Natalie Wood and Bob Wagner by Tony Piazza
Whenever the media revisits the death of Natalie Wood in 1981 I cannot help but reflect back to a time when I worked with Bob Wagner and saw Natalie for the first time. Bob Wagner was in two TV crime series pilots filmed in San Francisco. The first was entitled “The Cable Car Murder” shot in 1971 starring Robert Hooks and Jeremy Slate. In this production Hooks and Slate portrayed characters similar to the Karl Malden– Michael Douglas detectives Quinn Martin featured later in “The Streets of San Francisco”. The Cable Car Murder never made it as a series, but eventually was shown on CBS as a two hour movie re-titled, “Cross Current.” Bob Wagner unlike the rest of the cast on that show was very private, and did not seem anxious to become involved with anything outside of filming. My parents were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary, and as it happened that particular day my father had to work on the show. The production crew put on a surprise party for him and my mom during lunch in which the star Robert Hooks and cast made a presentation of a cake and gift (see photograph). Everyone, but Wagner was there to celebrate the occasion and express their good wills.
Actor Robert Hooks presenting my parents with a gift.
On the pilot for “The Streets of San Francisco” a year later, I talked with Bob on the steps of the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. He was interesting to talk to, but in my opinion I found him preoccupied and uncomfortable with the public. There were two actors that I had been around who’d seemed to shy away from their fans; Glenn Ford (who would disappear in his dressing room the minute the cameras stopped rolling) and Robert Vaughn (Bullitt & Towering Inferno). Tony Curtis had a fear of crowds, but he was still accessible to his fans. Returning to Bob, in one scene he is driving a “movie” car, which he raced into the police headquarters’ parking lot well above the speed limit. My father flagged him down during the scene and told him to “take it a little slower”. I could tell that Bob didn’t like it, but since my dad carried a gun (LOL) he was wise not to argue!
I got to see Natalie Wood on that same pilot. She was visiting her husband at one of our locations, the Sea Cliff neighborhood during a freezing S.F. evening. She was wearing a long gray coat and hood lined in fur. She was very beautiful indeed, with her long shiny brown hair, peaches and cream complexion, and arresting dark eyes. And I particularly remember her voice- it was lilting and full of life- musical, with a rhythm that was uniquely her own. It still touches me to this day. I was impressed by her and the interest and kindness she showed others. I mourn her loss.
There is certain sadness I feel when I view “Miracle on 34th Street” and see her sweet innocent face.
I won’t offer my opinion regarding the drowning. In truth I have no special insights, or drawn any certain conclusions. But I will say that Hollywood and its appearance of glamour is really only “smoke and mirrors.” You realize that working on a regular basis with these celebrities. In reality they are (as people, physically and mentally) no different than you and I, except that they are thrust into a unique situation where their every move is under constant microscopic examination. And that combined with the extravagant lifestyles expected of them and the temptations brought on by too much money adds up to a recipe ripe for disaster like that suffered by the Wagner’s. It really makes you thank your lucky stars when your station in life is as just plain folk!
As an aside: Natalie Wood had a fear of water. A short feature on the Turner Classic Movie channel narrated by Robert Redford, a former co-star in two of her films relates this. They were working on the feature “Inside Daisy Clover” (1966), when during a scene near a swimming pool he decides to improvise and jump into the water dragging Natalie along with him. She was paralyzed with fear, and it was only then that he learned of her phobia. Nevertheless, the good sport that she was, she was okay with his actions and they remained friends throughout her life.
Now, I’m not one to believe in premonitions, but Natalie’s fear does seem to leave the phenomena open for question.
Trivia: Natalie also appeared in the Redford film, “The Candidate” (1972) as herself. My father could also be seen in that film as a police officer behind Redford in a crowded hall at the convention center (Cow Palace, Daly City, CA).
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His second novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was next released early 2012, and in July of this year, his latest Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels” was published and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels is now available!
Find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Also available for $2.99 on Kindle.