Robert Wagner

Active - 1950 - 2020  |   Born - Feb 10, 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Mystery, Thriller, War

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Biography by Hal Erickson

One of the precious few actors of the "pretty boy" school to survive past the 1950s, Robert Wagner was the son of a Detroit steel executive. When his family moved to Los Angeles, Wagner's original intention of becoming a businessman took second place to his fascination with the film industry. Thanks to his dad's connections, he was able to make regular visits to the big studios. Inevitably, a talent scout took notice of Wagner's boyish handsomeness, impressive physique, and easygoing charm. After making his unbilled screen debut in The Happy Years (1950), Wagner was signed by 20th Century Fox, which carefully built him up toward stardom. He played romantic leads with ease, but it wasn't until he essayed the two scene role of a shellshocked war veteran in With a Song in My Heart (1952) that studio executives recognized his potential as a dramatic actor. He went on to play the title roles in Prince Valiant (1954) and The True Story of Jesse James (1956), and shocked his bobby-soxer fan following by effectively portraying a cold-blooded murderer in A Kiss Before Dying (1955). In the early '60s, however, Wagner suffered a series of personal and professional reverses. His "ideal" marriage to actress Natalie Wood had dissolved, and his film career skidded to a stop after The Pink Panther (1964). Two years of unemployment followed before Wagner made a respectable comeback as star of the lighthearted TV espionage series It Takes a Thief (1968-1970). For the rest of his career, Wagner would enjoy his greatest success on TV, first in the mid-'70s series Switch, then opposite Stefanie Powers in the internationally popular Hart to Hart, which ran from 1979 through 1983 and has since been sporadically revived in TV-movie form (a 1986 series, Lime Street, was quickly canceled due to the tragic death of Wagner's young co-star, Savannah Smith). On the domestic front, Wagner was briefly wed to actress Marion Marshall before remarrying Natalie Wood in 1972; after Wood's death in 1981, Wagner found lasting happiness with his third wife, Jill St. John, a longtime friend and co-worker. Considered one of Hollywood's nicest citizens, Robert Wagner has continued to successfully pursue a leading man career into his sixties; he has also launched a latter-day stage career, touring with his Hart to Hart co-star Stefanie Power in the "readers' theater" presentation Love Letters. He found success playing a henchman to Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, and in 2007 he began playing Teddy, a recurring role on the hit CBS series Two and a Half Men.

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  • As a teen worked at the Bel-Air Country Club and caddied for stars including Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and Alan Ladd, which fueled his desire to be an actor.
  • Film debut was in 1950's The Happy Years, which led to a series of minor film roles that culminated with his Golden Globe-nominated performance in Stars and Stripes Forever (1952).
  • Gained respect by playing Spencer Tracy's son in 1954's Broken Lance and as a killer in 1956's A Kiss Before Dying.
  • Transitioned to TV in 1968 as the lead in It Takes a Thief; continued to find TV-series success with roles on Switch and Hart to Hart.
  • Made his producing debut in 1972 with the TV-movie Madame Sin, in which he starred opposite Bette Davis.
  • Revived his film career in the late '90s with appearances as the evil Number Two in the Austin Powers trilogy.
  • Received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 2002.
  • Published the memoir Pieces of My Heart in 2008.
  • Wives Natalie Wood and Jill St. John and Hart to Hart costar Stefanie Powers were in the same ballet class as kids.  
  • In 2011, was cast as the voice of Charlie in the planned TV reboot of Charlie's Angels. Wagner also has a stake in the Angels TV franchise as the result of a 1970's-deal with producer Aaron Spelling.