Why We Won’t Talk About Our Marriage—Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner
The day Natalie Wood and Bob Wagner announced their engagement was the day their privacy ended. What little privacy they ever had, that is! Plans were immediately drawn up for stories, articles and picture layouts by the dozen, to encompass the couple’s slightest move from the engagement party right through to the moment when RJ carried his bride over the threshold of their honeymoon suite. And including, of course, Natalie’s burning Bob’s first dinner (that’s tradition).
These were the plans, all right. Only there was one slight hitch. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wagner turned out to be different—they wanted to be alone. Plead and cajole as the reporters might, all requests met deaf ears. The Wagners were polite but firm. No stories, no pictures; all they asked was the right any couple might expect—just to be left alone. A seemingly simple request.
But stories were written anyway. And it’s because of the fact that Natalie and RJ have been misquoted—because misinformation has been prevalent—that the Wagners have agreed to do this true story for the readers of Photoplay. They want to tell how they feel about their marriage and why it must be a private affair.
One of the first questions tossed at them since their wedding last December 28th was: “Is it possible for two people who have been in the limelight so much, first as individuals then as an engaged couple, suddenly to cloak their married lives in silence? Here is their answer:
“You want to know something—and this is the honest truth?” Natalie began. “All my life, there’s hardly been anything I’ve been allowed to do without it being news. A few months ago, for example, just after we announced our engagement, Mother and I were discussing the wedding plans. She asked me if we wanted a fancy wedding with all the trimmings. I answered no. A big fat, definite NO! You know why? Because I’ve never known what it was to have a memorable moment that I shared only with those closest to me.
“It’s funny, but I can remember incidents like the one on my eighth birthday. Mother had arranged a party for me and had invited the kids who lived on the block. As an extra treat, she rented a pony and made arrangements to rope the street off for a couple of hours so that we could ride in safety. Mother said it was polite to let my guests take turns riding first. I waited an hour and a half till everyone had finished, then I got on the pony’s back. We hadn’t gone more than three steps when two photographers with flash cameras jumped out of the bushes and started taking pictures. The horse was so scared, he nearly threw me. Is it any wonder that when it came to my wedding or to my married life that I want so desperately to live quietly, just like everybody else?
“Neither RJ (who has been in movies since his early teens) nor I have ever been labeled uncooperative. And certainly no two people have more reason to be grateful to the press than RJ and I. But with our marriage—well—that’s a different thing.
“First of all, we are not trying to cloak our married life in silence. We haven’t done a sudden about-face regarding stories concerning us. The truth is, neither RJ nor I have ever done a story on our engagement. We never made attempts to run from photographers at parties or premieres, but neither did we make any attempt to seek publicity for our romance. If stories were written about us—and they were—they were written on hearsay, not by us!”
Bob Wagner shares Nat’s feelings about marriage versus publicity. Even before he had proposed, he said: “When I get married, I can assure you there won’t be any pictures of me and my bride at the dinner table, or in our bedroom. Regardless of whom I marry, I’m convinced this part of my life must be kept separate from the fanfare and ballyhoo that goes with being an actor.”
Today he says: “Natalie and I aren’t trying to be difficult, believe me. It’s just that both as individuals and as a couple, we’ve been so misquoted that we’ve decided the best policy is to keep our personal life as private as possible. There are certain things that are just bound to be news because of the business we’re in. This doesn’t discourage us. But what does is the constant rehashing and rehashing of a story or a set of facts until the original story is so trite or misquoted that it’s ridiculous.
“We don’t want to keep our fans out of our life. On the contrary, we don’t want to be presented to them in a false light. We can hardly expect them to respect or believe in us when they read forty different stories about our wedding day—all different—because only two of the forty people who wrote those stories were actually present! This is why we’ve decided to do no at-home layouts or discuss certain things of a very personal nature. This is the only way we know to keep our happy marriage free from the atmosphere of a three-ring circus.”
“Since we started dating,” Natalie continued, “we’ve tried to talk as little as possible about our romance. Before we were in love, when I lived at home and RJ in his bachelor quarters, we had a responsibility to ourselves and to our families. Now that we are married, our responsibility is to each other. That’s what marriage is.”
“I suppose it’s no secret,” RJ added, “that oftentimes Hollywood dates and romances are cooked up for publicity purposes. There’s no question that these prearranged dates serve a purpose. In those cases, the couple involved actively seeks publicity. If ours had been such a romance, if it had even begun as a publicity gag, I can assure you it would have never gotten off the ground. If either of our studios had ever suggested that we date because it would result in good copy, both of us would have run so fast in the opposite direction it would have looked like Hurricane Hazel. The point I’m trying to make is that from the very beginning our relationship was sincere, honest. Our romance only progressed because we fell in love—there was nothing contrived or make believe about it. We never sought to make our love front page gossip.”
The obvious question at this point was: Well, where are you going to draw the line? How are you going to decide what interviews to give and which ones to refuse? How about pictures of your home?
“Since our wedding, we’ve had a tough decision to make about these points. Both of us have many good friends, people we respect and trust, who are either writers or photographers. Yet, it wouldn’t really be fair to decide that we would only give stories or pictures to our friends, there are too many members of the working press we don’t know, who are entitled to the same courtesies as our pals. But even with those we know and like, there has to be a limit. Where? That’s a good question.
“In our position there were several alternatives. At one extreme is the solution by which we’d declare open house twenty-four hours a day. Under that system we’d smilingly pose for pictures of Natalie boiling water and me carrying out the waste basket. Only one trouble: This would be phony and it would leave us with absolutely no time to ourselves. The opposite extreme would be for Natalie and I to decide not to give joint interviews. This way when either of us was approached, we’d say, I can only talk about me, if you want to know about my wife (or husband), you’ll have to ask her (or him).”
“But that would really be ridiculous,” Natalie said, “for then we would be representing ourselves as separate units, only concerned with ourselves. You can’t be married after working hours only! We aren’t separate, anyway; we’re one. My thoughts are for RJ and what will make him happy, and his are for me. The only thing we can think of is what we consider an intelligent approach-compromise. We’ll grant interviews occasionally, but we stand firm on our aim not to have any pictures taken at home. If we let one photographer in we’d be obliged to welcome every cameraman who wanted to shoot pictures—in this business unfortunately there’s no middle ground, either you stand firm or not at all.”
“One incident of how frustrating things can get happened to us just last week.” As RJ told me what happened, I could sense his concern. “I had to go to Arizona on location a few days ago. Natalie and I drove up together. The first morning there, I had a six a.m. call. When I got up it was freezing, outside it was raining and all in all it was a pretty miserable day. I suggested that Nat stay at the hotel while I went out to the location site. She agreed, it wasn’t fit weather for man, or beast, much less my beautiful bride.
“A few minutes after I arrived on set, a photographer came over to me and asked me if Natalie was with me. I told him that she was in town but that she hadn’t come out to the location site because the weather was so miserable. He asked me if I’d call her and ask her to come over so he could shoot some pictures of us. As politely as I knew how I refused. I tried to explain my reasons—they were pretty obvious. I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted his wife trooping all over creation in freezing weather. He walked away and I didn’t learn the end of the story until later that day. But, it seems that after he left me, the man was so eager to get the pictures, he called Natalie at the hotel and told her that I had told him to call to tell her to come on over so he could get the pictures.
“Natalie and I haven’t been married very long, but my bride knew me better than to think I would have made such a request. So Nat told the cameraman that she didn’t think she ought to come until she talked to me about it. Naturally, the frustrated lensmen was forced to drop the whole thing. He couldn’t admit to Natalie that he’d made up his story, so he just said he’d have me call, and hung up. Because Nat is such a darn good sport, she got out of bed, got dressed and waited for my call. A call that never came because I didn’t know a thing about it. Is it any wonder that there are times when we say we’ve been burned?”
“While we were still on our honeymoon,” Nat continued, “we were asked to do a series of articles on how to stay happily married and our marriage secrets. RJ and I politely refused. Isn’t it sort of ridiculous to ask a nineteen-year-old bride and her groom of three days to set themselves up as authorities on advice to the lovelorn? We certainly have no intention of telling people the ways to achieve happiness in marriage—we’re too busy finding out for ourselves. Besides, the majority of the people who would have read our literary gems are far more equipped than we were—if anything they should be giving us the advice! So on our honeymoon we made up our minds that the reading public will not be inflicted with Mr. and Mrs. Wagner’s advice to the lovelorn.
“Perhaps one reason why we’re so adamant on this point is because both of us have done a lot of traveling during the past few years. We’ve met our fans, we’ve talked to them, we read their wonderful letters. We’ve learned from this personal contact that when people have favorite stars they tend to emulate them, try to fashion themselves after their favorites and also accept any byline stories as gospel when they see your name attached. Our fans are too important to us to make us sacrifice our integrity by lending our names to a lot of stuff we either never see or else disapprove of.
There’s another sore spot as far as stories are concerned,” Natalie continued. “We have been asked to discuss our problems in print. We’ve been approached on the basis that by reading about our problems, others will be helped. If this were only true, RJ and I would gladly bare our souls—if one person could be helped in the attempt. But how can any problems we have help others to solve theirs?”
“We aren’t the typical boy and girl next door,” RJ added. “It’s about time the stories about us faced up to that fact. Besides, we’ve been asked to discuss problems we wouldn’t talk over with our most intimate friends. There are just some things reserved for the privacy of one’s home. We just aren’t the average couple and there’s no reason why, for the sake of a story, we should be portrayed that way.
“By the very nature of our profession we have certain advantages, along with innumerable problems that are unique to us and other actors and actresses. Would it be of value to anyone else to discuss the fact that if Natalie has to go to Europe next month and I can’t go along, that she’ll give up her role to be with me? Is that a problem the readers face? Besides, why should they be inflicted on anybody?
“I think it’s only fair to point out that being a movie star, making a good salary, having the ability to afford certain luxuries is not the end-all of living. We have our problems—what human being doesn’t? And furthermore, although it may seem to others that since we have so much, we shouldn’t be entitled to any worries, that just isn’t true. It’s always easy to look at someone else and say what have they got to worry about? But each life and each problem is relative to the one living it. I can’t say that the things Natalie and I must face and will face in the future are one bit easier to solve by virtue of the fact that we may drive a Cadillac instead of a Model T Ford.”
“Before RJ and I were married,” Nat said, “I once sat in on an interview with him. The reporter came right out and told RJ that all the stories ever written about him made him sound like the boy who had everything. He then suggested that since he wanted to do a real dramatic story they should make up a few problems to make RJ sound pathetic—good reader identification, the reporter said, winking at us. I’ll never forget RJ’s reaction. He just sat there for a moment and then he said softly, ‘Make up problems! Are you kidding? Do you really believe that stuff you write about me being Joe Lucky, the boy with everything? Listen, I have problems, plenty of them, but they’re my problems and I don’t feel like burdening anyone with them. If you find it necessary to make me sound pathetic in order to have an appealing story, then why don’t we just forget it!’
“You see, too many people have the attitude that being a movie star means living each day at the end of a beautiful, multi-colored rainbow. They think that instead of bathing in the warmth of the sun we get our golden glow from pots of gold. They think we have diamonds in our sky instead of stars. This isn’t true, nor is it fair to feel that because we may have been more fortunate than others that this good fortune has lessened our ability or our sensitivity to the people and the real problems around us. With this in mind, does anyone really care whether or not I can boil water or Bob wears blue shirts?
Let’s sum up this whole subject by saying we are grateful for the interest shown in us. There are many things about our life that we gladly share,” concluded Nat. “We want our fans to know how truly happy we are. We want them to know that our honeymoon was wonderful; that right now we are living in RJ’s old bachelor apartment but that as soon as we can we hope to buy a little home. We don’t care who knows that we’d like to find a home on top of a high hill and intend furnishing in Chinese modern.
“We’ll be glad to shout from the rooftops that marriage is the most important thing in the world to us; that we have agreed never to be separated for more than two weeks at a time, if for that long. We want them to know that being plain Mr. and Mrs. takes precedent over anything else in our lives. They might even be interested in reading about the fact that in between RJ’s shooting on ‘The Hunters’ and my finishing up ‘Kings Go Forth,’ and our doing some TV together, we have spent a few weekends on our boat.
“What more can we say except that we hope that those of you who read this story will understand that neither of us have any desires to throw an iron curtain around our lives. We haven’t sought to shut out the outside world—we have nothing to hide. We only ask for the opportunity to live our lives as simply and uncomplicated as we can. We feel that the fans, whom we respect, will find as much pleasure in the knowledge that we are happy as they would in reading 136 stories about what we eat for breakfast. Because when you come right down to it—although in many ways we may not be the boy and girl next door—we are very human; and like them when it comes to our feelings. We breathe the same air as anyone else, cottage cheese and eggs taste the same in Hollywood as they do in Iowa. When it rains in Los Angeles, we get just as wet and when we took our marriage vows they meant to us what they have meant to others since people began taking vows. They meant we love each other and that we are one forever. This is the way we feel. This is our life as we see it. We are only trying as best we know how to live each day with as much dignity and respect as possible.
—BY MARCIA BORIE
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JUNE 1958