the movie Brother Rat along with a few others. The friendship started in the early 1960s, where he also co-starred in a couple of Albert's movies. After the series' end, the two remained friends until Albert's death on May 26, 2005. Wagner spoke at his funeral, and gave a testimonial about his longtime friendship with him.
In part payment for starring together in the Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg production of the TV movie The Affair, Wagner and Natalie Wood were given a share in three TV series that the producers were developing for ABC. Only one reached the screen, the very successful TV series Charlie's Angels, for which Wagner and Wood had a 50% share, though Wagner was to spend many years in court arguing with Spelling and Goldberg over what was defined as profit.
Wagner and Wood acted with Laurence Olivier in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (as part of Olivier's UK television series Laurence Olivier Presents). Wood also made a small cameo appearance in the pilot episode of Wagner's own television series, Hart to Hart.
His third successful series was Hart to Hart, which co-starred Stefanie Powers and ran from 1979 to 1984. Before those roles, Wagner also made guest appearances in the pilot episode of The Streets of San Francisco. He would later be nominated for an Emmy Award for Best TV Actor for his performance in It Takes a Thief and for four Golden Globeawards for his role as Jonathan Hart in Hart to Hart.
Return to film and television
Wagner's film career received a revival after his role in the Austin Powers series of spy spoofs starring Mike Myers. Wagner played Dr. Evil's henchman Number 2 in all three films:Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).
He also became the host of Fox Movie Channel's Hour of Stars, featuring original television episodes of The 20th Century-Fox Hour (1955), a series which Wagner had appeared on in his early days with the studio.
In 2005, Wagner became the television spokesman for the Senior Lending Network, a reverse mortgage lender and in 2010 began as a spokesman for the Guardian First Funding Group, also a reverse mortgage lender. As of June 2011, Guardian First Funding was acquired by Urban Financial Group, who continue to use Mr. Wagner as their spokesperson.
In 2007, Wagner had a role in the BBC/AMC series Hustle. In season four's premiere, Wagner played a crooked Texan being taken for half a million dollars. As Wagner is considered "a suave icon of American caper television, including It Takes a Thief and Hart to Hart", Robert Glenister (Hustle's fixer, Ash Morgan) commented that "to have one of the icons of that period involved is a great bonus for all of us".
Wagner also played the pivotal role of President James Garfield in the comedy/horror film Netherbeast Incorporated (2007). The role was written with Wagner in mind. He had a recurring role of a rich suitor to the main characters' mother on the sitcom Two and a Half Men. His most recent appearances on the show were in May 2008.
Wagner's radio and television career was recognized by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters on January 30, 2009, when they presented him with their Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award.
Wagner has guest-starred as Tony's father, Anthony DiNozzo Sr., in four episodes of NCIS: "Flesh and Blood" (2010), "Broken Arrow" (2010), "Sins of the Father" (2011), and "You Better Watch Out." He was set to star as Charlie in the 2011 reboot of Charlie's Angels, but due to scheduling conflicts, had to exit the project.
In his memoirs, Wagner claims to have had affairs with Yvonne De Carlo, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Anita Ekberg, Shirley Anne Field and Joan Collins. He had a four-year romantic relationship with Barbara Stanwyck after they acted together in the movie Titanic (1953). Because of the age difference – he was 22, she was 45 – they kept the affair secret to avoid damage to their careers.
On December 28, 1957, Wagner married Natalie Wood when he was 27 and she was 19. They separated in June 1961 and divorced on April 27, 1962.
While working on location in Europe, Wagner reconnected with an old acquaintance, actress Marion Marshall. In the spring of 1963, after a brief courtship, Wagner, Marshall, and her two children from her marriage to Stanley Donen moved back to America. Wagner and Marshall married on July 22, 1963, in the Bronx Courthouse. Soon after, they had a daughter, Katie Wagner (born May 11, 1964). The two were together for nearly eight years before they separated in late 1970. They were divorced on April 26, 1971. Wagner's only grandchild is Katie's son, Riley John Wagner-Lewis (born September 21, 2006).
In 1971, Wagner was briefly engaged to Tina Sinatra.
Wagner kept in contact with Natalie Wood, whose short-lived marriage to Richard Gregson ended in early 1972. Wagner remarried her on July 16, 1972. Their only child, Courtney Wagner, was born on March 9, 1974. On November 29, 1981, Natalie Wood drowned near their yacht Splendour while it was moored near Catalina Island; also on board were Wagner, Christopher Walken, who was co-starring with her in the motion picture Brainstorm, and Dennis Davern, a captain. Wagner subsequently became the legal guardian of Wood's daughter Natasha Gregson. He is estranged from Natalie Wood's sister Lana Wood, who claims Wagner refused to let her see her nieces after Natalie Wood's death.
In November 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened its investigation into Natalie Wood's death after the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, told NBC Newsthat he lied to police during the initial investigation and that a fight between Wood and Wagner had led to her drowning. After nine months of further investigation, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran amended Wood's death certificate and changed the reason of her death from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors". The amended document also now states that the circumstances of how Wood ended up in water are "not clearly established." The police however have stated that Wagner is not a suspect in the case.
In early 1982, Wagner began a relationship with actress Jill St. John, who coincidentally was a childhood acquaintance of Natalie Wood and Wagner's Hart to Hart co-star Stefanie Powers, as well as starring alongside Natalie's sister Lana Wood in Diamonds Are Forever. The couple had first met in the late 1950s when Wagner was an up-and-coming actor and St. John was a teenage starlet. After an eight-year courtship, they were married on May 26, 1990.