Welcome to Vintage Paparazzi.

Between Two Women—Robert Wagner

Debbie Reynolds was being very unDebbie-like! Instead of effervescing with her bubbling vim and unquenchable vivacity, she was sitting in Bob Wagner’s MG, indulging in what is, for her, the rare luxury of introspection.

She and R, J.—that’s what everyone calls young Wagner—had attended the preview of Stars And Stripes Forever, and now after the long ride home, they were parked in front of Debbie’s unpretentious house in Burbank.

They had talked of life and love, the picture business and the pursuit of happiness, and now Debbie had reached the all-important point of declaration.

“R. J.,” she said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready for marriage. I don’t think we should give it a thought.”

“If that’s the way you want it.”

“I think it’s the best way. Don’t you?”

R. J. thought for a moment of his impending tour of duty in the Marines—he’s in the Reserve and should be called up any day—then of his relatively young age—he’s only 23. He thought of the senselessness in marrying a young girl, going overseas, leaving her behind to worry and fret and cry her heart out. He thought of the bright promise of his sensational motion picture career, and he said quickly, “You’re right, Debbie, let’s keep it the way it is.”

“You mean just hold Saturday nights for you?” Debbie’s voice camouflaged her disappointment.

“Only if you want to,” RJ. said. “If you’re a tired, or you want to date someone else—I mean, you do whatever you want to.”

Debbie reverted to type. “You bet I will. And you do whatever you want to, R.J.” And with that, she slipped out of the car and whisked into the house.

The following day columnists announced that Debbie Reynolds had struck the name of Robert J. Wagner, Jr., the brightest young actor on the 20th Century-Fox lot, from her list of eligible beaux.

Some of the rumor-spreaders said Debbie had tired of waiting for R.J. to make his move. She had been going more or less steadily with Bob for two years, and while all the newspapers had described them as engaged, the boy who, figuratively Speaking, had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, had never even come up with a ring or a declaration of his intentions.

They suggested that perhaps Debbie in her carefully careless feminine way, had tried to force the play and, in trying, had struck out. RJ. had not even been maneuvered into a statement of his affections. He wanted freedom to play the field, to date Melinda Markey, Babs Darrow, Susan Zanuck, and he was willing to accord Debbie the same leeway with the opposite sex. No entanglements of the heart for this rapidly-rising star.

When Debbie was asked if she’d quarreled with her handsome heart throb on these grounds, all she would say was, “Don’t be silly. R.J.’s got to find himself. I know about boys all right.”

Other columnists insisted that Debbie and RJ. had called it quits for a very simple reason. Wagner had become in fatuated with Barbara Stanwyck, whose son ge was playing in Titanic.

In fact, Bob and Barbara were raked over the coals by the press, R.J. being pooh as a sensuous Lothario who dated the 45-year-old Barbara on one night and reverted to the 20-year-old Debbie on another, while Stanwyck, it was implied, had begun in the summer of her life to nad the art of robbing the cradle.

The truth of the Stanwyck-Wagner-Reynolds triangle is simple. The truth usually is. Here are two women and one young man whose friendships have been publicized as love affairs, so that under the present set of circumstances, it is considered prudent for Bob to go out with Debbie, but not too prudent to be seen in public alone with Stanwyck.

Barbara Stanwyck or “Missy” as she’s called on every lot in town, is one of the sweetest, kindest, most helpful actresses in the movie colony.

As you probably know, she never wanted to give up her second husband, Robert Taylor. She loved him very much and probably still does. It was he who wanted the divorce, and because Barbara is the type of understanding and compassionate woman she is, she consented without quarrels, fights, or long, involved legal hassels.

With Taylor gone, Peeters was lonely and unhappy, and for such a state of depression she knows only one anodyne: work, work, and more work. She took practically every picture offered to her, and during the course of these films met several young actors: Jean Pierre Aumont, Ralph Meeker, and of course, Bob Wagner.

“With every one of these,” she good-naturedly recalls, “it was the same thing. As soon as some reporter saw us talking together, right away it was a big romance. Take this thing with RJ, One evening Clifton Webb, R.J., and myself, all three of us, went to dinner at Romanoff’s. No one mentioned that Clifton was along. Oh no! That would’ve spoiled a good item. The columnists merely wrote that Wagner and Stanwyck had been seen dining together. They made a real cozy thing out of it.

“I’ve been out here a long time. I know the ways and wiles of publicity, and I don’t care what they say about me. But it certainly is unfair to R.J. He’s a fine boy and an ambitious actor. It was great fun working with him, and we might’ve become good friends. But under the circumstances it’s impossible. You become self-conscious and embarrassed about a little thing like dinner in a restaurant. You know it will be blown up to ridiculous lengths so you stop going out.

“Last year several newspapers in Paris insisted that I was phoning Jean Pierre overseas every single night. It wasn’t true, but they were determined to have us involved in a romance so they conjured one up via transatlantic telephone.

“With Ralph Meeker it was the same story. We went out a few times. Of course, it couldn’t be friendship. It had to be a big thing. Well, it wasn’t.”

Bob Wagner feels miserable about the Stanwyck affair. “They’ve spoiled,” he says of the newspapers, “what could have been one of the finest friendships in my whole life. There was never anything between us that wasn’t strictly professional. I hung around her dressing room while we were making Titanic because she was gracious enough to give me a few tips about some lines, a few suggestions how to play a certain scene. What’s wrong with that?

“To me Barbara Stanwyck has always been one of the really great actresses in this town. She knows more about the business than I’ll ever know. I’m really indebted to her for her advice. She was wonderful to me in the scenes we played together. She could have stolen every single one of them, but she gave me all the breaks.

“How anyone could think there was a romance or anything like that between us—well, it’s beyond me. I admit that I liked to be with her. What man wouldn’t like to be with Barbara Stanwyck? I feel its an honor to have played in a picture with her. But this.stuff about my breaking up with Debbie because I once had dinner with Clifton Webb and Barbara, or because Miss Stanwyck and I once had a drink together, that’s not on the level. I’ve always thought the world of Debbie Reynolds, but we were never engaged, and I don’t know who started the story that we were. Debbie’s a wonderful girl, and we never called it quits. I still see her on the same basis I’ve always seen her. Debbie has no intention of getting married for years. That goes for me, too. How in the world can I think of marriage with the Service hanging over my head?

“Honestly, all you have to do in this town is go out a couple of times and you can get yourself so mixed up you don’t know whether you’re coming or going.”

What got RJ. “involved” with Barbara Stanwyck insofar as the Press is concerned, was a tip that these two used to meet nightly at a little restaurant in Beverly Hills called the Hob Nob.

Actually Stanwyck and Wagner were seen in that particular eating place only once. They’d had a hard day on the set and R.J. had offered to drive Barbara home, and en route, he’d suggested that they stop off for a drink.

Barbara had agreed, so they parked the car, walked into the Hob Nob, had a fast one, and then pulled out. Someone tipped off the columnists, and that’s what started the gossip.

Whether Bob and Barbara will ever get together again socially no one at this point knows. Certainly they will have a third or fourth party along if they go out in public, because both are extremely sensitive to public opinion. Before she left for Mexico where she’s starring opposite Gary Cooper in Blowing Wild, Barbara said, “I think RJ. is a very nice young man, and I’d like to work with him again. As for seeing him, well, you know what can happen. One cup of coffee together and the rumors start all over again. It’s just too embarrassing.”

Like other actresses of her age and position, “Missy” finds herself in a tough spot. It is almost impossible in Hollywood to find an eligible, unmarried man in the 45-to-50 age bracket. Stanwyck, on occasion, therefore goes out with younger men. As soon as she does, the reporters make an item of the date and the friendship goes up like a cloud of smoke.

Debbie Reynolds, of course, has no such trouble. At 20, she has more men than she can handle, but the one she dotes on is her six-foot, sandy-haired “RJ.” the prototype of the all-American boy.

Although Debbie and Wagner both insist that absolutely nothing has occurred to change the status of their friendship, there are tell-tale signs that this isn’t particularly true. The temperature of their relationship has reduced itself from hot to luke warm. The freshness of it. the primary spontaneity has dwindled, and they are now more obsessed with their careers than with each other. Both kids are determined to get to the top and stay there, and they’re not going to let a little thing like affection interfere with their long-term plans.

They still care for each other a great deal, but they’re probably more in love with success than with each other. No longer are they an inseparable duo. When it comes to previews and awards dinners, Debbie goes with Tab Hunter, Hugh O’Brian, John Anderson, Bob Travers, any of a dozen boyfriends.

It was Debbie, however, who arranged with RJ’s mother for a surprise party on his 23rd birthday, and the two kids still talk to each other on the phone three or four times a week. But the promise and potential of their courtship has dwindled considerably since their careers have shifted into high, and Wagner has been mentioned in connection with Barbara Stanwyck.

Debbie first met Bob Wagner almost three years ago through the auspices of Camille Williams, a girlfriend who had a job in the chorus line at Fox. Debbie was just breaking in at Metro—she had been bounced by Warners after working her way up from $60 to $100 a week—and when she dropped by 20th one afternoon, Camille introduced the young Mr. Wagner.

Wagner took it from there. This boy who seems so shy and naive is in reality a very smooth operator but in a cultured, well-bred, impeccable way. He began taking Debbie out every Saturday night usually to a show or the bowling alley in Glendale, and the next thing anyone knew, these kids were posing regularly for the fan magazine photographers, doing all sorts of layouts; and everyone was sure they were engaged or had entered some mutual understanding.

The crass truth is that they both knew they were good for each other, not only personally but publicity-wise, and while love was undoubtedly involved in their relationship, it was relegated to a subsidiary role. For other than the motion picture business and their mutual affection, they have little in common. Their backgrounds, for example, are completely different.

Wagner is a rich man’s son. His father is a steel company executive who’s always earned a five-figure income. As a boy R.J. was sent to private school and educated with all the well-to-do trimmings. His folks own homes in Bel-Air and La Jolla. He’s mingled with the country club set all his life. He knows what it is to buy and wreck a couple of sports cars, and he first broke into the movie game because his father happens to be a friend of Wild Bill Wellman, the ace director, and his father asked Wellman to get the boy a job.

Debbie on the other hand, comes from middle class stock. She was born in Paso, Texas, on April 1st, 1932, and christened Mary Frances Reynolds. Her father was a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and when Debbie was eight, the old man was transferred to Los Angeles where he rented a house for the family down near the tracks. The environment was so miserable, however, that the Reynolds entourage took a place out at Burbank, home of the Warner Bros. studio, and it was in this community that Debbie was raised.

Unlike Bob Wagner who has rented a bachelor apartment next door to Dan Dailey, Debbie still lives at home, chews gum violently, is vociferously enthusiastic about everything she does. Although she has made trips to New York, Washington, Korea, Japan, and Mexico, she has yet to adopt the jaded attitude of the worldly sophisticate.

A few years ago when she was asked how she felt about boys, she said, “They’re fine if they don’t take you for granted. What I don’t like is one of those sharpies—you know, you give him a date and right away he says, ‘How about driving up and catching a little breeze at Mulholland’ (Mulholland is a highway in the Hollywood hills frequently used as a lovers lane.) When they say that to me, I say, ‘That’s all, brother. Let me out of this buggy.’ I just don’t like to be taken for granted.”

In that last sentence may well lie the clue to Debbie’s new relationship with Bob Wagner.

“Debbie insists she isn’t teed off at R.J.,” one of her friends explains, “but I think she is, in her own nice, sweet way, of course. For years she’s been saving Saturday nights for him. Instead of asking for more than Saturday nights, he began to ask for less, and the papers began running all those items about him and Stanwyck. I think that hurt Debbie’s vanity. She didn’t want to be one of many, just a sometimes girlfriend. She wanted to be thegirlfriend. I think she was hoping for R.J. to make things more definite. When he didn’t, I don’t think her heart was broken, anything like that. She merely saw no point in being known as his girl without being it. Lots of times that happens to a girl. She gets coupled with one particular fellow, and all the other guys are afraid to ask for a date. Debbie didn’t n to her, and that’s why decided to let R.J. go his way and she’d go hers. Not that they still aren’t friends. They are, but from here on in, RJ. can’t take Debbie for granted, either for Saturday-night dates or other dates. He’s got to call just like any other fellow.”

Debbie’s mother says, “I want you to know that we all think the world of R.J. He is one of the kindest, most well-bred young gentlemen Debbie has ever known here, and she’s gone out with quite a few.

“Insofar as I know he and Debbie are both still pals, maybe not as close as they used to be, but let’s face it, time occasionally dulls the attraction, I don’t think they were ever sweethearts—just good friends. Debbie has always said that she would never think of getting married until she was 23 or 24, and while secretly she may have looked upon R.J. as a potential husband, she certainly never said anything about it out loud. None of us believe any of that ridiculous stuff about RJ. and Barbara Stanwyck. Miss Stanwyck is a lovely person, whom R. J. much admires.”

A dissenting opinion is offered by actor on the Fox lot who’s known Wagner since he played a small part eight pictures ago in The Halls Of Montezuma.

“My own personal opinion,” this actor states, “is that young Wagner is in love with two women at the same time, Missy and Debbie, only he won’t admit it, not even to himself. I think he’s nuts about Debbie because she’s young, bright, pretty, talented; she’s got lots on the ball and probably the best sense of humor of any young actress on the town. She speaks his language.

“With Stanwyck it’s different. He’s probably infatuated with Missy, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And I don’t blame him one bit. Stanwyck is probably the nicest dame in this town. You’ll never hear her cutting another actress to ribbons. She’s a mature professional who has humility and understanding, and of course, great beauty and achievement. All those qualities are very attractive to an intelligent and ambitious kid like R.J.

“While they were making Titanic he hung around her dressing room pretty nearly all the time. He listened avidly to everything she had to say. He has great respect for her, and somewhere along the line he probably added love to respect. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the setup. Students fall in love with teachers every day in the week. They call such affairs puppy love.

“Stanwyck is too smart to let this kid go off his rocker, and R.J. himself is a very well-balanced youngster, but I don’t believe we’ve heard or seen the last of this relationship. I’m sure that R.J. numbers Missy .among his very good friends and that when she returns from Mexico, he’ll be around calling.

“As for Debbie Reynolds, she and R.J. still continue to see each other but not on any semi-exclusive basis. Debbie is smart enough to realize that every young guy must sow his own share of wild oats. When and if R.J. is ever finished sowing, she’ll probably hook him if she wants him. That little doll is one of the smartest, most sensible chicks this crazy town has ever known.”



(Debbie Reynolds can be seen in MGM’s I Love Melvin.)



No Comments
Leave a Comment

Advertisment ad adsense adlogger