NEW YORK (Reuters) - Actor Robert Wagner says he was so distraught over the break-up of his first marriage to actress Natalie Wood that he pondered suicide and would sit with a gun outside the home of her lover, Warren Beatty, intent on killing him.
“Pieces of My Heart,” Wagner’s autobiography released this week, reveals details of his career and life, including the split with Wood, their decision to remarry a decade later and her drowning death in 1981.
“I was pretty young, and I don’t think I could have ever gone through with that act, but I was pretty frustrated and upset,” Wagner, 78, told Reuters in an interview.
Beatty, who met Wood on the set of “Splendor in the Grass,” in 1961 “was pretty smooth, very attractive. He was the man,” Wagner said.
Wagner’s family moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s and he ran in Hollywood circles as a child. Fred Astaire would pick him up at school because Wagner was friendly with the legendary dancer’s stepson. He caddied for Clark Gable and dated the daughter of actress Gloria Swanson.
Over time, Wagner was put under contract at 20th Century Fox. When Barbara Stanwyck, then 45, and Wagner, 22, met on the set of “Titanic,” they began a discreet, four-year relationship. Wagner said she was his first love.
“The greatest thing that she gave me was a sense of self esteem. That she thought the way she did about me and took the time with me meant everything in the world,” Wagner said.
Wagner married Wood in 1957. When they divorced, his career got a boost with a role in the hit “The Pink Panther.” He moved to television with “It Takes A Thief” and went on to star in the series “Switch” and “Hart to Hart.”
Wagner and Wood married others in the 1960s, but the flame between them never died, and they remarried in 1972.
Wagner was left “absolutely paralyzed” in November 1981 when Wood’s body was found floating off Southern California’s Catalina Island. They had been staying on their boat with Christopher Walken, her co-star in the movie “Brainstorm.”
Speculation arose that Wood drowned trying to flee the boat while the men argued over her career. Walken thought Wood should work more, while Wagner felt that would threaten his domestic happiness.
“He may not have been off the mark,” Wagner said. “But I didn’t want him involved in setting anything off that might take her away from me.”
Wagner said he believes Wood accidentally fell overboard.
He continues to appear on television and played “Number Two” in the Austin Powers film series. He’s been married to actress Jill St. John for 18 years.
Editing by Patricia Zengerle