Pieces of My Heart: A Life

Pieces of My Heart: A Life

by Robert J. Wagner, Scott Eyman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061373329
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/15/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 163,514
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.84(d)

About 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.

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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Pieces of My Heart 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
dgmaclure More than 1 year ago
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.
I would recommend the book.
Sue1225 More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Boomergal More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
NookBookFanBG More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this is his attempt to make a few bucks in old age and to cover his ass about natalie's death.
-mmw- More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
SeriousPanda More than 1 year ago
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.
asieslavida More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this book. Robert Wagner is down to earth and tells it like it is. Very fine writing style and interesting to read.
obeythekitty More than 1 year ago
I can't speak to the accuracy of the information, but this is a highly entertaining view of Hollywood in the 50's. I wasn't a huge fan of Robert Wagner's, so I'd never heard of his relationship with Barbara Stanwyck, but I loved the straightforward way he described it. it's as if 50 years on, after so many of his acquaintances had died, he felt free to be honest about his life. one might quibble that the subjects weren't alive to refute his story, but it rings true with me and what I know about Hollywood in the big studio days.
bobvermont More than 1 year ago
Purchased for my wife's spry 80th birthday. It lay around for a time and I found it a fun read, browsing it from time to time. Gave it to her on "her day" -- immediately she was immersed in it. Lots of names we both recognized from the "old" movie days, including the tragic loss of his beautiful wife, Natalie, a magnificent movie actress in her own right ... and he no slouch. I didn't read it all the way through, so can't give a total impression, but surely, reminiscences galore. Summation: a fun read ... light ... keep it handy on the bedstand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having been born in 1940, I was a big fan of Robert Wagner. I found the book to be very interesting and RJ certainly enlightened us on the details of his early life and loves.My wife and I listen to Audio Books when we travel, and this one really held our interest.
Debbiesjm More than 1 year ago
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.
knahs on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Well written book. Provided a good picture of what it was like to grow up in Hollywood. Loved the opening on the golf course.
brsquilt on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Although I have always been a fan of RJ, this book did not thrill me. The pictures are great and the personal history is satisfying to a fan, but there was too much listing of films, actors, directors, etc. for my taste.
butterflybaby on LibraryThing 5 days ago
The reaccuring theme was Natile Wood. I could tell from his words that he adored her. I could see what an infulence she was to his life. He really let his heart show when he wrote about his life with her. Writing did not feel very strong and when the ghostwriter jumped in it was very evident. But it was interesting enough to keep me reading anyway. Overall I liked the book. It was great for some of the gossip information; who-slept-with-who, who was cut, that kinda thing. But some stuff Wagner didn't gossip much at all, like Woods death.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This is Robert J. Wagner's personal memoir from his birth to 2008, when he was 78. Wagner briefly tells of his parents and then spends a small time on his childhood moving into the full story of his life at the time of his mid-teens. Wagner is one of the unfortunately few remaining from the generation that actually worked and played with the greats of the Golden Age of movies. He intimately knew the likes of Jack Warner, Bette Davis, and Fred Astaire, among many others. It is brilliant to read of these people from a first-hand account. Then of course Wagner was in his prime along with all the stars of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Wagner drops names right, left and center in this book but he refrains from "dishing dirt" on anyone. Oh, he has some colourful stories to tell but he is not vindictive to anyone, not even Warren Beatty who stole his Natalie away from him.A wonderful read, Robert J. Wagner has lead a long and eventful life immersed in show business from the movies to the stage to TV and back again. I remember seeing him recently on Three and a Half Men and he's still a looker. Of course, everyone from my generation remembers him most from the TV show Hart to Hart and Wagner spends just the right amount of time on that period of his life. Of course, he also spends a great deal on his relationship with Natalie Wood, one of the great love stories to come from the entertainment world, and it's tragic end.Wagner has the help of a co-author to make this a wonderfully written story. I was totally captivated. Wagner comes off more than a bit egotistical at times but then he comes off that way in person and in the characters he's played on TV, so it is somewhat expected. He does have the annoying habit of letting you know of every man he introduces that is g*y and whether they made a pass at him or not. From famous people to backstage unknowns, this is something I really wasn't interested. Do I need or even want to know if a camera guy was g*y and didn't make a pass at him? That aside a really incredible read that anyone interested in Wagner's life or just that of movies and television from the 50s to the 80s will certainly enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book, just finished reading it from cover to cover. It made me laugh and cry, writing very good, highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some very inciteful and amusing descriptions of many interesting and talented people. Who knew David Nevin was so funny in real life. Yes I really enjoyed this book.