Thursday, September 17, 2009

Traveling with the Stars: Robert Wagner

Actor Robert Wagner, who appears occasionally on CBS' Two and a Half Men, chronicles his six decades in show business in his bestselling memoir Pieces of My Heart, which will be released in paperback on Sept. 15. He spent part of the 1960s living in Italy and France but now resides in Aspen., Colo., with actress Jill St. John, his wife of 19 years. He shares his travel highlights and tips.

Q: Where have you been recently that you liked or were surprised by?

A: I was in Beaune (in the Burgundy region). I had driven through there before but this time was a tremendous experience. I was really taken by it. I love the French country. I was able to appreciate it and accept it more this time. Some friends of ours asked us to go with them and this one man is very much into wine. He was able to open some doors for me at cellars that were incredible. I hadn't been aware of those wines in that part of the world. I stayed at L'Hôtel de Beaune. It was just wonderful. I'm not very good at those long dinners. I'm more of a bistro and country cooking (man). That's what I like — simplicity… and this time was such a simple travel experience for me and that always makes it better.

Q: What's the best place you've ever visited?

A: I lived in Saint Paul de Vence, France, for a year in the 1960s. What did I do? I lived. I drank it all in. I took it into my soul. I did a movie. I had given up my apartment in Rome. Oh, it was a wonderful time. I lived at La Colombe d'Or and I never thought that would happen to me. David Niven had introduced me to the hotel and I had heard about it. I got to know the people who ran it, the Roux family. I just loved it there. I felt so at home and they were so warm to me and nice. It was a great privilege to be able to stay there for that length of time. I've been back several times. It's very romantic. I was back there with my (second) wife (Marion Marshall), who is the mother of my daughter Katie. I was back there with Natalie (he married actress Natalie Wood twice) and with Jill. That whole valley is so captivating and the warmth and feeling of the people and the feeling of life is there. I had no obligations then. Natalie and I had divorced and I was kind of on my own. And then Marion and I went there. Timing is it. It just worked for me and I was able to take it in, thank God.

Now all of these places have changed so much because of the people who have found them and go there. It's just become overpowering. The thing about traveling for me is the culture and being able to engage yourself in it. You find that the basic needs and wants and caring are all the same, particularly when you see people with children and young people.

Q: What's the most surprising/unexpected place you're ever visited?

A: I lived in Rome for three years. I was there at such a great time, in the 60s when all of the motion picture industry was centered around there. Cleopatra was being made. We made The Pink Panther there. It was just a joyous, wonderful, wonderful time. Rome was the place. All of the wonderful directors were there. They were making these great films and I wanted to be a part of it. I worked for Vittorio De Sica and with Sophia Loren. It all worked for me. It was a continual surprise. Every corner you go around is just unbelievable. You go around the corner and you're in a piazza you never thought you'd ever be in. Italy is so special to me because of the fact that I had the opportunity of living there for that length of time as a foreigner and that's a great gift to be given. I learned Italian but I speak like Tonto. I learned enough to get along. I haven't been to Italy for a while. Rome has changed a lot.

Q: What's your favorite vacation spot?

A: I love Paris. I've been going there for quite a while. I have friends there and I really enjoy it. I find it so romantic. I love the lighting. I walk all over. I think it has a great deal of softness. I was at a dinner one night with a woman and I was talking to her about the clouds. They have such special, special skies in Paris. She told me it's because the surface of the earth is closer. In some of the Impressionist paintings you see the clouds and how well they're represented. The reason is because they have those very special skies. I love the trees and the smells and the people. My French is not very good at all but it doesn't make any difference because I've got the feeling. I'm going to France for a wedding and I'll take the train into Paris. Taking the train through the French countryside is absolutely fabulous. It takes a lot to pull me away from where I am now because of where I live. The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are just superb.

Q: Can you offer an insider tip or recommendation for your favorite vacation place?

A: I've never been in a bistro in France that I haven't liked. I love going to restaurants. I really like the country food. In Paris I love the Brasserie Lipp and La Coupole. I love to get some French bread, a little salami and a cold bottle of white wine and go into Rodin's Garden.