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A fling with Natalie Wood, womanising in Hollywood and the girl who stole his heart - Robert Vaughn says it all landed in his lap

By Rebecca HardyPUBLISHED: 17:30 EST, 15 November 2013 | UPDATED: 17:30 EST, 15 November

Robert Vaughn is playing the incorrigible old flirt. ‘I was a lazy lover in that I never made any effort to chase women. I wasn’t Warren Beatty, put it that way.’ He stops. Thinks for a moment. Twinkles. ‘Mind you, if they were there I was happy to welcome them.’
Let’s just say Robert, who turns 81 this Friday, seems to have been a particularly hospitable young man. So much so that when he wrote his memoirs five years ago he had to ensure it wasn’t a string of ‘and then I slept with’ stories. Except, Robert doesn’t say ‘slept with’.

He’s more blunt.

Natalie Wood was an early lover. More than that, she was the ‘sweet, lovely’ girl who catapulted him into ‘Hollywood heaven’.
A fling with Natalie Wood, womanising in Hollywood and the girl who stole his heart - Robert Vaughn says it all landed in his lap A fling with Natalie Wood, womanizing in Hollywood and the girl who stole his heart - Robert Vaughn says it all landed in his lap
‘In the 50s and 60s to have been a well-known actor in Hollywood, to have money in your pocket and be a bachelor was like having died and gone to heaven. I certainly had fun in heaven. I’d been out of college for 30 days and was doing a play in Los Angeles when I met Natalie. She was only 17 but very forceful.'She said to my mother, “Is your son seeing anyone?” My mother, who was dazzled by movie stars, said, “Oh no, he’s very free.” So I began seeing her and she introduced me to everyone in Hollywood. She’d say, “Better get Robert now before somebody else does.”

‘She was seeing half a dozen other people at the time, including her future husband Robert Wagner and Dennis Hopper. She was...’ He searches for the right word. ‘... a well-known date in Hollywood – a loveable, well-known date. Nobody ever said a bad word about her.’

From being one of The Magnificent Seven to playing Napoleon Solo in 60s spy classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and appearing as a con man in the hugely popular Hustle, Robert’s been one of the biggest stars in the business for 50 years.

‘Acting is always to do with sex appeal,’ he says. ‘The reason a star is a star is because they have great sex appeal, not because they’re a great actor. If they happen to be a great actor too then stardom lasts a little longer.’

American actor Robert Vaughn with actress Natalie Wood American actor Robert Vaughn with actress Natalie Wood

He says he’d have loved a cameo in Guy Ritchie’s film remake of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but hasn’t been approached. ‘I’d be like the head of the organisation and sit in a big room with a bunch of television sets and send men to their deaths.’ Any thoughts on British actor Henry Cavill, who plays Solo in Ritchie’s remake? ‘I’m sure he’ll be fine,’ he says. ‘I’ve seen him wearing the Superman suit. He’s an attractive actor.’

Which takes us back to sex appeal. Robert had it in spades, but it turns out the womanising star of the best-known western on the planet was firing blanks. He married his wife Linda at 41, then found he had a low sperm count. To add insult to injury he’d been supporting a child that Kathy Ceaton, a London party girl, claimed to be his.

The boy was Matthew Vaughn, Claudia Schiffer’s husband and director of X-Men: First Class. ‘The blood tests were done and that was the end of the support.’ He’s had no contact with Matthew for 40 years.

Robert and Linda adopted two children – son Cassidy, 36, who runs a car dealership and daughter Caitlin, 31, an animal anesthetist. ‘When we decided to adopt we had to have huge background checks. It wasn’t, “Here’s your baby, give us the money.” You’re the father. It’s your child and you’re responsible.'The first day I was left at home alone with my son I never left the cot because I was making sure he was breathing. I didn’t know how long it was supposed to be between breaths.’

Robert lights up when he talks about his family. Linda, a former actress, is with him in London when we meet. Robert is starring with Martin Shaw, Jeff Fahey and Nick Moran in a West End production of Twelve Angry Men. ‘We’re the jury deciding whether to send a boy to the electric chair. It’s the best group of actors I’ve worked with,’ which is saying something given his co-stars on The Magnificent Seven included Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.
Raised by his maternal grandparents from the age of five after his parents’ divorce, Robert never knew his father, radio actor Gerald Vaughn, and only lived with his mother, actress Marcella Frances, when she was dying of pancreatic cancer in 1961.

The Man From Uncle (The Man From Uncle) with Robert Vaughn and David MccallumThe Man From Uncle (The Man From Uncle) with Robert Vaughn and David Mccallum
‘When I got my film contract in 1956 she had no money worries for the first time in her life. I got her a penthouse on Hollywood Boulevard, a car, a mink – that’s how she lived for the last five years.’ During that time Robert was drafted into the army, but got a hardship discharge after six months to look after her.

‘That’s the way the cards fall,’ he says. There are two key moments in my life I think of like that. One was when I did a play I didn’t want to do because it meant I could get jobs for three friends. I came to rehearsal the first day – 27 June, 1971 – and sitting at the table was this girl. It was Linda. I’ve never been so stunned by another human being.

The second was when I was drafted into the army. I thought I’d be in for two years. It’s the only time I’ve ever been depressed. The wonderful world I’d tasted with Natalie was suddenly taken away from me. If I’d been there for two years there’s a chance I’d have disappeared, but I got out early.’

The way the cards fell: a mother’s terminal illness to thank for a stellar career. Crikey. We’re both silent for a moment. He shrugs. ‘Then I went straight to see Natalie Wood, as a matter of fact.’

Twelve Angry Men is at London’s Garrick Theatre until 1 March 2014, www.nimaxtheatres.com.

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