Robert Wagner

Robert Wagner

Birth name: Robert John Wagner Jr.
Born: February 10, 1930
Age: 91
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
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Robert John Wagner Jr. (/ˈwæɡnər/; 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). He also had a recurring role as Teddy Leopold on the TV sitcom Two and a Half Men and has a recurring role as Anthony DiNozzo Sr. on the police procedural NCIS.

In movies, Wagner is known for his role as Number Two in the Austin Powers trilogy of films (1997, 1999, 2002), as well as for A Kiss Before Dying, The Pink Panther, Harper, The Towering Inferno and many more.

Wagner is also known for his marriage to Natalie Wood and the controversy surrounding her death. His autobiography, Pieces of My Heart: A Life, written with author Scott Eyman, was published on September 23, 2008.

Wagner was born February 10, 1930, 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[1][2] and his maternal grandparents were Norwegian. Wagner has a sister, Mary. He graduated from Saint Monica Catholic High School in 1949.[3]

Wagner became interested in acting, and after an unsuccessful screen test directed by Fred Zinnemann for his film Teresa, Wagner was represented by Albert R. Broccoli.[4]

He made his film debut in The Happy Years (1950); was signed by agent Henry Willson and put under contract with 20th Century-Fox.[5]


20th Century Fox and Columbia

"I started off as an ingenue," recalled Wagner. "I was 19 years old. I was the boy next door. But you always felt you could work your way up, that you could have a better part in the next picture. {Head of Fox} Daryl Zanuck was always placing me in different positions."[5]

Wagner's first film for Fox was Halls of Montezuma (1951) a World War Two film. Wagner had a support role, with Richard Widmark as the star. The studio then had him perform a similar function in another war movie, The Frogmen (1951), again with Widmark; the cast also included another young male under contract to the studio, Jeffrey Hunter, with whom Wagner would often work. Let's Make It Legal (1951) was a comedy where Wagner again supported an older star, in this case Claudette Colbert.[6]

Wagner first gained significant attention with a small but showy part as a shell-shocked soldier in With a Song in My Heart (1952), starring Susan Hayward as Jane Froman.[6]

"You were part of 20th Century Fox," he said. "You felt proud of being part of the organization. When I wasn't working, I was on the road, going out and selling movies or dancing on the stage and meeting the public. They never let you rest."[5]

Fox started to give Wagner better roles. He was the romantic male lead in Stars and Stripes Forever (1952), a biopic about John Philip Sousa starring Clifton Webb. He supported James Cagney and Dan Dailey in John Ford's version of What Price Glory (1952) and supported Webb again in Titanic (1953). He was in a minor Western, The Silver Whip (1953) with Rory Calhoun.[6]

Leading man

Fox gave Wagner his first starring role in Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953). Reviews were poor but the movie was only the third ever to be shot in CinemaScope and was a big hit.[7]

Also popular was a Western, Broken Lance (1954), where Wagner supported Spencer Tracy for director Edward Dmytryk, appearing as Tracy's son. Fox gave Wagner the lead role in an expensive spectacular, Prince Valiant (1954). While popular, critical reception was poor and Wagner later joked his wig in the movie made him look like Jane Wyman. He was teamed with Jeffrey Hunter in a Western, White Feather (1955).[6]

Wagner was borrowed by Paramount for The Mountain (1956), directed by Dmytryk, where Wagner was cast as Spencer Tracy's brother, having played his son just two years earlier in the same director's Broken Lance. He received more critical acclaim for the lead in A Kiss Before Dying (1956), from the novel by Ira Levin; it was made for Crown Productions, a company of Darryl F. Zanuck's brother in law (the leads were all under contract to Fox) and released through United Artists.[citation needed]

Back at Fox he was Between Heaven and Hell (1956), a war movie, and The True Story of Jesse James (1957), playing the lead role for director Nicholas Ray (Jeffrey Hunter was Frank). Both movies were box office disappointments and it seemed Wagner was unable to make the transition to top level star. This appeared confirmed when he was the lead in Stopover Tokyo (1957). In 1959, Wagner disparaged the film:

When I started at Fox in 1950 they were making sixty five pictures a year. Now they're lucky if they make thirty. There was a chance to get some training in B pictures. Then TV struck. Everything went big and they started sticking me into Cinemascope spectacles. One day, smiling Joe Juvenile with no talent was doing a role intended for John Wayne. That was in a dog called Stopover Tokyo. I've really had to work to keep up.[8]

He supported Robert Mitchum in a Korean War movie, The Hunters (1958), and appeared with a number of Fox contractees in a World War Two drama, In Love and War (1958); the latter was a hit.[citation needed]

After a cameo in Mardi Gras (1958), Wagner supported Bing Crosby and Debbie Reynolds in Say One for Me (1959).[citation needed]

Trying to kick start his career, he appeared with his then-wife Natalie Wood (they married in 1957) in All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960), made for MGM. The film was a flop.[citation needed]


In 1960 Wagner signed with Columbia Pictures for three films, but only two were made; Sail a Crooked Ship (1961) with Ernie Kovacs and The War Lover (1962), opposite Steve McQueen, which was filmed in England.[9]


Wagner's first marriage to Wood had broken up and he relocated to Europe. He had a small role in The Longest Day (1962), produced by Daryl Zanuck for Fox. He had a larger part in The Condemned of Altona (1962), a commercial and critical disappointment despite being directed by Vittorio de Sica. He also played Mr. Roberts on stage.[9]

Considerably more popular was The Pink Panther (1963), a massive hit, although Wagner's part was very much in support to those of David Niven, Capucine, Peter Sellers and Claudia Cardinale. It was directed by Blake Edwards, who wanted Wagner for the lead in The Great Race (1965) but Jack L. Warner overruled him.[10]

Return to Hollywood and Universal

Back in Hollywood, Wagner had a good support role in another hit, Harper (1966), starring Paul Newman.[citation needed]

Wagner signed with Universal Studios in 1966 starring in the films How I Spent My Summer Vacation, a made-for-TV movie released in the United Kingdom as Deadly Roulette, and Banning (1967). He returned to Italy to make a caper film for MGM, The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), but it was not a success.[citation needed]

Television star

In 1967, Lew Wasserman of Universal convinced Wagner to make his television series debut in It Takes a Thief (1968-70). ""I was opposed to doing Thief," Wagner said later. "But Lew Wasserman said: 'I want you to be in TV Guide every week. This is your medium, you've got to try it, you'll be great.' Roland Kibbee wrote the part for me, and I would have missed all that if I hadn't listened to Lew."[11]

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 longtime friend of Astaire, having gone to school with Astaire's eldest son, Peter. Wagner's performance would earn him an Emmy nomination for Best TV Actor.[9]

During the making of the series he made a film for Universal, the comedy Don't Just Stand There! (1968) with Mary Tyler Moore. It was not a success. More popular was Winning (1969), a racing car drama where Wagner supported Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. He also guest starred in The Name of the Game (1970).[citation needed]

Wagner's friend and agent Albert Broccoli suggested that he audition to play James Bond, but he decided it was not right for him.[12]

Wagner appeared in a pilot for a series that did not eventuate, City Beneath the Sea (1971). The following year he produced and cast himself opposite Bette Davis in the television movie Madame Sin, which was released in foreign markets as a feature film,[13]

He was a regular in the BBC/Universal World War II prisoner-of-war drama Colditz (1972-74) for much of its run. He reunited with McQueen, along with Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway, in the disaster film The Towering Inferno released in the same year. It was a massive hit, although Wagner's part was relatively small.[9]


By the mid-1970s, Wagner's television career was at its peak with the television series Switch (1975-78) opposite Eddie Albert, after re-signing a contract with Universal Studios in 1974. Before Switch, Albert was a childhood hero of Wagner, 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.[citation needed]

In partial 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.[14] 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.[15]

Wagner and Wood acted with Laurence Olivier in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976), as part of Olivier's television series Laurence Olivier Presents for the UK's Granada Television.[citation needed]

Wagner had a small role in some all-star Universal films, Midway (1976) and The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979).[citation needed]

Hart to Hart

Wagner's third successful series was Hart to Hart, which co-starred Stefanie Powers and ran from 1979 to 1984. No one else was seriously considered for the role; George Hamilton had a high profile at the time and was suggested but producer Aaron Spelling said that if he was cast "the audience will resent him as Hart for being that rich. But no one will begrudge RJ a nickel."[16]

During the series run Wagner reprised his old Pink Panther role in Curse of the Pink Panther (1983). He had a support part in I Am the Cheese (1983).[citation needed]

He played an insurance investigator in the TV series Lime Street (1985) but the show did not last long.[9]

In 1985 he reflected, "Bad-guy roles work if they're really good parts, but they don't come along very often. I think that what I've been doing has worked for me. Sure I'd like to do a Clint Eastwood, grizzled, down-and- out guy, but there aren't many scripts like that... What has been projected for me is an international quality that can take me anywhere and get me into all kind of involvements; to do otherwise would mean a character role."[17]

Later career

Wagner appeared in a TV movie with Audrey Hepburn, Love Among Thieves (1987) and in a mini series with Jaclyn Smith, Windmills of the Gods (1988). For Tom Mankiewicz he played a support part in Delirious (1991). More widely seen was Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), where Wagner played a producer. [18]

Wagner played Love Letters on stage with Powers.[19] They also reprised their Hart characters in a series of TV movies.[20]

Wagner's film career received a boost 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 had small roles in Wild Things (1998), Crazy in Alabama (1999), Play It to the Bone (2000), Becoming Dick (2001) and Sol Goode (2001).

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 he began serving 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.[21][22]

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".[23]

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 has guest-starred in ten episodes of NCIS[24] as Anthony DiNozzo Sr., the father of Anthony DiNozzo Jr., played by Michael Weatherly. Weatherly had previously appeared as Wagner in the TV movie The Mystery of Natalie Wood.

Wagner was set to star as Charlie in the 2011 remake of Charlie's Angels, but due to scheduling conflicts, had to exit the project.[25]

Personal life

Wagner with Natalie Wood in 1960

In his memoirs, Wagner claimed to have had affairs with Yvonne De Carlo, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Anita Ekberg, Shirley Anne Field, Lori Nelson and Joan Collins.[26] He also claimed a four-year romantic relationship with Barbara Stanwyck after they acted together in the movie Titanic (1953).[27] According to Wagner, because of the age difference - he was 22, she was 45 - they kept the affair secret in order to avoid damage to their careers.[28]

On December 28, 1957, the 27-year-old Wagner married 19-year-old actress Natalie Wood. They separated in June 1961 and divorced on April 27, 1962.[29]

While working on location in Europe, Wagner reconnected with an old friend, 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.[12] Wagner and Marshall married on July 22, 1963, in the Bronx Courthouse. Soon after, they had a daughter, Katie Wagner (born May 11, 1964). They divorced on October 14, 1971,[30] after eight years of marriage. In 1971, Wagner was engaged to Tina Sinatra.[12]

In early 1972, Wagner reconnected with Wood and remarried her on July 16, 1972 after a six-month courtship. Their only child together, Courtney Wagner, was born on March 9, 1974.

On September 21, 2006, he became a first-time grandfather when Katie Wagner, his daughter with Marshall, gave birth to her son Riley John Wagner-Lewis.[31]

Natalie Wood drowning

On November 29, 1981, 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, the Splendour's captain. Wagner subsequently became the legal guardian of Wood's daughter Natasha Gregson, then 11. He became estranged from his former sister-in-law, Lana Wood.[32][33]

Wagner and actress Jill St. John began a relationship in February 1982.[34] After eight years together, they married on May 26, 1990. In 1999, an altercation occurred at a Vanity Fair shoot in Los Angeles between Jill St. John and Lana Wood, both of whom appeared in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971). When photographer Annie Leibovitz asked for a picture of Jill St. John and Wood together, St. John was so adamantly opposed to the idea that it reduced Wood to tears. Her publicist, however, said it was Wagner who vetoed the photo: "I know would rather not have the current Mrs. Wagner shot with Natalie's sister".[35]

In November 2011, thirty years after Natalie Wood's death, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened its investigation after Davern told NBC News that he lied to police during the initial inquiry and claimed that a fight between Wood and Wagner had led to her drowning.[36] After nine months of further investigation, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran amended Wood's death certificate and changed the cause of her death from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors".[37] The amended document also states that the circumstances of how Wood ended up in the water are "not clearly established".[37] The police however originally stated that Wagner is not suspected of causing her death, but he has refused to speak to detectives.[38]

On February 1, 2018, Wagner was named a "person of interest" in the death of Natalie Wood by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.[39]



Year Title Role Notes
1951 The Frogmen Lt. (jg) Franklin
1951 Halls of Montezuma Pvt. Coffman
1951 Let's Make It Legal Jerry Denham
1952 With a Song in My Heart GI Paratrooper
1952 Stars and Stripes Forever Willie Little
1952 What Price Glory? Private Lewisohn
1953 Beneath the 12-Mile Reef Tony Petrakis
1953 Titanic Gifford "Giff" Rogers
1953 The Silver Whip Jess Harker
1954 Broken Lance Joe Devereaux
1954 Prince Valiant Prince Valiant
1955 White Feather Josh Tanner
1956 A Kiss Before Dying Bud Corliss
1956 Between Heaven and Hell Sam Gifford
1956 The Mountain Christopher Teller
1957 The True Story of Jesse James Jesse James
1957 Stopover Tokyo Mark Fannon
1958 The Hunters Lt. Pell
1958 In Love and War Frank "Frankie" O'Neill
1958 Mardi Gras Cameo appearance
1959 Say One for Me Tony Vincent
1960 All the Fine Young Cannibals Chad Bixby (based on Chet Baker)
1961 Sail a Crooked Ship Gilbert Barrows
1962 The Longest Day US Army Ranger
1962 The War Lover Lt Ed Boland
1962 The Condemned of Altona Werner von Gerlach
1963 The Pink Panther George Lytton
1966 Harper Allan Taggert
1967 Banning Mike Banning
1968 The Biggest Bundle of Them All Harry Price
1968 Don't Just Stand There! Lawrence Colby
1969 Winning Luther Erding
1972 Madame Sin Anthony Lawrence
1974 The Towering Inferno Dan Bigelow
1976 Laurence Olivier Presents: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Brick Pollitt
1976 Midway Lieutenant Commander Ernest L. Blake
1979 The Concorde ... Airport '79 Kevin Harrison
1983 Curse of the Pink Panther George Lytton Role reprisal from first film in series (1963)
1983 I Am the Cheese Dr. Brint
1987 Love Among Thieves Mike Chambers
1991 Delirious Jack Gates (uncredited)
1993 Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story Bill Krieger
1997 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery Number Two
1998 Wild Things Tom Baxter
1999 Crazy in Alabama Harry Hall
1999 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Number Two Role reprisal from first film in series (1997)
2000 Play It to the Bone Hank Goody
2000 Becoming Dick Edward
2001 Sol Goode Sol's Dad
2002 Austin Powers in Goldmember Number Two Role reprisal from first two films in series
2006 Everyone's Hero Mr. Robinson Voice only
2006 Hoot Mayor Grandy
2007 Netherbeast Incorporated President James Garfield
2007 Man in the Chair Taylor Moss
2007 A Dennis the Menace Christmas Mr. Wilson Direct-to-video release
2009 The Wild Stallion Novak Direct-to-video
2014 The Hungover Games Liam Direct-to-video
2016 Lend a Hand for Love Narrator Short film
2017 What Happened to Monday Charles Benning

Selected television appearances

  • 1953: Jukebox Jury as himself
  • 1963: The Eleventh Hour, episode: "And God Created Vanity"
  • 1968-70: It Takes a Thief as Alexander Mundy
  • 1970-71: The Name of the Game as David Corey
  • 1971: City Beneath the Sea (movie)
  • 1972-74: Colditz as Flight Lieutenant Phil Carrington
  • 1975-78: Switch as Pete T. Ryan
  • 1978: Pearl (mini series)
  • 1979-84: Hart to Hart as Jonathan Hart
  • 1980: The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey narrator (2 episodes)
  • 1981: The Fall Guy as Himself (1 episode)
  • 1984: To Catch a King as Joe Jackson (TV miniseries)
  • 1984: There Must Be a Pony as Ben Nichols
  • 1985: Lime Street (as James Greyson Culver)
  • 1988: Windmills of the Gods (miniseries)
  • 1994: Parallel Lives as the sheriff
  • 1997: Seinfeld, episode: "The Yada Yada" as Dr. Abbot
  • 1999: Fatal Error, as Albert Teal (movie)
  • 2003: Hope & Faith as Jack Fairfield (7 episodes)
  • 2005: The Simpsons, episode: "Goo Goo Gai Pan" as himself
  • 2006: Las Vegas, episode: "Cash Springs Eternal" as Alex Avery
  • 2006: Boston Legal as Barry Goal (2 episodes)
  • 2007: Hustle, season 4 premiere: "As One Flew Out, One Flew In"
  • 2007-08: Two and a Half Men as Teddy Leopold (5 episodes)
  • 2010-: NCIS as Anthony DiNozzo Sr. (10 episodes)
  • 2012: The League as "Gumpa" Duke, episode: "Bro-Lo El Cordero"
  • 2013: Futurama as himself
  • 2014: Hot in Cleveland as Jim, episode: "Bossy Cups"


  • Wagner, Robert J. (with Scott Eyman) (2008). Pieces of My Heart: A Life. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-137331-2.
  • Wagner, Robert J. (with Scott Eyman) (2014). You Must Remember This: The Life and Style of Hollywood's Golden Age. New York: Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-02609-8.
  • Wagner, Robert J. (with Scott Eyman) (2016). I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood's Legendary Actresses. New York: Viking. ISBN 978-0-525-42911-1.

[ Source: Wikipedia ]

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