Robert Wagner: I wouldn't want to be a young actor today

  • Robert Wagner at the Palm Springs Racquet Club, 1956

    Robert Wagner at the Palm Springs Racquet Club, 1956  (Copyright © Everett Collection / Everett Collection)

  • Robert Wagner dances  at a party, ca. 1955

    Robert Wagner dances at a party, ca. 1955  (Copyright © Everett Collection / Everett Collection)

In Robert Wagner's new book, 'You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood's Golden Age,' the 84-year-old actor recalls the glamorous years in Hollywood from the 1940s and 50s. It's a fascinating look back at the homes, restaurants and privileged life the Hollywood elite enjoyed during their heyday. The screen legend spoke to FOX411 about the book, and how Hollywood has changed.

FOX411: How did this book come about?

Robert Wagner: I work with a lot of young people who have asked me about what it was like in the golden era, what the contract system was like. I start to tell them about it and they're fascinated. I had written another book with Scott Eyman and I started to talk to Scott about it and we started to look at it and none of it's there anymore, it's all gone. So I wanted to put it down because it was the best time of my life and I thought, 'Let's try to put this all together.' Everything has changed so drastically and things to change in life, we all know that. It's not a book of grievances of any kind. It's a book of what it was like then and the differences, some of which are good, some not so good. 

FOX411: What's not so good?

Wagner: Movies don't address themselves to content so much anymore. They address themselves to marketing. They're anxious for the weekend grosses and the quarterly earnings. In that era they were interested in content. They would make a picture and maybe it would break even in five years. They had a different set of values going on. Now they're trying to recoup the money quickly and get to the next one. I think that at the time the families owned the studios, they had a true passion for it, and a caring, and their names were on the screen, and they felt very passionately about what they did, and I think that was reflected in their movies.

I think it's very difficult of young actors today. When I started Columbia had maybe 25 young people under contract. Warner's maybe had 50, Metro had 50. Fox had 40. There were all of these young actors in town trying desperately to get into the movies, trying to get under contract and have a studio groom them and put them in movies. Today for a young actor it's difficult. They have to find a manager or somebody who's going to be able to make a movie and that's difficult to do because of the financing, and taking a chance on a new actor, and then following that up with another actor. It's very, very difficult for these young actors today.

FOX411: It seems like it was easier to get away with bad behavior.

Wagner: Yes, you were protected by people in the studio. You were not bombarded by paparazzi and people running after you, trying to get you in a compromising position, and if they did, sometimes it could be taken care of, sometimes it couldn't. It wasn't the intensity that it was now. You go outside with your kids and they're all over you. It's very difficult to go to the supermarket. When I was starting off I could go shopping, I could to to a supermarket, get my own clothes. I think it's very difficult for stars of today to do that.

FOX411: You're not a fan of reality stars.

Wagner: Yeah I'm rather a traditionalist. I think economically it's very good for everyone who is involved with it. As far as the overall content, I don't react to that very positively. 

FOX411: It seems like old Hollywood really knew how to throw a party!

Wagner: They were intimate. They weren't an event. I think the parties now are pretty much an event with a lot of lights and smoke. That didn't exist. They had dinner parties, they had an orchestra, people danced and there wasn't 300 people at a time. It was maybe 100 and everybody knew each other. It was just an elegant and very enriching time.

FOX411: You were there under the contract system.

Wagner: I was there for 12 years. They took me and groomed me into a star but everything changed. The people I was involved with, they all left. Daryl (Zanuck) went to Europe, all of the studios broke up. I felt that I wanted to do a different kind of work so I went to Europe.

FOX411: You write that for a while money was tight.

Wagner: It's easy to happen. It happened a couple of times. In the beginning of the 60s I was on the bottom and then I came back to the States. I didn't have a lot of offers. I had an overhead.

FOX411: Were you scared?

Wagner: No, not particularly because I thought I could go on the road, go into the theater. I had a name and that name was very important. It was given to me by Fox.

FOX411: You were very handsome!

Wagner: I was a bobby sox idol along with Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis. We were the three guys. We caught an era.

FOX411: What did you think of Rock?

Wagner: I thought he was a very strong leading man and he had strong leading ladies. I think he was able to pull it off in a very stylish way.

FOX411: You've had a long career!

Wagner: 65 years. I was just on "NCIS" last week. What a career. I mean come on! It's great and I have several offers for other things. It's been a fantastic career for me and I'm very grateful because it's something I always wanted to do, and that's a break, when you can do what you want and have it be successful for sure.

FOX411: What was "Heart to Heart" so beloved?

Wagner: I think the chemistry between Stefanie and I and I think the writing was very good. I think the fact that it was a love story and we were committed to each other. They wanted us to have kitchen sink drama, her involved with another man, me involved with another lady and we never, ever did that. We would never let that interfere with us. We were two people who cared for each other, loved each other, respected each other, and enjoyed life.