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, "You can't look in those eyes and see that smile and not smile yourself," she pretty much summed up the actor's magnetism that reaches across generations.Chances are, the man you knew as Bud Corliss from the 1956 film (Harper Collins), Wagner explores how he became a household name and his many personal triumphs, failures, and tragedies, including his early love affair with Barbara Stanwyck and the death of his first wife, Natalie Wood. RW: My wife and I have a little drawer for his own toys. I think that she is Riley John's biggest influence and I don't want to get in there and say why don't you do this or that.
The 86-year-old legend reflects on his rise to prominence during Hollywood's Golden Age, his secret four-year affair with Barbara Stanwyck, his late wife Natalie Wood and his Emmy-contending guest spot on CBS's highest-rated drama series. He landed there after being spotted by the agent Henry Willson, who also discovered his contemporaries Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Rory Calhoun, Troy Donahue and the beautiful young actress Wagner would marry twice, Natalie Wood.
"I got some very good breaks with Fox," he recalls, starting with a two-scene part as a shell-shocked veteran opposite Susan Hayward in 1952's .
A big part of Wagner's popular appeal was his dashing appearance and unmistakable charisma, which proved to be catnip to the ladies.
For the purpose of generating publicity, he was sent out by the studio on many fake dates with beautiful rising starlets like Debra Paget and Lori Nelson, but unbeknownst to almost anyone at the time, he was actually dating Barbara Stanwyck, his co-star in 1953's who was more than twice his age, for four years.
"She gave me a lot of confidence," he says, noting that she also taught him to deepen his voice, by which he is now instantly identifiable.
At the same time, the actor was becoming a hot commodity in town: He was handpicked by Spencer Tracy to be Tracy's co-star in 1954's (one of the few bad guys he played).Then, in 1956, Wagner was paired on a studio-arranged date with Wood — she was celebrating her 18th birthday that night — and both were smitten.Watch out for that, no no." GP: So, you are a worrier? I am worried about him falling over and hitting his head on the corner of a table or running into something. I talk to him in quick, fast sentences to make him laugh. Does that image of a grandfather play any role in your relationship with your grandson? My father didn't experience a lot of demonstrative feelings. GP: You've had a long and varied Hollywood career. GP: Is it hard to find good experiences like that these days? Just to say you worked hard doesn't mean anything.I don't think my grandfather put his arms around my father and hugged him. Which movie or television series of yours would you like your grandson to watch first? What's the biggest obstacle in Hollywood today? You can't say to someone, "Just work hard and you'll be there." You've gotta have the intensity and the compassion that go with it. For him to be a person that takes life in and shakes it a little bit would be wonderful.I am trying to look at this young, wonderful boy and react to him as honestly as possibly. RW: I think its very important now to try to maintain a kind of individuality which is hard to do because you have so many people telling you what to do. Just don't go and punch the clock and work hard all day. See our interviews with other celebrity grandparents: Ed Asner, Tony Danza, Cokie Roberts, and Diahann Carroll.GP: Some women might have raised an eyebrow if their husband said he was going to write a book with many pages devoted to his past loves.