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Robert Wagner Reflects on Losing Natalie Wood in His New Book: ‘When She Died I Thought My Life Was Over’

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He’s wooed — and worked with — some of the biggest actresses of his time, including Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and his one-time wife, Natalie Wood. And now Robert Wagner has written a memoir, titled I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood’s Legendary Actresses, as a tribute to some of his favorite screen stars.

“I had this gift of meeting wonderful women and working with a lot of them and it was amazing,” says the 86-year-old actor. “They made an imprint on me and on all of our lives.”

Perhaps no one made more of a mark than Wood, whom he married, divorced and then married again. Famously complex, she found fulfillment in becoming a mom.

“Natalie was swept away by motherhood,” he writes. “It was a total home run for her. She was devoted to our girls.” 

(Wagner and Wood raised three daughters: Katie, his daughter with his second wife, Marion Marshall; Courtney, his daughter with Wood; and Natasha Gregson Wagner, Wood’s daughter with her second husband Richard Gregson.) 

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After Wood died in a drowning accident on Nov. 29, 1981, off of Catalina Island, he reveals it was difficult to function.

“When Natalie died, I thought my life was over,” he writes. “Luckily I had the help of a great many people who loved her and who loved me as well.”

Looking back, he now says, “I thought I would never get up, you know? My children helped me heal. And my friends were so supportive. And slowly I was able to get up. I got on my feet but it was very, very difficult and a sad time.”

Wagner also recalls his early days in Hollywood when he had a one-night stand with Joan Crawford. (In his earlier memoir, Pieces of My Heart, he recounted how she invited him over for a swimming date and appeared completely naked in the pool!)

“She was a larger than life lady, especially to me,” he recalls. “Having seen her on the screen as a kid and then meeting her, she was a very powerful women to be able to maintain her career. She had to give up a lot.” 

He also reminisces about Katie Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Barbara Stanwyck, with whom he had a brief affair when he was 22 and she was 45.

“She was a marvelous lady and one of the greatest things that could have ever happened to me as a young man. She was everything you’d want in a woman.” As for their two-decade age difference, he says, “We had to keep the age difference a secret. That was not accepted at that period of time. Absolutely not. Today, it wouldn’t even been thought of. Thank God.”

In the early days of Marilyn Monroe’s career, he did two early screen tests with the actress when they were “all young kids starting out together.”

“She worked very hard and she wanted to be famous,” he says. But the fame eventually grew to be too much.

“She was put upon by everybody,” he says. “She couldn’t go anywhere … She was a very special person and taken far too young.”

As for Elizabeth Taylor (whom he also briefly dated), he admired how she used her fame to speak out about the AIDs crisis when no one else was talking about it.

“A lot of people told her not to, but she did a lot,” he recalls. “More than people know.”

And he writes movingly about Audrey Hepburn, whom he writes, was much more than a stylish figure in a little black dress, as she is often portrayed.

“Audrey had a sense of sadness, which I believe was caused by her sensitivity to life and to other people,” he writes of the actress who was deeply affected by her early years in Holland when it was under siege in World War II. She nearly starved to death.

“Audrey was confronted with the impermanence and instability of the world and that knowledge accompanied her everywhere she went, even as she tried to compensate for some of that insufficiency,” writes Wagner. “Both of her marriages failed through no fault of her own. That affected her deeply, until she found great happiness with Rob Wolders later in her life.”

And now he admits, he also had a bit of a crush on her.

“Well, why should I be any different than from everybody that ever worked with her?” concludes Wagner. “Why should I be any different from the rest of the world?”