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Book Talk: Actor Robert Wagner on his long career in Hollywood

Actor Robert Wagner arrives at the world premiere of the 40th anniversary restoration of the film "Cabaret" during the opening night gala of
Actor Robert Wagner arrives at the world premiere of the 40th anniversary restoration of the film "Cabaret" during the opening night gala of

By Billy Cheung

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six years after releasing his best-selling autobiography, veteran actor Robert Wagner recalls his early years and favorite haunts in Hollywood in a new memoir, "You Must Remember This."

The book, written with Scott Eyman, chronicles not only Wagner's favorite places as he gained fame as a television and film actor but also the historical development of Hollywood and greater Los Angeles prior to becoming a movie-star destination.

Known for his boyish good looks and charm, Wagner, 84, was nominated for four Golden Globe awards for the "Hart to Hart" TV series that ran from 1979 to 1984. He also appeared in a long list of films from the early 1950s through the "Austin Powers" movies into 2002.

He is married to actress Jill St John. Wagner's former wife, "West Side Story" actress Natalie Wood, drowned in 1981 at the age of 43. Wagner recounted the events leading to her death in his autobiography "Pieces of My Heart: A Life."

He spoke to Reuters about the motivation and timing of his latest book and the contrasts between modern and the "Golden Age" of movie making.

Q: How did you choose the title "You Must Remember This"?

A: "You Must Remember This" is a lyric from the song "As Times Goes By" written by Herman Hupfeld in the 1930s. The song was made famous in (the film) "Casablanca."

Q: What prompted you to write the book?

A: My co-author, Scott Eyman, is so knowledgeable about Hollywood and he knows the background. He has written books about Louis B. Meyer, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford and Ernst Lubitsch. He loves the movies. He just finished a book on John Wayne.

We started to talk about this era of Hollywood and do the research. I was around a lot of it but some of the book's material was way before my time. But I stepped on the same places as all these famous people did, and I got a piece of the last of the golden era of Hollywood. I was also there when it all dissolved.

I work with a lot of people who are younger than me, and they ask me about what it was like - the contract system and studios. I tell them about it, and they are so interested about these subjects. I then thought this could be an interesting book to write and talked to Scott about it. The effort took about two to three years to complete.

Q: Given your long career in Hollywood with movies and television shows, how did you select the material for the book?

A: We loved writing the book, and it was hard for us to let it go because there were other areas that we had worked on and developed, but we hit on the high spots.

It is just a different time. There are lot of things that were positive about that era and some elements that were not so popular. This is not a book about grievance. It's just my take on what I saw, on what I thought was a thrilling time.

I turned around one day and it was gone, and that was not such a long time ago.

Q: Who is your audience for this book?

A: This book is about the best time of my life. It was really great. I was a kid starting off at 18 years old and was so excited. My hope is that people who read it will experience the same thrill that I did when I was coming up.

Q: How is the approach to making movies today different relative to classic Hollywood?

A: The producers and studio executives had a passion for movies. They cared for them and gambled and took great risks. Maybe the picture would not make that money at that moment, but over a period of time, it would return at least its cost.

They did not have so much pressure for the quarterly earnings. If a picture nowadays grosses a tremendous amount of money, it does not really move the company's stock price. These studios are subsidiaries of much larger companies.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Cynthia Osterman)

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