Pieces of My Heart: A Life

( 53 )

Overview

In this moving memoir, Robert J. Wagner opens his heart to share the romances, the drama, and the humor of an incredible life

He grew up in Bel Air next door to a golf course that changed his life. As a young boy, he saw a foursome playing one morning featuring none other than Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Randolph Scott, and Cary Grant. Seeing these giants of the silver screen awed him and fueled his dreams of becoming a movie star. Battling a revolving door of boarding schools ...

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Overview

In this moving memoir, Robert J. Wagner opens his heart to share the romances, the drama, and the humor of an incredible life

He grew up in Bel Air next door to a golf course that changed his life. As a young boy, he saw a foursome playing one morning featuring none other than Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Randolph Scott, and Cary Grant. Seeing these giants of the silver screen awed him and fueled his dreams of becoming a movie star. Battling a revolving door of boarding schools and a father who wanted him to forget Hollywood and join the family business, sixteen-year-old Wagner started like any naïve kid would--walking along Sunset Boulevard, hoping that a producer or director would notice him.

Under the mentorship of stars like Spencer Tracy, he would become a salaried actor in Hollywood's studio system among other hot actors of the moment such as his friends Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis. Working with studio mogul Darryl Zanuck, Wagner began to appear in a number of films alongside the most beautiful starlets--but his first love was Barbara Stanwyck, an actress twice his age. As his career blossomed, and after he separated from Stanwyck, he met the woman who would change his life forever, Natalie Wood. They fell instantly and deeply in love and stayed together until the stress of their careers--hers marching upward, his inexplicably deflating--drove them to divorce.

Trying to forget the pain, he made more movies and spent his time in Europe with the likes of Steve McQueen, Sophia Loren, Peter Sellers, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Liz Taylor, and Joan Collins. He would meet and marry the beautiful former model and actress Marion Marshall. Together they had a daughter and made their way back to America, where he found himself at the beginning of a new era in Hollywood--the blossoming of television. Lew Wasserman and later Aaron Spelling would work with Wagner as he produced and starred in some of the most successful programs in history.

Despite his newfound success, his marriage to Marion fell apart. He looked no further than Natalie Wood, for whom he still pined. To the world's surprise, they fell in love all over again, this time more deeply and with maturity. As she settled into a domestic life, raising their own daughter, Courtney, as well as their children from previous marriages, Wagner became the sole provider, reaping the riches of television success. Their life together was cut tragically short, though, when Wood died after falling from their yacht.

For the first time, Wagner writes about that tremendously painful time. After a serious bout with depression, he finally resurfaced and eventually married Jill St. John, who helped keep his family and his fractured heart together.

With color photographs and never-before-told stories, this is a quintessentially American story of one of the great sons of Hollywood.

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Editorial Reviews

John DiLeo
With admirable strength and honest self-awareness, Wagner makes plain that there's much more to him than his handsome face.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Wagner, who moved smoothly from films (A Kiss Before Dying; ThePink Panther) to TV (It Takes a Thief; Hart to Hart), discusses his life, career and four marriages in this dishy tell-all. His strong performance makes the audio a standout among Hollywood memoirs. His voice reveals a great emotional range: the anger he nursed for his remote and critical father; his joy at the births of his daughters; his frustration at some Hollywood insiders' pettiness. At times his voice dips into an intimate tone just above a whisper, such as when describing his first love tryst with Barbara Stanwyck in the early 1950s (he was 22, she was 46) or narrating his devastation after the accidental drowning of wife Natalie Wood in 1981. The final disc features 24 pages of personal photos, which add a good deal to the overall package and should be standard issue with all audio celebrity memoirs. A Harper Entertainment hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 11). (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Screen/TV legend Wagner has tales to tell in this autobiography offering an insider's look at Hollywood from the late 1940s to the present day-about his life as an actor, his famous cohorts, and his two marriages to Natalie Wood (listeners expecting full disclosure may be disappointed). Wagner himself reads, lending his anecdotes and remembrances a particular intimacy. Photographs from his personal collection are viewable on a computer. For libraries as interest warrants.
—Pam Kingsbury

Kirkus Reviews
The handsome actor reminisces about the passing of a more glamorous Hollywood, settles some old scores and examines his passionate relationship with Natalie Wood. Perhaps best known for his role as the suave, mystery-solving millionaire on the TV series Hart to Hart, Wagner grew up struggling to please his distant, disapproving father. As a young actor, he was drawn to an older generation of male stars, idolizing and befriending the likes of James Cagney and Clark Gable in a bid for more congenial paternal lights to steer by. This identification with an older style of movie glamour slightly marginalized Wagner as the Method propelled intense, mumbling actors like James Dean and Paul Newman to superstardom, leaving him to flounder in a series of forgettable, lightweight parts. The preternaturally good-looking young man still managed to enjoy himself, cutting a mighty swath through hordes of hopeful starlets and not a few more mature actresses, including a memorable layover with the sultry Yvonne De Carlo. Wagner recounts these adventures in surprisingly salty detail, which is great fun. Less fun are his gripes about producers' and directors' unfairness or incompetence, tales of real-estate deals, anecdotes about children and the like, which will tax the patience of even the most generous reader. Fortunately, he provides much more gripping material concerning his stormy relationship with Wood. They were one of the original celebrity couples: Married in 1957, separated in 1961 and divorced a year later, they remarried in 1972 and were still together when she tragically drowned in a 1981 boating accident that has invited morbid speculation for decades. Wagner is open about the emotionaltorment he suffered during their separation, confessing to murderous feelings toward Warren Beatty, Wood's post-divorce boyfriend. His account of the fateful boat trip, which included a protracted, nearly violent argument between Wagner and eccentric actor Christopher Walken, delivers a mesmerizing sense of queasy fatefulness. A diverting meander through a life in showbiz. Agent: Morton Janklow/Janklow & Nesbit
Washington Post
“Pieces of My Heart is a treasure. . . . Wagner’s portrait of [Natalie] Wood is adoring and poignant. . . . With admirable strength and honest self-awareness, Wagner makes plain that there’s much more to him than his handsome face.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061373329
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/15/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 156,405
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert J. Wagner has been active in Hollywood for more than five decades and has starred in such films as A Kiss Before Dying, The Longest Day, The Pink Panther, and, most recently, the Austin Powers movies. On television, Wagner also starred in three long-running series, It Takes a Thief (with Fred Astaire), Switch (with Eddie Albert and Sharon Gless), and Hart to Hart (with Stefanie Powers). He is currently featured on Two and a Half Men. Wagner is married to actress Jill St. John and lives in Los Angeles.

Scott Eyman is the books editor of the Palm Beach Post and the author of nine books about the movies. The Wall Street Journal called his most recent biography, Lion of Hollywood: The Life of Louis B. Mayer, "one of the five best books ever written about Hollywood." He and his wife live in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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Read an Excerpt

Pieces of My Heart

Chapter One

"In a sense, I was a teenage rebel."

There's no bastard like a German bastard, and by all accounts my grandfather Mathias Wagner was a nasty man. He was a stevedore in Mannheim, Germany, where Wagner is a very common name. He came to America in 1876 and found that he needed a wife, so his relatives in Germany sent him some pictures of local German girls who wanted to come to America. Two of the girls in the pictures were sisters; my grandfather picked one sister, and his best friend picked the other. And that's how my father was born: as the result of an arranged marriage.

Robert J. Wagner, my father, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1890, but he left home when he was ten years old. I have no doubt he was abused; the Germans of that era would punch their children in the face just to let them know who was boss. My father said that his mother, a glorified mail-order bride, had no say in anything. She was more like a hired child-care worker than a wife.

My dad spent his adolescence selling newspapers on the streets of Kalamazoo, working in railroad stations, in bars, wherever there was a paying job. Because he was so estranged from his parents, I never knew them. My grandfather died early, and by the time I met my grandmother, she had developed dementia, so there was no way to establish a relationship.

My parents met on a blind date in Chicago. My mother's name was Hazel Alvera Boe, which was always a sore spot with her. She hated the name Hazel, so everybody called her "Chat," because she was so talkative. In time, I would call her "C," while her pet name for me became "R." She was a telephoneoperator when she met my father, and he was selling fishing tackle. Before that, he'd been a traveling salesman who sold corsets, petticoats, and other women's undergarments wholesale throughout the Great Lakes region.

A few years after they met, he was in a hardware store where a guy was mixing a can of paint. My father liked the look of the surface it gave. He found out about the paint company, which was called Arco, and then he found out the name of Arco's president, and he became a salesman for that paint. (Needless to say, my father was a go-getter.) He ended up getting the Ford Motor Company account; he sold most of the lacquer that was applied to the dashboards of Ford cars, and in short order he became very successful. Besides that, both before and after his Ford period, he bought and sold lots around the Palmer Woods area of Detroit. He would build houses, and my mother would decorate them.

My father was the sort of man who was obsessed by his business, and even after his kids arrived...my sister, Mary Lou, in 1926, me on February 10, 1930...that never changed. I was christened Robert John Wagner Jr., but since my father answered to "Bob," and nobody, especially me, wanted me to be known as "Junior," I became known as "RJ," which my friends call me to this day.

Mary Lou was the valedictorian of her class, but she wanted a quiet, domestic life, and she got it. She's a wonderful woman, with a totally different life than mine. She's had five children and numerous grandchildren. She's lived in the same house in Claremont for decades and doesn't venture out that much.

When I was a small child, we all lived in a beautiful house on Fairway Drive, right off the Detroit Golf Club, but the best times with my father were summers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where he had a cabin on a lake. I vividly remember riding through meadows on horseback with my father and uncle. There were no sounds except the whisk of the grass as the horses moved through it, and at night the moon was so bright you could read by it. It seemed like we were the only people alive, and I basked in my father's undivided attention. It was during these times that he taught me how to fish...probably his greatest, longest-lasting gift to me. These were weeks out of Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, and they are my most cherished memories of early childhood.

Also rewarding was the family Christmas, during which my parents went whole hog in spite of the fact that they had an arm's-length relationship with religion. Technically, my father was a Catholic, not to mention a thirty-second-degree Mason, while my mother was a Unitarian, but I don't even know if they bothered to baptize me. They sent me to Episcopal schools, and they sent me to Catholic schools, but we hardly ever attended church as a family, and they simply didn't impose much religion on me. On balance I'm glad...my lack of indoctrination has resulted in a very open attitude toward the different religious factors that motivate people's lives.

Although my father hated my grandfather because of his abusive behavior, my dad was never able to entirely free himself from his upbringing. If I did something mildly wrong, he'd stand me in a corner. For something worse, he'd lock me in a closet. If I did something deemed beyond the pale, I would be hit. When I was little, I stuck something in an electrical socket and blew out every outlet in the house. My father was in the bathroom shaving, and he came roaring out, grabbed me, put me over his knee, spanked me with a hairbrush, then threw me off his lap for this terrible thing I had done.

All this was the custom of that time; there was an attitude that corporal punishment was acceptable, and this was how a lot of the kids who grew up with me in Detroit were raised. I don't think it's any accident that a lot of those rich kids ended up wasting their lives or even killing themselves. The parents had their cars, their houses, a nurse, a chauffeur, white tie and tails, and the children were expected to conform to that model without question.

Pieces of My Heart. Copyright © by Robert Wagner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 53 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(20)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 15, 2008

    Refreshing

    I really enjoyed this book. So refreshing, I enjoyed hearing about the "old hollywood". Robert Wagner is a gentleman, not a tell every sordid detail kind of writing. I enjoyed that he spoke of details, but did not tell all just to spice up the writing. He is humorous and kind.<BR/>I would recommend the book.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2009

    A Murderer Spins a Web of Lies

    Here's a man whol killed his wife and then had the unbelievable nerve to write a book that does nothing but tell lies about that night. We also get to learn about David Niven's reproductive organs. READ GOODBYE NATALIE GOODBYE SPLENDOUR to learn the FACTS regarding Natalie Wood's death and his involvement in it.

    8 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    PIECES OF MY HEART - READ THE TRUE STORY OF ONE OF THE GREATEST LOVE STORIES IN HOLLYWOOD - ROBERT WAGNER AND NATALIE WOOD!

    PIECES OF MY HEART is a WONDERFUL read. I don't think I have EVER finished a book in a day and a half, but I just couldn't put this one down. Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood have always been two of my favorite actors. Wagner tells about his life and affair with Barbara Stanwick, among others, but the REAL story, is his two marriages to Natalie Wood and the story of her tragic death, coming for the first time from her husband who always loved her and always will. Their story especially in this book, is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Wagner tells of his careers in Hollywood, in such movies as "With A Song In My Heart", wonderfully playing a WWII "shell shocked" soldier opposite Susan Hayward's portrayal of singer Jane Froman, and with Bing Crosby & Debbie Reynolds in the wonderful Christmas favorite, "Say One For Me", and on television with "It Takes a Thief" and "Hart to Hart". Great read for lovers of Hollywood!

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    A Let Down

    RJ spends his time talking about how "wonderful" everybody was and dropping names, along with those of whom he supposedly slept with. Too much information that I could live without. He makes a few contradictions. One being how he flat out states that Barbara Stanwyck was his first love in the book, but in numerous past interviews, he says that Natalie Wood was. Just pick one! He also tells of how long it took him before he got involved with Jill St. John. I think he said about 6 months. He stretched the truth there. It was much sooner than that. I don't think it was worth the $20 at all.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2008

    Am I missing something?

    This celebrity autobiography has left me wondering...wondering why someone goes out of their way to tell who is gay and how many gorgeous women with whom they had sex. Is this a cover for what really happened? Robert Wagner tells who might or might not be gay and how he turned them down. Is he trying to convince me or himself? Is this why he tells story after story of the beautiful women he had sexual encounters? Do you think the general public is gullible? As for celebrity texts, pass on this one. It does not add to the history of the era or the profession.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing

    I have always enjoyed Robert Wagner's acting, but this book was a let down. He really dwells on the "Natalie Wood" era of his life. Not much about his second or current marriage. I found the book on his life - off balance.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Wagner re-writes history

    RJ plays with the truth in his memoir. He seems to have forgotten some statements that he made over the years. He has told the story about Natalie Wood being his first love many times. Now, Barbara Stanwyck is his first love. Also he claims that he began dating Jill St. John 6 months after Natalie died. That's not true. He began dating her a scant 2 months later.
    In the past he claimed that he and Elizabeth Taylor were never lovers, not he claims that they had a secret affair.
    Wagner's book is full of bits from other books and movie mag articles but the time frame is totally off.
    Wagner outs everyone yet he neglects to mention that there have been rumors about his own sexuality since his early days at Fox. I guess that's where Stanwyck comes in handy....she's dead and can't tell people that their affair was very brief. Wagner was a bachelor without too many girlfriends before he met Natalie Wood and with that, there were always rumors about his affairs with older gay men. Wagner claims that his affair with Stanwyck lasted 4 years in his book, he claimed 5 years when he appeared on The View.
    As for his late wife, the beautiful Natalie Wood, I always wondered what she saw in him and after reading this book, I wonder all the more.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2008

    Do Not Bother

    Boring book, poorly written. Seems to be written in a stream of consciousness. Choppy. No keen insights. Wagner is a vacuous person. This book answers why he never made it big in the movies. He got by in the business on a smile and affability. Small screen for a small talent.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2008

    A walk down memory lane, more than well worth it!

    Well done R.J.! Not only how you told the story of your life but how it confirmed what I had always hoped, that you are a kind decent man who has lived his life well and with a grateful heart.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2012

    Sad

    I think this is his attempt to make a few bucks in old age and to cover his ass about natalie's death.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2010

    A real old school hollywood guy

    In picking up this book, I was looking for a light read. I just couldn't stop reading it once I was past page 20. Robert Wagner's life is fascinating given that he really was brought up in old Hollywood and was one of the last Hollywood studio system actors. While I would say that he doesn't get too deep into his faults and the things he's done wrong, he doesn't just ignore them; the book is even-handed. This is especially true when talking about Natalie Woods's death.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2008

    more fiction than fact

    Have known Robert wagner for almost 30 years, sadly, he takes a lot of leeway with the truth throughout his book. Don't understand why he felt that was needed. They should title the book, 'Pieces of the Truth' instead.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2014

    well written, not as enjoyable as I expected

    A lot of the book is about places and not being familiar with the LA area, i did not connect with what was being written about. The book needed more pictures... his recollections about the people and the parties were great

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2014

    Enjoyed his book as much as I have his performances

    As a lover of old movies, and their stars, this book was as much a revelation of those idols as was his personal biography. I enjoyed his memories of time spent with Spencer Tracey, Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire and David Niven but also how truly supportive Mr. Niven was to the loss of Natalie Wood, having suffered a similar episode in his own life. I look forward to the 2nd book I heard he wrote which is about Old Hollywood and those indomitable idols that I enjoyed so much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2014

    Midnight wolf

    I would rather have my teeth pulled with tweezers.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2014

    It's o.k. to read on a rainy day or if you don't have anything e

    It's o.k. to read on a rainy day or if you don't have anything else to do during the day. I had my copy and a couple of DVD covers signed by Mr. Wagner at a Hollywood bookstore. I drove about 40 miles from Orange County on a Sunday to do this and meet him. There were about ten people in line in front of me and when it was my turn I was disappointed. He didn't seem too enthusiastic about signing my stuff and felt pretty blown off by the experience. I asked him about his experience about my favorite film &quot;Between Heaven and Hell&quot; he said he had a wonderful time and was a good time. In the book it is the total opposite. Totally disappointed with the total experience If I knew it would turn out like it did I never would have bothered to make the trip and be disappointed by Mr. Wagner.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2010

    Wnderful book. Couldn't put it down.

    Have followed his career since it began. It is well written and very interesting. I agree with him: he should have played the husband in Rosemary's baby!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2010

    I love this book. A must read for all of you romantics out there.

    Robert Wagner, Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson-young, handsome, actors starting their rise to fame in the '50's. He was a caddy for Clark Gable, Randolph Scott and Cary Grant. These men had "it". So did Robert Wagner! Then he married Natalie Wood, a young, beautiful,talented actress. What a combo, until Warren Beaty......R. J. lays his heart open throughout the emotional breakup. It's time for a change of scenery in Europe, another marriage, lessons in becoming well dressed, dapper, and a very suave leading man from good friends, Fred Astaire and David Niven. A second chance with Natalie, children, and valuable lessons learned in life. The tragic death of Natalie Wood. What really happened? It's devastating to lose the love of your life. Picking up the pieces and going on.... He spoke of all the friends in the entertainment business that have gone on, so many close friends of his. I wasn't prepared for the last three paragraphs which moved me to tears. I respect and admire R. J. Wagner so much more after reading this book. (P.S. He guest starred as "Teddy" on Two and a Half Men. He married Evelyn and died. A salute to CSI episode.) I wish he could be a regular on that show somehow, or just make guest appearances. Thank you, Robert Wagner, for all of your work that will remain with us for a long, long time.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A MUST READ FOR ANY ONE WHO LOVES SHOW BIZ

    i've read many ,many show business books...i have a library full of them and i mean several hundred . this is the BEST actor autobiography EVER . you heard people say about a book " i couldn't put it down" that's this book 'pieces of my heart' by robert wagner . i only wish it was longer . not only does he tell great story's about spencer tracey,sinatra,david niven to name a few . but the personal insight into natalie wood(a personal favorite of mine) and his relationship's is wonderful. he's frank and honest about his interactions with liz taylor and tony curtis . you walk away from this knowing this is a decent guy who loved a woman...whom he married twice...who raised three decent kids who love him more than anything else. when he talks about his break up with nat the first time , any guy who lost a woman he loves can relate. wagner's frankness will bring a tear to your eye. read this book and buy a copy for a friend to read...they'll thank you ! now about natalie...i'm sort of an authority on her , there have been several books written about her recently that are pure garbage.they make accusations that are paper thin and can't be backed up . one who employed her sister for profit to say things. a sister who while natalie was alive did nothing but take from her and try to exploit her. a sister who natalie was distancing herself from. the other from an employee who had a history of drug and alchol abuse who waited twenty five years to 'tell the truth' because he had to.why didn't he want the truth know when he was speaking to the police twenty five years ago. he waited to make a web of lies for profit. don't waste your money on these books...there like conspiracy theory's...they try to trick you into saying that could happen but you know it just really wasn't a possibility . PIECES OF MY HEART is the TRUTH you'll FEEL IT as your reading ! also check out NATALIE WOOD by GAVIN LAMBERT .

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Wagner is honest and endearing.... in some ways...

    I really enjoyed reading this autobiography. I bought it because he is of my "era" and would be talking about the movie stars and characters I would have watched in "my day". I was not disappointed. The content is not only interesting but is presented in a very readable way and I grew to like RJ as a person and not only as a pretty face as before. His coverage of Hollywood at that time seems fair and honest and revealing. Some nice people as well as rogues walked under the lights. Good escapism; good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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