When did you first meet your Hart to Hart co-star, Robert Wagner?
I was a young kid, rehearsing for the part of a dancer in the film, West Side Story, in 1961. During a break, we were introduced to the lady who was going to play Maria, Natalie Wood, and her husband, Robert Wagner. We were all, like, ‘Wow, these are proper movie stars!’ Robert later told me that he remembers meeting me, but I think he was being kind.
Hart to Hart turned you into a huge international star. Is it true that Pope John Paul II was a fan?
Yes, he was. My background is Polish – like Pope John Paul II – and I was lucky enough to have an audience with him. He graciously allowed me to take some photos and I actually received Mass from him. It was the greatest day of my life!
You were born in Hollywood. Did you always want to be an actor?
Ha ha! I kept telling my mother that I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon or an archaeologist.
What went wrong?
I was always dancing around the house, so she sent me to ballet lessons. That’s where I started ‘performing’. Guess who else was in my class? Two little girls called Natalie Wood and Jill St. John. All three of us were later married to Robert Wagner. Natalie was his first wife, I was his TV wife and Jill is his current wife. Isn’t that crazy!
Dancing: getting started
If you were a ‘young kid’ today, would you still want to be an actor?
The industry has changed a lot. Back then, I wanted to act because I grew up in Hollywood and was in love with that world. The history of cinema… Louis B. Mayer [co-founder of MGM], John Ford, Citizen Kane. Today, people don’t care what happened ten minutes ago. They just want to be famous.
You’ve worked with your fair share of Hollywood legends over the years – Maureen O’Hara, Yul Brynner, Lilian Gish, John Wayne.
Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne in the same movie, McLintock!. How about those for star names? I remember when John Wayne first walked on to the set… how gentle he was. He always played tough guys, but he was such a wonderful man.
Have you kept anything from those early days?
You might not believe this, but John Wayne made a coffee cup for everyone on McLintock! Each cup had the person’s name and a little drawing or a symbol to remind them of the movie. I’ve still got mine and I’m very proud of it.
Were you a music fan, too? What were you listening to back then - The Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan?
I loved British music. From the age of 16, I was filming in London once or twice a year. One night, I was taken to the Ad Lib Club, which was just off Leicester Square. I spent the night with Mick Jagger and the Stones. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! People talk about Swinging London, and it really was swinging. You could feel the excitement in the air.
The Rolling Stones: for and against
Do you miss those days? Would you prefer to be back in the 60s?
How can I answer that? These are critical times. We don’t seem to care about the planet. We don’t care about flora or fauna. Handheld devices don’t help us, they hinder progress and companies like Apple are the pariahs of this planet. But the real villains in this story are us. We’re the ones who keep buying the stuff. We’re the ones who keep producing more shit and more garbage! We are two-legged monsters and we are destroying the planet.
Err… so, that’s a yes. You do miss the 60s?
Ha ha! Sorry about my diatribe. I guess what I’m trying to say is that back in the 60s, we all imagined that society would take responsibility for the mistakes it made. We haven’t. We’re going backwards.
What did turning 70 mean to you?
Nobody likes it, but there’s not much you can do about it.
Do you still try to look after yourself… exercise, healthy diet?
I help run a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya, which keeps me very active. And I’m very careful about what I eat. I became a vegetarian when I was child and stayed with that until I contracted cancer in 2008. I am now a four-time cancer survivor. I was told that, because of my need to assimilate protein, I should probably start eating meat. I did, but it made me sad.
You live in Kenya for part of the year.
The sanctuary and my work with animals is a huge part of my life. I first went to Kenya with my late husband, William Holden, in the 70s. He bought a farm and 2000 acres of land out there. After he died, I turned it into a conservation and education centre. I also like being in Kenya because I get the chance to fly a plane, which is fun.
See the stars and spot the 'big five' on an all-inclusive safari holiday at an authentic game lodge in South Africa. Find out more here
Yes, I have a pilot’s licence. My last flight was three months ago. Kenya is a big country. It’s a lot easier to get around by plane.
What makes you happy?
I’m always happy around animals. And I love that fact that we provide some of the power for our education centre in Kenya from cow dung!
And, apart from handheld devices, what makes you sad?
Throwaway fashion. I’m always talking to young girls, telling them to look at the label. Is what you’re wearing biodegradable? We’re buying all this cheap-shit clothing and we’re turning the world into a giant dumpster.
Finally, what’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?
My mother said, ‘Life is not a rehearsal’. She was right!
Watch Hart to Hart on the newly rebranded Sony Channel, previously True Entertainment, available on Freeview 48, Sky 157, Freesat 142 and Virgin 189