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RODERICK MANN

Robert Wagner: Reluctant Star In A Very Busy Universe

July 05, 1986|RODERICK MANN

"I don't want to be a mogul," said Robert Wagner. "That's not the idea at all."

Well, maybe not, but right now his slate of projects is interesting enough to elicit grudging grunts of envy from many a true mogul hunched over his spinach salad.

Sitting in the sunlit garden of his Pacific Palisades home, Wagner seemed equally pleased and perturbed by the idea. He enjoys putting together projects under his R.J. Productions banner. He doesn't necessarily want to be in them. But the trouble with having a high TVQ (viewer popularity) is that the networks insist he also star.

Wagner, whose long run of hit TV series like "Switch," "It Takes a Thief" and "Hart to Hart" gave him a wider worldwide audience than any superstar, has just completed work on a project he co-produced--"There Must Be a Pony," the James Kirkwood story that Joe Sargent directed from a Mart Crowley script.

His co-star in this venture is Elizabeth Taylor whose presence off-screen and on has been more evident since she paid a visit to the Betty Ford Clinic.

In "There Must Be a Pony," Taylor plays an actress making a comeback after a nervous breakdown. Wagner plays a man with a dubious past who becomes her lover.

"Elizabeth was the one person I always wanted to play the role," said Wagner. "And she was great. Totally professional, always on time."

Then, in two weeks' time, he begins work--bearded--on another project, "Kind of a Lady," which marks Audrey Hepburn's first time on TV. This ABC-TV romantic melodrama, which he describes as "rather like 'Charade,' " will be filmed in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Arizona, with Roger Young directing from a Sally Robinson script.

Not bad so far, you'll agree.

But Wagner has four other projects moving up to the about-to-go position. First is a two-hour "Hart to Hart" movie that will reunite him with Stefanie Powers.

Written by George Axelrod, this was largely prompted by the avalanche of angry letters that followed the cancellation two years ago of the popular series.

Then Wagner plans to make a movie version of the classic Calvin Tomkins book "Living Well Is the Best Revenge"--the story of Gerald and Sara Murphy, whose circle of friends in the '20s included F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso, Leger, Cole Porter and Hemingway. The Murphys, who held court at the Villa America in the south of France, were the original inspiration for Dick and Nicole Diver in "Tender is the Night."

Wagner is also far advanced on "The Samantha Smith Story"--about the New England teen-ager who was invited to tour the U.S.S.R. after writing a letter to the Kremlin. The 13-year-old was working with Wagner on his series "Lime Street" when she died with her father in a plane crash.

Finally, Wagner plans to film Gerald Brown's thriller "Hazard." That will be next year.

"My hope eventually is to put together projects that I'm not in," he said optimistically. "But it isn't easy."

So he will be in all of the above?

"Yes," he said.

So there you are. If he doesn't return your phone call, now you know why. He's busy, busy, busy.

THE REAL THING: Vanessa Redgrave, not everybody's favorite character, but an actress of true talent, is starring on the London stage in "Antony and Cleopatra."

Most actresses, playing the Cleopatra role, use a piece of black rubber tubing as the asp. Not Redgrave. She is using a live slow worm. It exists on a diet of snails.

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