Jonathan and Jennifer Hart were fabulously wealthy. He was the CEO of Hart Industries and she was a freelance journalist, but as you know, when they met…it was murder. The jet-setting duo with a gravelly-voiced chauffeur named Max and an adorable Lowchen named Freeway always seemed to find themselves in the midst of high-stakes mysteries that needed solving — but through it all, they remained hopelessly in love.
Remarkably, the ABC suits weren’t always so keen on stars Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers acting so happy. To help boost ratings on the Aaron Spelling/Leonard Goldberg-produced drama, which aired from 1979 to 1984, the network wanted the couple to fight, or worse — cheat. ”The network didn’t understand the romance of it,” explains Powers, still a knockout at 70. ”They were of the mentality that there should be grittier issues. But the feedback we got over the years was that it was a relationship that everyone wanted to have in their lives. Jonathan and Jennifer wanted to be together more than apart; there was no need to squabble. That was why the show was so successful.”
”I never looked at another woman,” says Wagner, 83, of his debonair alter ego. ”And she was pursued by many men, but she never answered the call.” (Well, of course not. Imagine how Freeway would have nipped at the cad’s toes!)
It’s been almost two decades since Wagner and Powers cracked a case together (after the series ended, the pair went on to appear in eight reunion movies), but the actors still fawn over each other like a couple of lovebirds. Powers — who as a child went to ballet class with Wagner’s future wives Natalie Wood and Jill St. John — still swoons when recalling the day she first set eyes on her Hart costar. It was during preproduction on West Side Story, explains Powers, who was a dancer in the 1961 movie (she was later cut from the cast). ”I was a Jet, and we were rehearsing every day like slaves. One day suddenly [directors] Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise came onto the set…and on walked the two most beautiful people in the world, real movie stars, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.”
Wagner, meanwhile, talks proudly of how he pooh-poohed suggestions that his then wife Wood or The Bionic Woman‘s Lindsay Wagner play Jennifer to his Jonathan. ”I was just crazy about Stefanie,” recalls Wagner, who had worked with Powers on a 1970 episode of It Takes a Thief. ”We had great fun together. Boy, this is a lady to go on a cruise with!”
She was also incredibly self-sufficient. Wagner likes to brag about how Powers not only helped decorate the fictitious Hart home, she performed many of her own stunts and did her own hair and makeup on the show. ”I’d arrive on the set at seven or eight in the morning. Stefanie would come in after taking a shower, and she’d shake her head and everything fell into place,” he marvels. ”Her hair was an amazing thing…. I had my face in it several times on the show.”
It was all part of the job. The Harts never lost their conjugal spark — and filming their many love scenes often dragged late into the night, but not for a lack of chemistry. ”The love sequences, they’d pack ’em up to the end,” remembers Wagner. Interjects Powers: ”It was usually 11:30 at night…. We were half asleep most of the time.”
ABC’s decision not to pick up Hart to Hart for a sixth season came as a shock to the stars. ”We didn’t understand it,” says Wagner. ”We had three episodes we were going to do in France. Freeway had fallen in love with a poodle.” Adds Powers: ”I was already in Paris doing a miniseries, Mistral’s Daughter. I got the call from the boys, RJ and Aaron. I cried all night and went to work.” Today, though, all their memories of Jonathan and Jennifer are happy ones. Says Wagner: ”The success of Hart to Hart was so tremendous. We were in 87 countries. People loved seeing it…. We loved going to work. The dog was always on the set with us. It was a marvelous experience.”
Update: The Hart to Hart Cast
Her collaboration with Robert Wagner didn’t end after the show was canceled in 1984. Besides starring in all those reunion movies, the duo toured in the ’90s with productions of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters in the U.S. and London. Powers, 70, recently appeared in the Hallmark Channel movie Reading, Writing & Romance.
Who does Number Two work for? Just about everyone. In addition to playing Dr. Evil’s henchman in the Austin Powers films, Wagner, 83, has continued to put his charm to good use with turns on Two and a Half Men, The League, and NCIS, where he’ll reprise his role as Anthony DiNozzo Sr. — Michael Weatherly’s dad! — this season.
When Adam & Amy Met the Harts…
Parks and Recreation‘s Adam Scott and Amy Poehler starred in a brilliant shot-for-shot re-creation of Hart to Hart‘s opening sequence for Scott’s Adult Swim show, The Greatest Event in Television History — so who better to interview Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers for EW.com? To watch them chat with Powers and Wagner about the show’s legacy and grill them on Hart to Hart trivia, go to ew.com/reunions. And check out the next episode of Greatest Event on Nov. 7 at midnight.