Robert Wagner


  1. Jeffrey Hunter, Fourteen Hours, 1950.   Or, The Man on the Ledge  when first Robert Evans, then RJ  was set for Danny when head Fox Darryl Zanuck dropped him in favour of Hunter. Playing more or less extras were such future stars as Richard Beymer, John Cassavetes, Ossie Davis, Brian Keith, Janice Rule… and Grace Kelly.  Gary Cooper saw her on the lot, booked her for his in High Noon and the rest is…
  2. James Dean, Rebel Without A Cause, 1955.      Clark Gable’s ex-caddy was Warners’ oldest choice for Jim Stark at 25. And far too anyone-for-tennis for director Nicholas Ray. Wagner married Dean’s co-star (and old man Ray’s lover) Natalie Wood. Twice.
  3. Jeffrey Hunter,The Proud Ones, 1955.  Apart from using CinemaScope, Fox had little idea what to do with Thad, assistant to Marshal Robert Ryan who had gunned down the kid’s “no-good gun slinger” father. Choices ranged from Guy Madison, 33 (moved to Hilda Crane), Robert Stack and Jeffrey Hunter, 34, to Robert Wagner, 25   Hunter was 29.
  4. Elvis Presely, Love Me Tender, 1956.    The  black-white B Western, with Richard Egan, William Campbell, James Drury and and RJ (Jeffrey Hunter or Cameron Mitchell)  as Western siblings, was transformed when Hall Wallis at Paramount agreed (for a hefty fee) that Fox could take the first box-office gamble on his new contract star – as the youngest brother, whose almost blond hair was suddenly dyed pitch black for the tacked on finale of, what else, but the new Love  Me Tender title song.  (Try singing The Reno Brothers!).    Losing one role to Dean and the next to Elvis was no way to start a career. However, RJ was still working more than 50 years later – 132 screen roles in 58 years.
  5. Cornel Wilde, Omar Khayyam, 1956.      In the Persian frame for the poet  Khayyam – and not Khaiyyam as in a 1945 film, or Khayham for a 1924 short  were Wagner  (too young),  Rossano Brazzi, John Forsythe and John Neville.
  6. Pat Boone, Bernardine, 1956.         RJ was Beau until Fox preferred making it Boone’s debut…. and, in her first movie since The Young in Heart, in 1937, Janet Gaynor’s finale.
  7. Van Johnson, Beyond This Place (US: Web of Evidence), 1958.Major changes – and none for the better – as the initial leads, Diana  Dors and Hollywood’s Robert Wagner, were superceded by Vera Miles and… Van Johnson at 42, replacing Wagner, who was the role’s actual age –  28.
  8. Troy Donahue, Parrish, 1959.  The first director, Joshua Logan, wanted  Vivien Leigh, and Clark Gable as trhe parents  of the titular teen – to be Warren Beatty falling for Jane Fonda.  When he couldn’t get any of them, he passed the gig to Delmer Daves, who went back to his A Summer Place find, Troy Donahue, chasing  Connie Stevens…  instead of Wagner opposite future wife, Natalie Wood.
  9. Steve Forrest, Flaming Star, 1959.   The Western’s half-brothers switched from Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra (impossible for such bitter foes) to Elvis Presley and…  Well, it was going to be Robert Wagner.  “But, explained RJ, “nobody ever paid attention to any other man in an Elvis Presley picture – Colonel Tom Parker made sure of that.”  , Elvis was proud of his own Cherokee roots from his maternal great-great-great grandmother Morning Dove White – and shared them with his GI Blues character. (Dolores Del Rio played Elvis’ mother; she had been Wagner’s also Indian Ma in Broken Lance, 1953.
  10. Robert Conrad, Hawaiian Eye, TV, 1959-1963.       Being more busy (and interested) in movies, RJ passed on the half-Polynesian Thomas Jefferson Lopaka… and suggested his well tanned pal, Conrad. That’s what friends are for.   RJ, or course, eventually went the series route – with Stefanie Powers – in Hart to Hart, 1979-1984, one of many  (The Love Boa, Vega$, Fantasy Island, etc) produced by Rhona 2, the  company formed by RJ and the missus, Natalie Wood. 

  11. Stuart Whitman, The Comancheros, 1961.     Paul Wellman wrote his 1952  Western novel for Cary Grant to eventually play gambling; man Paul Regret – the star role until Gary Cooper, then John Wayne clambered aboard nine years later. He was The Boss, beefing up Big Jake Cutter (leading to   Big Jake McCandles ten years later) and finding roles for his kids, Aissa and Patrick.   By which time Grant was too old (Wayne was too old!!) and certainly would never serve under Duke.  And, yes, I have to say it (better than me singing it)…  Regrets, I have a few, too few not to mention… Steve Forrest, James Garner, John Gavin, Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Tom Tyron, Robert Wagner, Cornel Wilde and ultimately, Stuart Whitman.  Marlon Brando had been keen on the support role of  an Indian chief called Graile.
  12. Tony Curtis, The Great Race, 1964.       The Great Leslie nearly wasn’t the fourth movie role Curtis played for Blake Edwards. After Charlton Heston rejected it to be Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ectasy, the director wanted a younger daredevil hero: Wagner or John Derek. Head brother Jack Warner did not. It became, said Curtis. a matter of TC or no $$.
  13. James Fox, King Rat, 1964.  Blacklisted Hollywood writer Carl Foreman (High Noon) decided to film James Cavell’s tough book about his three years as a WWII prisoner of the Japanese. With the finest UK actors:  new guys Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole, veterans Trevor Howard, John Mills.  He then felt he had no more to say about war after The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Guns of Navarone and The Victors. UK writer-director Bryan Forbes made it his Hollywood debut, bravely side-stepping Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Frank Sinatra for the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf find, George Segal – as the titular wheeler-dealer-fixer-conniver who all but ends up running the jungle camp.
  14. Max von Sydow, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965.      RJ as JC? Yes, when it was a Fox project.  And he was under contract. And, therefore, cheap.
  15. Dean Jones, Any Wednesday, 1966.       At one time, it seemed set for RJ and his pal, Frank Sinatra – vying for Jane Fonda.
  16. John Gavin, Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1966.   While shooting Pedro Páramo in Mexico, Gavin heard his old studio, Universal, was into a pricey Julie Andrews musical. And he fought hard to be her co-star as Mary Tyler Moore’s boyfriend. They would have  been greater with RJ’s polish  in the place of the plywood Gavin, dubbed The Stiff by Hitchcock during Psycho.
  17. Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate, 1967. 
    “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”  Hoffman kept refusing to test because he felt insulted – he was Jewish, not a WASP.  So was director Mike Nichols, who convinced him with his celebrated zinger. “Well, maybe Benjamin ls Jewish inside.  Robert Redford insisted he wasn’t right and Nichols agreed. “The public would never believe Redford as a loser with girls.”   Idem for Warren Beatty, George Hamilton and Robert Wagner…  Next? Keir Dullea, Charles Grodin (called up for  Nichols in 1969’s Catch 22, 1969), Albert Finney, Harrison Ford, Steve McQueen (!),  David Lynch regular Jack Nance, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Perkins (better as Chaplain Tappman in Catch 22),  Burt Ward (Batman’s Robin but Fox TV wouldn’t let him go), Gene Wilder and the inevitable unknown, Lee Stanley, who went on to be a  docu director. Oh, and Hoffman’s room-mate, Robert Duvall. (Gene Hackman also shared their digs and he was fired from Mr Robinson!). Producer Lawrence Turman said they saw a million kids… Nichols used as many as he could. Mike Farrell (TV’s M*A*S*H) and Kevin Tighe won screen debuts. Richard Dreyfuss, for example, got an actual line – “Shall I get the cops? I’ll get the cops” –   much better than walk-ons for  Brian Avery (in TV until 2018) and Donald F Glut (TV’s Frankenstein  monster in the 50s).  Hoffman got $17,000 and was then jobless and back on welfare for months. Until catching the  Midnight Cowboy bus.

  18. John Cassavetes, Rosemary’s Baby, 1968.     A surprising early choice by director Roman Polanski for his Hollywood debut was the only Hollywood guy that top showbiz lawyer Greg Bautzer knew ”who was a star without being in a movie.”
  19. Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid1969.
  20. Robert Redford, The Sting, 1973.     Both Warren Beatty and Wagner passed on Johnny Hooker,  partnering  Paul Newman in a con operation stinging poor Robert Shaw. This led to  Redford’s one and only Best Actor Oscar nomianation.. And he didn’t bother to see the big hit until 2004.

  21. Donald Sutherlandf Don’t Look Now, 1973.  Originally, real-marrieds Wagner and Natalie Wood, were suggested for Daphne Du Maurier’s couple grieving over the death of their young daughter.  Being overly Hollywood, they probably would have refused the love scene made famous (infamous, if you’re  the Irish censor who slashed  it out!)  by Sutherland and Julie Christie. Then again, it was a last minute idea from Roeg to help make the testy couple more likeable..
  22. Christopher Reeve, Superman, 1977.
  23. Dylan McDermott, Miracle on 34th Street, 1994.  John Payne, first Hollywood star interested in making an 007 franchise (in 1955!), was also instrumental in making the 1946 Miracle classic. Co-star Maureen O’Hara said he tried for years to make a sequel. Fox planned a 1977 re-hash for Robert Wagner, his wife Natalie Wood and her seven-year-old daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner – as the little girl Natalie had originally played at eight. Took another 25 years for the Fox re-hash to happen. With Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins and seven-year-old Mara Wilson.
  24. Victor Garber, Charlie’s Angels, TV, 2011.      RJ was cast as Charlie. Or, rather, as Charlie’s voice on the phone. ”Hello, Angels!” Well, his and his wife Natalie Wood’s company, Rhona 2, co-owned the show!  Garber was a proper Charlie for agreeing to such crap. IGN’s critic, Matt Fowler,called itthe worst pilot of the season, due tobad acting and writing and, anyway, he “didn’t believe that these ladies could change a flat tyre, much less take down a notorious human trafficker.”  Goodbye, angels…!


 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  24