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You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age

By Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman

Viking

262 pages, $27.95

By Christopher Schobert

NEWS BOOK REVIEWER

Growing up on a steady diet of Turner Classic Movies helped me garner a deep appreciation for the endlessly fascinating products of the Hollywood studio system.

It also led to a joy in spotting famous faces in their early days, from George Reeves in “Gone With the Wind” to such television icons as Eddie Albert and Fred MacMurray.

I was especially shocked to see Robert Wagner – the dude from “Hart to Hart”! – as a young movie star. As I soon discovered, his was and is an extraordinary career. Wagner’s resumé is staggering, and while it is dotted with its shares of highs and lows, the sheer length and breadth of it must be acknowledged.

But Wagner is known as much for his life off-screen as on, and today often finds himself playing the role of affectionate memoirist.

His latest book (with Scott Eyman), “You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age,” is, like Wagner himself, wonderfully entertaining.

This is most certainly not the Tinseltown of Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon,” a hypersexualized cauldron of lust and power.

Wagner’s is sweeter, gentler, and a bit duller. Still, any film fan will find much to enjoy in “You Must Remember This.” It’s the kind of photo-heavy read that features fascinating, fly-on-the-wall images with captions like “Bette Davis serving cigarettes to the boys” and “Harold’s famous Christmas tree. I’m proud to say that somewhere in there is the ornament I gave him.”

Harold, of course, is silent legend Harold Lloyd, whose Italian renaissance mansion, Greenacres, is described in detail.

The author knew Lloyd and his family well, and offers up an oh-so-RJ connection to Greenacres following Lloyd’s death in 1971: “I shot episodes of ‘Switch’ and ‘Hart to Hart’ there – my way of staying in touch with my old friend.

Wagner takes us to star-studded games of croquet and polo, clubs like the legendary Trocadero, and parties at Basil Rathbone’s house.

The stories are well-told and dotted with unique details of opulence and wealth. (Above one of the many mantels at Jack Warner’s house was a portrait of his wife, Ann, painted by Salvador Dali.)

Fittingly, the final chapter of this fond look back is titled “Goodbye to All That.”

Indeed, the world Wagner describes is long gone. That he managed to emerge and carry on his career is noteworthy, and so too is “You Must Remember This.”

It is a reminder that there is much more to Wagner’s past than Natalie Wood and “Hart to Hart.”

Christopher Schobert is a frequent News contributing reviewer of books and films.