He’s My Kind Of Guy—Robert J. Wagner
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I didn’t have to move a muscle to catch the conversation. Bob Wagner and I were being talked about . . . and only a few inches behind my back. “Of course, they’re friends now,” said the columnist who was sitting a table away. “But wait until they work together in ‘Twelve Mile Reef.’ My dear, those two will be at each other’s throats.”
There was a slight pause for weapon identification. “With knives,” she said. And then she went on with her theorizing.
This situation, she reasoned, would be based on professional jealousy, since Bob and I are two of the most career-conscious people in Hollywood. And, according to a Hollywood theory, when it comes right down to a contest in the business of getting the best camera angles, nothing is supposed to interfere. Least of all, friendship.
At first I was indignant. Then I had a good laugh. I thought about how, if Bob had been along, he’d have handed me a butter knife and said, “Be my guest.” That’s because nothing bothers him. He’s a boy who seems to have spent his whole life being happy. And it’s catching. When you’re with him, you find there’s an amusing side to almost every situation. If there isn’t, he’ll invent one.
The speech I’d overheard couldn’t have been more ridiculous. Bob was the fellow who’d beat the morning sun to the studio one day to help a near-stranger with a screen test. I was the stranger. Well, practically. We’d met only a short while before. He didn’t have to help. But he realized that the test was an important one for me. So he mentioned that he’d played the scene several times and knew the lines and action. After that, he casually volunteered to be on the soundstage at the crack of dawn when the cameras started rolling. And after that, if R. J. Wagner had said the word, I’d have fetched him an axe and gladly put my throat on the block. A matter of sheer gratitude.
Bob has an uncanny way of being around when he’s needed. I remember our first encounter . . . Funny, the way people are sort of drawn to one another. It happens in movies most of the time. Boy notices girl. Girl sees boy. Their eyes meet. Eventually, he strolls across a crowded room, lights two cigarettes and hands her one of them. There follows some sparkling dialogue and background music.
In our case, the Twentieth Century-Fox commissary qualified nicely for the crowded room. It was packed. I was new on the lot and didn’t know a soul. And I wanted to see a friendly face so badly that I was about ready to go home to my mother’s. Then I saw Bob. He was looking at me, and our eyes met—right on schedule. Of course, that’s about as close as we came to the script. I don’t smoke and he’s usually out of cigarettes anyway. “Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” I said.
I wouldn’t call it terribly sparkling dialogue, and dishes were clattering in the background. But when he smiled, the room seemed a much finer place.
We weren’t formally introduced until several days later. Mike Connolly, of Photoplay and The Hollywood Reporter, did the honors on a Twentieth street corner. When Mike said goodbye, Bob walked me to my car. I climbed in. But I wasn’t going anywhere. Not in that car. The battery was dead beyond reviving. Wagner, to the rescue, walked me to his car and gave me a ride to my front door.
As far as I was concerned, Bob’s actions were more character-revealing than his words could have been on our first real date. It was Academy Award night. As is the custom on such occasions, the studio had provided a car and driver, and we were off to the Pantages Theatre in a downpour of California dew. En route to and from the car, Bob seemed to have one mission in life. That was seeing that my brand new evening gown didn’t get drenched. He worried far more about it than I did.
We were the first out of the theatre when the event ended. Limousines rolled into view, picked up their passengers and rolled away again. As we stood there, Bob spotted a group of fans waiting for autographs. Everyone was in a hurry and the kids weren’t having much success. Bob took one look at their disappointed faces, borrowed a pencil and suggested that we go over.
Two hours later we were still there. We weren’t sure what had happened to our car. Boy-movie-star could have sent any one of five other people to find it, and saved, himself a soaked tuxedo. And I could’ name ten other stars who would have done just that. But not Robert. Out he went. Back he came—wet, victorious, with auto.
We went on to a party at one of the more exclusive—and expensive—Beverly Hills restaurants. Half-way through the evening, we discovered that we had monstrous appetites in common and slipped over to a quiet corner table for scrambled eggs. When the bill came, I found that R. J. can sometimes carry consideration too far. I caught a glimpse of his face as he eyed the check, and pulled out his wallet. Then I caught a glimpse of the check. Twenty-two dollars and fifty cents, it read. Bob was going to pay it without a word. I could tell he was thinking that words on such high finances might be embarrassing to me. “This I can’t see,” I told him firmly. “Scrambled eggs are scrambled eggs. In my kitchen or in Beverly Hills. Let’s get the waiter.”
We got the waiter. Turned out there’d been a large-type mistake. “Thanks, Terry, girl,” said Robert. “Thanks a lot.” Next day, he sent me a dozen eggs—all painted gold—and a frying pan.
In a short time, Bob and I have been through a lot together . . . the least of which was a platter of eggs . . . and I’ve come to know him pretty well. He’s my kind of guy, this R. J. Wagner, and I hope I can say it without starting another wedding rumor. But if I made a long list of admirable qualities—qualities all girls look for in a man—Bob would illustrate each of them.
Take friendliness. Bob likes people. When you walk into a room with him, you’re greeted by at least three-quarters of the population. He has a genuine interest in everyone he meets. On a picture, he knows every name and a number of life histories. And he’s no snob. To R. J., a prop man is as important as an executive.
I remember one man who stopped by our table in the commissary. Bob introduced us, but I didn’t catch the name. When he left, I asked about him. “He’s awfully nice,” said I. “Has he worked in many of your pictures?”
“I work in his pictures,” said Bob. “That’s Mr. Skouras. He’s the head of the studio.”
Another thing about Bob and people is that he’ll defend someone to the death if that someone’s been raked over verbal coals. “Now wait a minute,” he’ll begin. “We don’t know the whole story . . .”
He’s one of the most understanding men I’ve ever known. And when you’re in the picture business, understanding is something you can use. Now I’m recalling a night in Florida when we made personal appearances at one of the theatres. We’d worked hard that day, and I had a six o’clock date in the make-up department the following morning. You might say I was slightly tired. “Let’s go out and see the town,” suggested a member of the cast.
“What about it, Terry?” asked Bob. “Think you can make it?”
I confessed that I couldn’t take another step unless it was toward home, and I felt like a heel about having to say it. As a matter of fact, on other dates I’ve been called a heel—well, killjoy—for having said it . . . but never by R. J.
Whenever I talk about Bob, the word consideration keeps turning up. The fact that he’s considerate is as good a reason as any, I guess. And any number of his fans will tell you the same—particularly two little Floridians. We were sitting in the patio of the Casa Marina Hotel in Key West and Bob saw these fellows peeking through the fence. They wanted autographs. Bob located a pen, some paper, and then made the rounds of the cast collecting signatures. Before he returned to the fence, he disappeared for a moment. He was next seen on his way back to the fans—with Coca Colas as well as autographs for each.
Another incident I think about with a certain amount of horror. We had a date to shoot pictures one afternoon. Bob arrived early and remained until the very end. He had a lot of jolly things to say—went through his entire stock of hysterical quips. However, he neglected to mention that he was coming down with flu. We were practicing jujitsu at the edge of the dock when he went into the water. He came up laughing. But the next day wasn’t so funny. The company doctor put him to bed. The dunking had been a great help. “Me and my jujitsu,” I wailed to him over the phone. “Why didn’t you tell us you were sick?”
“The photographer came a long way to get the pictures,” he explained patiently. Then his voice took on a teasing tone. “Terry, he said, “the papers keep printing that we’re in love. What’ll they say when they find out you threw me into the ocean. That wasn’t very romantic of you, Terry.”
“What else could I do?” I came back. “Everytime the man focused the camera, you’d wrap a towel around my face.”
“Serves you right for stealing that scene yesterday.”
We were kidding. I hope that “Twelve Mile Reef,” is only the first of a long line of movies in which we’ll be appearing together. We like working together, and with us, it’s a fifty-fifty matter. The better he is, the better I am. And vice versa. The play’s supposed to be the thing—and who are we to argue with Shakespeare?
We didn’t even try to argue with the columnists when the announcements of our “marriage plans” came out. The company press agent was kind enough to make the denials for us. To this day, we’re not certain how the story got out. But it really got around. Whenever we made a theatre appearance, the first question from the audience was, “When’s the wedding?”
Bob had a neat answer for that one. “Let Terry tell you,” he’d say.
This line was my introduction. He’d exit laughing and wait in the wings while I’d try to think up some quick dialogue.
Well, at any rate, I guess those feud rumors got lost, when the copy took a romantic turn. It’s enough to drive a columnist right out of her mind, I guess. Sorry, lady.
—BY TERRY MOORE
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1953