Film and television star Robert Wagner talks about being grateful for a career that spanned seven decades
Robert Wagner, the star of countless films and TV shows who has shared the screen with legendary leading ladies, will be honored with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in recognition of his long, illustrious career at a gala to benefit the Gold Coast Arts Center and Gold Coast International Film Festival right here in Great Neck on Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Speaking to Robert Wagner by phone from his Colorado home, where he poetically described the unseasonably bright white snow against the yellow trees, he expressed how excited he is to be honored by the Gold Coast Arts Center.
Great Neck Record: How did you become familiar with the Gold Coast Arts Center?
Robert Wagner: I met Regina [Keller Gil, Gold Coast Arts Center founder and executive director] through Burton Moss, who the award is named for—and it was created just last year to honor Rita Hayworth.
GNR: How do you feel being honored by the Gold Coast Arts Center?
RW: I am quite honored to be the second honoree. The gala sounds like it’s going to be wonderful, and it helps so many people. The funds are distributed to so many worthwhile charities.
GNR: How have the arts impacted your life?
RW: I’ve been very fortunate to have had the career that I have had. I’ve been in the business for 70 years. It’s something that I always wanted to do. At 18, I had the choice of going to college or being under contract to 20th Century Fox. That was my education—it was great.
GNR: How did you discover that you wanted to spend your life acting?
RW: From the first time I saw my first movie, I was enchanted and wanted to make movies my career. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, and have had a great run.
GNR: What other line of work do you imagine you could have possibly worked in if you hadn’t found success as an actor?
RW: I might have been interested in marine biology, and I had a ranch and raised quarter horses, so I maybe would have gone into farming. I really enjoyed it.
GNR: How did you get your big break?
RW: I was just the honoree at an event where they showed Broken Lance (1954), directed by Edward Dmytryk with Spencer Tracy. They were wonderful to me, and it opened up a tremendous energy to my career. An earlier film, With a Song in My Heart (1952) with Susan Hayward, was a break; people walked out of theater asking who that was. It was tremendous to be at Fox with all of these people taking care of me. It was a wonderful time in my life.
GNR: When did you know that you were correct to follow your passion?
RW: I felt so fortunate—and still do. I say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ every day. Professionally, it was something I always wanted to do. I loved it—and I still do.
GNR: What performance are you most proud of?
RW: They all varied so much. I loved working with Blake Edwards in The Pink Panther (1964) and I loved Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976) with Natalie [Wood], my late wife.
GNR: What advice would you give someone hoping to launch an acting career?
RW: Work on your self confidence. Rejection is very difficult and there’s a lot of it in this business. Sometimes you’re too tall for a role, sometimes you’re too small.
GNR: Are you looking forward to the gala?
RW: I’m very excited for the evening. I’m really looking forward to it. My youngest daughter, Courtney, will be there. I’m very honored to be the honoree. It’s a wonderful award and everyone’s been so nice. I think it will be quite an evening.
Learn more about the actor during an intimate chat at the gala. To purchase a ticket, visit www.goldcoastartscenter.org or call 516-829-2570.