Robert Wagner on Life, Career and Natalie

With five decades as an actor under his belt, Robert Wagner has a lot of stories to tell, and in his new memoir, "Pieces of My Heart," he opens up about his career and personal life.

The star of such films like "Kiss Before Dying," "The Longest Day" and "The Pink Panther," Wagner talks about about the sudden death of his life's love, actress Natalie Wood.

Read an excerpt of "Pieces of My Heart" below and check out more books featured on "Good Morning America" by checking out our library.

Chapter Five

Each of the major studios was like a royal court that was in competition with the other royal courts. Each studio had a social lion who maintained a prestigious individual salon, and it wasn't necessarily the studio head. Then there were the salons that owed no special allegiance to any studio, but cherry-picked from all the elites, such as the one maintained by Bill and Edie Goetz.

At Fox, the elite circle was presided over by Clifton Webb. I worked with Clifton on "Stars and Stripes Forever," a biopic about John Philip Sousa, then "Titanic," and I was invited into his group. Clifton's friends included people like Noel Coward and Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder's partner, who never got much credit from anyone, especially Billy. Charlie was a kind, well-educated, very bright gay man who was fairly deep in the closet.

Clifton lived with his mother Mabelle, who was a total character, and ruled the roost. The father had left very young, and was out of the picture, if he'd ever been in it. Mabelle had opened a dance school in Indianapolis, and she and Clifton gave dancing lessons together. He teamed up with Bonnie Glass and formed a very successful duo that followed in the footsteps of Vernon and Irene Castle. I never saw Clifton dance on the stage, but people who did told me he was a magnificent talent, the equivalent of Astaire but with a fey manner that he managed to get away with. Always high style: white tie and tails. Certainly, he had a major career, starring in shows like Sunny and Irving Berlin's "As Thousands Cheer."

Clifton and Mabelle were completely devoted to each other; Clifton would dance with her at parties. She was outrageous, and would order Clifton around. "We are going to sit here," she would announce, "and then we are going to move over there." Mabelle was always at the head of the table, and Clifton was very respectful of her, although he had his eccentricities as well: he had an African grey parrot he would wrap in a napkin and put in a brandy snifter at the dinner table.

It was as if they were competing to see who could be the most like Auntie Mame. They both had a larger-than-life quality, and the bond between them was very thick. Sometimes too thick. One time Noel Coward called Clifton, and Clifton was going on and on about Mabelle, as he tended to do. And Noel said, "Dear boy, if you want to talk about her, do it on your nickel."

Clifton was gay, of course, but he never made a pass at me, not that he would have. I never saw Clifton with a man; I never knew of Clifton being with a man, or having a lover.

Page
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison attend the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Inaugural Gala presented by Salvatore Ferragamo at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 17, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Stefanie Keenan/Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts/Getty Images for Wallis Annenber
PHOTO: Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers the keynote address at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center in this June 6, 2011, file photo.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images