Robert Wagner Sr. Detroit Steel
March 19, 2012 by staff
Robert Wagner Sr. Detroit Steel, The epitome of the handsome and debonair Hollywood star, actor Robert Wagner – known to friends as “R.J.” – played romantic heroes and upstanding young men in a string of mostly unmemorable 1950s-60s-era features, before finding lasting fame as one of television’s smoothest-of-the-smooth leading men. Wagner brought old-school class to the ABC action-drama “It Takes a Thief” (ABC, 1968-1970) and, more importantly, showed a knack for light comedy with his roles in “Switch” (CBS, 1975-1980) and “Hart to Hart” (ABC, 1979-1984).
He also made headlines in his personal life – most notably for being half of one of Hollywood’s most beloved couples – after marrying the beautiful Natalie Wood – not once but TWICE. It was her tragic, mysterious death by drowning which sealed their legend and caused an outpouring of love and support for the actor.
This good will carried over year after year as the veteran actor aged gracefully, settled into a happy marriage with actress Jill St. John, and was always welcomed warmly with numerous appearances on both the big and small screen – most memorably as Mike Meyer’s Number Two in the “Austin Powers” film franchise.
Born Robert John Wagner Jr. on Feb. 10, 1930 in Detroit, MI, Wagner’s father was a steel industry executive, leaving the family to relocate to Los Angeles when he was in grade school. He was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, but after a turn in drag (as Priscilla Alden) in a high school production of “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” Wagner began to think about acting as his profession.
A job at the Bel-Air Country Club, where he caddied to such stars as Clark Gable, gave him further inspiration, so he announced to his father than he intended to become an actor. Robert Wagner Sr. gave his son an ultimatum – he would have one year to find success in Hollywood or quit and get into the steel business. Fortunately for Wagner Jr., his first job came shortly after his father’s declaration with a bit part in “The Happy Years” (1950). More small roles followed, but his appearance as a hospitalized paratrooper in “With a Song in My Heart” (1952), about American singer Jane Froman (Susan Hayward), led to a contract with 20th Century Fox.
Supporting roles in notable films like John Ford’s “What Price Glory” (1952) and the John Phillip Sousa biopic “Stars and Stripes Forever” (1953) – for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination – eventually led to starring roles – though pictures like “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” (1953) and “Prince Valiant” (1954) asked little more of him than to look handsome. It took the intervention of actor Spencer Tracy to pull him out of the teen idol doldrums. The much respected Tracy took the young man under his wing and asked that he be cast as his son Joseph, who is tormented by his brothers for being half-Native American, in the dramatic Western “Broken Lance” (1954). The opportunity led to other substantial parts for Wagner, including “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956), which had him playing against type as a psychotic killer, and “Between Heaven and Hell,” for which he played a wealthy play boy who undergoes an emotional transformation during World War II.
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