Originally posted Thursday, November 20, 2008
The autobiography of a well-grounded man who never lost his awe of life or the movies. He also was humble enough to allow friends to help him in his darkest hours. A man whose gentility reminds one of an earlier time. This is the story of "Pieces of My Heart: a Life" told by Robert J. Wagner. The story is candidly told with no Hollywood excess overpowering the theme. That is not to say there is nothing Hollywood about the book, how could there not be? In fact, there are a lot of interesting insights into a number of legendary actors. What R.J., as he was known, relives in this book is very much a living history of movie acting from the 1950s to the present. Many of his best friends through the years were from the earlier days, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy... He has the determination, the talent, the luck and the willingness to work hard, and even more, puts the movie rather than himself first; ego has no place in his agenda. His work ethic is admirable and his goal is to "always make it fresh."
He was fortunate to have grown up in California and as a boy worked at the Bel-Aire Stables. On his breaks he was able to watch the golfers at the Bel-Aire Country Club, where his father was a member. This is where he first saw some of his greatest movie heroes.
This is a deeply personal story, and he bares his all for us, and, I personally think, for his children. This is the first time he bares his soul in his memories and details of his two marriages to Natalie Wood. This book is full of love for friends, personal relationships, his children, and the profession he has chosen. This story is told not by a star but by a real person. I think he says it all when he writes "I think my ability to sustain a long career has been at least partially a result of my ability to sustain long relationships, sometimes through succeeding generations." I highly recommend this book, not just for movie enthusiasts, but for the joyous embracement of life, and the sharing of his sorrows and overcoming them.