Long before movies could talk, the people on the big screen were setting trends and styles for the rest of us. Even today, there's a sense of curiosity about what the stars are doing behind the gates of those great old mansions. If only we knew somebody who could get us in the door for a peek.
In terms of grace and style, you couldn't ask for a better tour director than actor Robert Wagner. "You Must Remember This" is his valentine to the Hollywood he knew as a kid and enjoyed even more as a gape-worthy star in his own right.
Wagner's father moved the family from Detroit to the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1937 when Wagner was 7. He saw his share of celebrities while clearing tables at the Bel Air Tea Room, caddying at the country club and dating the daughters of movie stars and studio executives. By 1949, when 20th Century Fox began grooming him for stardom, Wagner was well on his way to knowing quite a few of Hollywood's more interesting citizens. Those intimate connections give "You Must Remember This" a personal touch as Wagner, writing with film historian Scott Eyman, recounts how an orange grove became a city of dreams and desires.
Where the stars lived probably said as much about them as real people as anything. For example, James Cagney's house in Beverly Hills was small and rustic by star standards, mainly a place to stay when he was away from his East Coast farms.
Clothing styles could show off a star's best qualities or hide the flaws. It wasn't coincidence that Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby wore hats in public as their hair thinned, a fedora being easier to slip on and off than a toupee.
Wagner writes with the easy charm he brought to movies and TV roles. His amusing and interesting reflections carry a touch of wistfulness. As he notes, the huge mansions became too expensive to maintain, the business itself diversified and demanded more time, and old Hollywood began dying off. "It was a lesson to me that nothing lasts forever," Wagner says. "Except the movies."