Nick Clooney for Congress :: Campaigning to Serve Kentucky's 4th District:
April 06, 2004
Nina and I took a two day break from the campaign trail to fulfill an obligation made before I announced my candidacy late last fall.
We pointed our car toward the town with the wonderful name of Indiana, Pennsylvania. The auto knew its way because we have visited there every spring for the last seven years or so.
Fans of classic movies will remember that Indiana, PA, is the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart. Mr. Stewart was very proud of his hometown and the sentiment was definitely reciprocated. Even though Jimmy is gone now, Indiana still loves its favorite son.
Each spring they have an excellent event during which they present the "Harvey" award, anmed for one of Jimmy's most famous movie roles as Elwood P. Dows and his friend, a six-foot rabbit named Harvey whom only Elwood could see.
The award has been presented annually to someone who worked with Jimmy, or someone the townspeople think represents Jimmy's values and his attitude about his profession. Because of my long association with American Movie Classics cable channel, I was asked to be master of ceremonies for the awards, so Nina and I have been there when they honored such luminaries as Ernest Borgnine, Shirley Jones, Charlton Heston and Jimmy's favorite impressionist, Rich Little.
This year, the recipient was actor Robert Wagner and, to tell you the truth, I approached this even with considerably less enthusiasm than previous years.
You see, Nina has had a crush on Robert Wagner since before she met me. When other girls were swooning over Elvis Presley, Nina was cutting out pictures of Bob Wagner from fan magazines.
For the entire 44 years of our married life, I have heard how handsome he is, what a good actor he is, what a gentleman he is. From his break-out role as a shell-shocked soldier in "With a Song in My Heart" with Susan Hayward in the 1950s, to his starring TV roles in programs such as "Switch" and "Hart to Hart" in the 1970s, to his outrageous turns in the "Austin Powers" movies of recent years, Mr. Wagner has successfully re-invented himself and remained viable in the world's most fickle profession for five decades.
As we negotiated the roads through Kentucky, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, I consoled myself with the fact that time surely wrought the same devastation on Robert Wagner as it has on me. After all, he is a couple of years older than I. Just wait until Nina saw her childhood fantasy boyfriend "up close and personal."
We arrived Thursday night and learned the Bob wouldn't be in until the next day because - of all things - the two board members sent to meet him at the Pittsburgh airport somehow missed him! One of the errant two is our old friend Carson Green and we needled him mercilessly for the rest of the weekend. He'll be a long time living it down.
Nina and I first saw Bob at a Friday news conference held at the wonderful Jimmy Stewart Museum which conducts the Harvey Awards. One look at him and my heart sank. Far from looking as if he had been in the movies for 50 years, he didn't look 50. Moreover, he turned out to be a great guy. He talked about his ultimately tragic love match with Natalie Wood, about growing up in the era of classic Hollywood and coming of age right in the midst of legendary stars, of eventually co-starring with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Fred Astaire, about his wife Jill St. John.
He and Nina had long conversations while I was otherwise occupied. I don't know what they said, but at that evening's glittering gala when I introduced her to the assembled guests, Bob yelled out "I love you, Nina!" in front of hundreds of people.
So what did I get out of all this? Not much. Oh, now I can call Bob what his friends call him. It's "R.J.", by the way. Small comfort for the remarks I will have to endure from Nina for the rest of my life.