Robert Wagner turns 90 years old on Feb. 10, giving fans the perfect opportunity to look back at the acclaimed actor’s iconic career.
Born in 1930, Wagner got his start acting in various roles throughout the 1950s. He’s a rare Hollywood icon that’s managed to work consistently in both film and TV throughout his life, even getting acclaim in his later years for appearances on modern shows like “NCIS,” “Futurama” and “Hot in Cleveland.”
As the actor enters his ninth decade of life, now is a good time to take a look back at his long and storied career with a rundown of his five most memorable roles:
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” (1953)
‘Beneath The 12-Mile Reef’ marked Robert Wagner’s first leading role in a motion picture.
(LMPC via Getty Images)
Although this wasn’t considered his best movie, the role is memorable for Wagner fans because it marks the first time that he was billed as the lead of a movie after a slew of supporting parts. Although the critics didn’t necessarily love it, the movie was very popular and helped propel his career as a movie star.
The film sees him as a Greek American fisherman whose family is locked in a bitter and violent feud with another fishing family. The feud gets complicated when Wagner’s character falls in love with a woman from the other family.
In an interesting bit of film trivia, The New York Times notes in its review from 1953 that “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” was the third film to ever be shot in Cinemascope. As a result, people filled theaters to marvel at the “opalescent water that stretches from wall to wall across the front of the theatre within the frame of the panel screen.”
It would not be the last time that Wagner would find himself involved in innovative acting projects.
“A Kiss Before Dying” (1956)
Robert Wagner starred alongside Joanne Woodward in ‘A Kiss Before Dying,’ marking his place as an expert actor to play villains.
(George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
Based on the 1953 novel by Ira Levin of the same name, Wagner stars as a villainously ambitious young man who is trying to secure his part of a family’s mining fortune by wooing the patriarch’s daughters. He begins dating one only to kill her and make it look like a suicide. He then begins to date another before his entire evil plan unravels, resulting in his death.
The reason this is such a big deal for Wagner was that it marked his first critically successful leading role after struggling to break away from successful supporting parts in other films. The movie was a success, with an early review from Variety praising Wagner’s performance specifically. The film launched his career to new heights and is still considered a classic must-watch to this day.
It’s also responsible for helping Wagner solidify his place as one of the better actors to play villains of his generation.
“The Pink Panther” (1963)
Robert Wagner was injured by the chemical used to create suds in ‘The Pink Panther.’
(United Artists/Getty Images)
After years of playing dramatic bad guys, Wagner broke his own mold just a little bit by playing a bad guy in a comedy with a supporting role in “The Pink Panther.”
He plays the American nephew of English playboy Sir Charles Lytton (played by David Niven). Wagner’s character poses as a recent college graduate on his way to the Peace Corps to hide his true identity as a playboy who is drowning in gambling debt.
Although “The Pink Panther” doesn’t mark one of Wagner’s leading roles, given that his time in the film is relatively short, it had a massive cultural impact that eventually led him to reprise his role as George in the 1983 sequel, “Curse of the Pink Panther.”
A fun fact many Wagner fans may not know is that he was injured while filming the first movie. According to Mental Floss, in a scene in which Wagner and a woman were in a bubble bath together, a chemical was used to make the bath extra foamy. Unfortunately, the chemical reportedly burned the actor’s skin and left him temporarily blind.
“Hart to Hart” (1979 – 1984)
Robert Wagner, pictured here with his ‘Hart to Hart’ co-star, earned himself four Golden Globe nominations for his role in the acclaimed TV show.
(Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
After a successful film career, Wagner was convinced by those around him that his place was in the newly established medium of television. He got his start on TV in 1967 with the two-season runner of “It Takes a Thief” at ABC. He went on to star in “Switch,” but it was his role in the TV show “Hart to Hart” that really made him a household name on the small screen.
“Hart to Hart” focuses on a wealthy couple whose jet-setting lifestyle often found them investigating various, elaborate murder plots.
As he explained to TV Insider, by this time in his TV-making career, Wagner was savvy enough to get in on the business aspect and even managed to have a say in the casting of his co-star, Stefanie Powers.
“I became a producer as well. Tom and I agreed at the very beginning that Stefanie should be Jennifer Hart. I had worked with her on [the 1968–70 series] ‘It Takes a Thief’ and thought she was terrific,” he explained. “But there was opposition from the network.”
“Hart to Hart” earned the actor four Golden Globe nominations and remains perhaps his most successful TV role.
“Austin Powers” (1997)
Robert Wagner jokes that Number 2, from ‘Austin Powers’ will be what he’s most remembered for.
Although Wagner got his start in the 1950s and has had a slew of popular roles in film and TV over the years, modern audiences may best recognize him from the massively successful, and incredibly silly, “Austin Powers” movies.
Wagner plays a character named Number 2. Little is known about him other than he wears an eye patch and remains fiercely loyal to the villainous Dr. Evil, despite constantly being mistreated by the Bond villain parody. The film was a massive hit in 1997 and spawned two sequels, “The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “Goldmember.” Wagner reprised his role for both films. Fellow actor Rob Lowe played a young version of the Number 2 character in the second film.
Speaking on “The Queen Latifah Show” in 2014, he joked that his career before “Austin Powers” has been relatively forgotten.
“Can you imagine… I’ve been in the picture business for about 60 years, and I’m known as Number 2,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to work out.”