Childhood & Early Life
Robert was born on February 10, 1930, in Detroit, Michigan, US, to Robert John Wagner Sr. and Hazel Alvera (née Boe). His father served the ‘Ford Motor Company’ as a traveling salesman, and his mother was a telephone operator. He has a sister named Mary.
His family moved to Bel Air, California, in 1937 and settled close to the ‘Bel Air Country Club,’ where Wagner became a caddy for noted club members such as Alan Ladd and Fred Astaire.
He attended ‘Saint Monica Catholic High School’ and graduated in 1949.
He developed an interest in acting at an early age. His initial efforts included an unsuccessful screen test for the Fred Zinnemann-directed American drama ‘Teresa’ (1951).
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He made his film debut with the small role of ‘Adams’ in the 1950 film ‘The Happy Years.’ He signed a contract with Hollywood talent agent Henry Willson and was eventually acquired by ‘20th Century Fox.’
The 1951 war film ‘Halls of Montezuma’ marked Wagner's first film with ‘20th Century Fox’ and his first credited screen role.
He garnered considerable attention playing a GI paratrooper in the 1952 biographical film ‘With a Song in My Heart.’ The film ended up winning an ‘Academy Award’ and two ‘Golden Globe Awards.’
He bagged the lead role of ‘Willie Little’ in the 1952 ‘Technicolor’ biographical film ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’
Moving on, he landed up with his first starring role, ‘Tony Petrakis,’ in the 1953 ‘Technicolor’ adventure film ‘Beneath the 12-Mile Reef.’ The film became a commercial hit.
This was followed by several other starring roles in films such as ‘Titanic’ (1953), ‘Prince Valiant’ (1954), ‘Between Heaven and Hell’ (1956), ‘The True Story of Jesse James’ (1957), and ‘In Love and War’ (1958).
In 1960, he signed a contract with ‘Columbia Pictures’ for three movies, of which two were made, namely, ‘Sail a Crooked Ship’ (1961) and ‘The War Lover’ (1962).
He relocated to Europe, where he appeared in the award-winning 1962 war film ‘The Longest Day.’
He garnered fame starring as ‘George Lytton’ in the critically and commercially successful American comedy ‘The Pink Panther’ (1963). The film was listed at number 20 by the ‘American Film Institute’ on its list of ‘100 Years of Film Scores.’ Wagner reprised the role in the film’s 1983 sequel, ‘Curse of the Pink Panther.’
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He furthered his fame after returning to Hollywood with yet another notable film, the 1966 ‘Technicolor’ movie ‘Harper’ that emerged as a superhit. He appeared as ‘Allan Taggert’ in the film, while Paul Newman essayed the titular role.
Continuing with his big-screen pursuits, including signing with ‘Universal Studios’ in 1966, Wagner made his TV debut as ‘Alexander Mundy’ in the American action-adventure series ‘It Takes a Thief.’ The series that aired on ‘ABC’ for three seasons from January 9, 1968, to March 24, 1970, fetched him an ‘Emmy’ nomination for the ‘Best TV Actor.’
He co-produced the British thriller ‘Madame Sin,’ which was originally made as a pilot for a weekly ‘ABC’ series but was later broadcast on January 15, 1972, in the US, and then released as a feature film in other markets.
The ‘BBC1’ series ‘Colditz,’ which was aired for two seasons, from October 19, 1972, to April 1, 1974, starred him as ‘Flight Lieutenant Phil Carrington.’
He appeared in the critically and commercially successful disaster drama ‘The Towering Inferno’ that had Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in the lead roles. The film released on December 14, 1974, and emerged as the highest-grossing movie of the year, besides bagging three ‘Academy Awards.’
Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg offered Wagner and Natalie Wood a share of the three TV series they were planning to develop for ‘ABC,’ as partial payment for performing together in the producers’ TV movie ‘The Affair’ (1973). Of the three series, only ‘Charlie's Angels’ reached the screens and subsequently became quite popular. However, Wagner had to fight a legal battle with the two producers for several years on what they defined as profit.
Wagner re-signed a contract with ‘Universal Studios’ in 1974 and landed up playing ‘Peterson T "Pete" Ryan,’ alongside Eddie Albert, in the American action-adventure detective series ‘Switch.’ The series aired on ‘CBS’ for three seasons, from September 9, 1975, to August 20, 1978.
Wagner bolstered his TV career, starring as ‘Jonathan Hart’ opposite Stefanie Powers in the American mystery TV series ‘Hart to Hart.’ The series aired on ‘ABC’ for five seasons, from August 25, 1979, to May 22, 1984.
He starred as ‘Mike Chambers’ alongside Audrey Hepburn in the made-for-TV movie ‘Love Among Thieves,’ which aired on ‘ABC’ on February 23, 1987.
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The two-part ‘CBS’ TV miniseries ‘Windmills of the Gods,’ broadcast on February 7 and February 9 in 1988, featured him as ‘Mike Slade.’
His latter career saw him garnering popularity as ‘Dr. Evil's henchman, ‘Number Two,’ in the film series ‘Austin Powers,’ which included three blockbuster hits: the ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ in 1997, ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me’ in 1999, and ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’ in 2002.
Other notable films starring Wagner include ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ (1993) and ‘A Dennis the Menace Christmas’ (2007). The TV series ‘NCIS’ (2010), too, featured him in 10 episodes.
He has co-written three books with Scott Eyman, namely, ‘Pieces of My Heart: A Life’ (2008), ‘You Must Remember This: The Life and Style of Hollywood's Golden Age’ (2014), and ‘I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood's Legendary Actresses’ (2016).
He was married to actor Natalie Wood from December 1957 to April 1962.
He was then married to actor Marion Marshall from July 1963 to October 1971. Their daughter, Katie Wagner, was born on May 11, 1964.
He was engaged to actor, singer, author, and producer Tina Sinatra for a while and then remarried Natalie on July 16, 1972. The couple welcomed their daughter, Courtney Wagner, on March 9, 1974.
On November 29, 1981, while on a weekend trip to Santa Catalina Island, Natalie drowned near their yacht, ‘Splendour.’ Wagner and actor Christopher Walken were on the yacht at that time, along with the captain, Dennis Davern.
On May 26, 1990, he married actor Jill St. John.
The ‘Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department’ (LASD) reopened Natalie’s death investigation in November 2011, and after nine months, they declared the cause of Natalie’s death as "drowning and other undetermined factors,” due to the controversial events surrounding her death. The ‘LASD’ named Wagner a "person of interest" in her death, on February 1, 2018.