Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Robert Wagner shares life's tragedies and romances

Actor will visit Mission Viejo on Saturday to promote his memoir.

Some know him as the evil Number Two in the Austin Powers movie series while others from another decade remember him as the handsome Jonathan Hart in "Hart to Hart" — the actor behind those memorable characters, Robert Wagner, is coming to Orange County to promote his new book "Pieces of My Heart: A Life."

Wagner's memoir, released in September, recounts the highlights, challenges and tragedies of his career and love life.

His story is cast with Hollywood legends Spencer Tracey, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, David Niven, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck. In it he reveals his love affair in the 1950s with Barbara Stanwyck, an actress twice his age, and writes about the tragic night his wife Natalie Wood died in boating accident off the coast of Catalina.

It took the 78-year-old actor three and a half years to complete the book with co-author Scott Eyman.

Wagner will appear at Mission Viejo's Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center as part of the Writers Present program on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Here's what he had to say about his book:

Q. How did the book come about?

A. I was just so amazed in being in this industry for 60 years and I'm still working. For some people it happens for and others it doesn't. I've been so fortunate in my life that I just wanted to put it down. It's amazing and that's what motivated me to write.

Q. What does the title, "Pieces of My Heart," mean to you?

A. It means these people all have pieces of my heart and they were able to be so helpful to me and putting my life together and getting me back on my feet and helping me get through life — its dark spots and bright spots.

Q. Describe the writing process.

A. I had a lot of still pictures that I could look at and that would bring back memories. I went into old telephone books and I had some fans who kept scrapbooks from when I started. I was able to look at those and I could associate mentally… so that was very helpful. And then, also in my mind are all these times that I've had — my relationship with Fred Astaire, being a little boy and then working with him. And, my God, being a little boy and seeing Clark Gable and having him arrange for me to go to MGM and say, 'Hey, maybe you can be something.'

Q. What did you enjoy most about putting the book together?

A. When I felt it started to work and that it started right — that was encouraging to let it go. I didn't jump around. I wanted to start at the beginning.

Q. What was the most challenging part about writing the book?

A. There are a lot of stories and it could've been a lot longer. There are other people and moments in my life. It's not an autobiography, it's a memoir. It's a quest to decide what to leave in, what to take out, and structuring the book in a way. The biggest challenge was letting it go. I've never written before. This was all very close to me and I wanted to be correct and honest with it. I had a great deal of anxiety. When I let it go I fell into depression a bit. When you say, 'That's it,' and they start to print it — that's it and you can't take it back.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I was doing (the TV show) "Two and a Half Men" until they stopped doing guest spots. I was making love to (actress) Jenny McCarthy when I died. What a way to go on the No. 1 comedy! Now I'm producing some things, talking to people into financing, and putting together projects and I'm also involved with this book.

An Evening with Robert Wagner

What: A free question-and-answer session and talk with the actor at 6 p.m. Saturday

Where:Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center, 24932 Veterans Way, Mission Viejo

Reservations:949-830-7100 ext. 5105. Registration is closed. A waiting list is open.

Book signing:No reservations necessary. Open to the public. Begins at 7 p.m. Book available for purchase, $26.

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