Monday, February 08, 1999

Letters from the heart

Robert Wagner, Jill St. John in Calgary for one special evening

For the past three years, Robert Wagner and Jill St. John have toured North America with A.R. Gurney's romantic melodrama Love Letters.

On Monday, the Hollywood twosome appears for one performance only at the Jack Singer Concert Hall at 8 p.m.

This intimate evening tells the story of a love affair which spans 40 years.

The actors read letters the characters have sent each other from around the world since they were in grade school.

It's a story of marriages and divorces, missed opportunities and successes.

Even if their own separate and shared life would make a more entertaining evening, this is play tailor-made for two legendary film stars whose combined careers total 100 years of show business.

"I've known Robert since I was 14," recalls St. John.

"It was 1957 and I was on the Fox lot filming Holiday for Lovers. They told me I could visit any other set on the lot, so I rushed right over to where Robert was filming Say One For Me with Bing Crosby.

"At that time RJ was the bobbysoxers' heartthrob."

Over the years, St. John and Wagner became and remained friends.

They were each married three times before they tied the knot together in 1990.

He married Natalie Wood twice and actress Marion Marshall once.

St. John's husbands included singer Jack Jones.

Wagner explains that the couple's romance "was a wonderful friendship that grew over time into love.

St. John adds that "it's a wonderful marriage because we share so much. We know the other person understands and shares our own love of the business.

"We're not jealous or competitive because we've both spent so much time in the business."

It's Wagner, 68, who explains how St. John -- who is 24 years his junior -- could have spent as much times in the business as he has.

"Jill was a child protegee. She could read by the time she was four so she was hired to do radio shows. Most of the child parts were read by adults, but she brought authenticity to her parts so she was very popular."

Before she was a teenager, St. John was featured in more than 100 radio shows.

Once in her teens, she moved easily to movies and TV, starring in A Christmas Carol, the first made-for-TV movie.

St. John as also starred in such films as The Roman Springs of Mrs. Stone, Tender is the Night, Come Blow Your Horn, Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed and Honeymoon Hotel.

In 1971, she starred as Tiffany Case in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.

Wagner's more than 30 films include The Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther, The Towering Inferno, Harper, Midway, Dragon: The Brue Lee Story and the TV version of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Nathalie Wood and Sir Laurence Olivier.

Wagner is even better known for his three long-running TV series Hart to Hart, Switch and It Takes a Thief.

Mike Myers wrote the role of Number Two, the henchman of Dr. Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery for

Wagner, who reprises the role in this summer's sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged me.

"Thanks to Austin Powers, I have a whole new generation of fans," concedes Wagner.

"Maybe it is time to write the autobiography that publishers have been requesting for the past few years.

"I've been very lucky in this business and I can count so many wonderful, famous people as my friends."

If he did write his autobiography, Wagner wouldn't be the only published writer in the house.

St. John is working on her second cookbook and has contracts for two more.

"Part of the reason we love doing Love Letters is that we get to work and travel together," says St. John.

"I'm really glad RJ talked me into doing the play with him. He'd already toured with (his Hart to Hart co-star) Stefanie Powers and assured me it was a wonderful, rewarding experience."