Think For Yourself – An Apology To Robert Wagner

Sometimes, a bit of thought and 90 minutes could make you rethink what you believe.

Last night my sweetie and I watched a relatively new HBO documentary, What Remains Behind. It was made by Natasha Gregson Wagner…actress and daughter of famous actress Natalie Wood. I recognized her from her bit role in High Fidelity (the journalist who flirts with Rob near the end, causing him to make her a mix tape before he began asking himself what was wrong with him and why he couldn’t be happy) . I knew Natalie Wood’s name, and that she was a pretty successful actress in the ’60s…and that she drowned under suspicious circumstances way back in 1981. She had been on a boat with her husband Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken before she met her demise. Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Natalie was the little cynical girl in Miracle on 34th Street, nor the star of West Side Story. Nor that she was so very good looking as a young woman, nor that she was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood. I did know that she drowned, the California coroner considered her death accidental…and that many people for years accused Wagner of killing her. A few figured Walken might have. It seemed few believed the official report, and more gas was thrown on the fire when the boat captain wrote a book in the 2000s suggesting maybe she got knocked overboard in an big fight, be it deliberate or not. L.A. Investigators actually re-opened the case because of it. And I knew my sweetie, who was a fan of Natalie’s, firmly believed Wagner had killed her and struck some kind of deal to cover it up. It made sense to me, based on tabloid headlines and innuendo I saw.

Enter the movie. The whole fact that her daughter, not Robert’s biological one,  made the film and narrated it, and its whole context was to clear Wagner might be a clue. Not every conspiracy theory is really covering something sinister. Natasha, her half-sister and step-brother all talked at length about what a complex, warm but slightly troubled person Natalie was. Her childhood wasn’t happy, with her mom being very critical and pushing her to be a star in order to make enough money to pay the bills for her parents. She was a movie star by age eight. She was talented, pretty, and headstrong. Ahead of her time. She was perhaps a bit promiscuous as a teen and young star…nothing new these days but probably quite scandalous back then. And she knew what she wanted, be it in men, movie roles, or later, children and a a happy home. She usually got it, but not without a price. She had the looks and the acting chops to get them all, but at times she still struggled with depression.

Wagner, for some reason nicknamed “RJ”, entered the scene when they were both kids, and it didn’t work out. Initially. Years later, they hooked up again, more mature, and both with kids. They remarried and remained so, with no hints of black clouds on their marriage horizon, until her death. They became a family. Both Natasha and her siblings (be they from Natalie, Robert or both of them) spoke about how happy the house was and how both parents loved them unconditionally. Natasha interviewed Wagner and calls him “Daddy Wagner”. They talked about the family, their love of his boat, and the trips to Catalina Island on it. Oddly, Natalie was noted as being afraid of “dark water.”

Flash forward to Thanksgiving 1981, a rainy, stormy weekend in the L.A. area, and Natalie, Wagner, and Walken (whom she was in a movie with at the time) took off for a spin on his boat. Natasha said she had a bad feeling and begged her mom not to go; other friends said they were invited and felt guilty for not going out with them in the rain. Maybe they could have changed things and she’d still be alive. But, like it or not, hours later she was found dead in the water not far from the boat, with its dinghy floating around. Many piled on to accuse Wagner of killing her in a jealous rage.

The coroner found she drowned, and had quite a bit of booze in her system as well as sleeping pills and other (unnamed but presumably prescription) drugs. She had a bang on her head, but the ultimate demise came from the water. He called it accidental. But that wasn’t enough for many…especially supermarket tabloids who lured buyers with tales of lurid affairs and drugged out violent orgies, and other total fabrications of their imagination. Then came the boat captain’s book decades later, and it all came to the front again.

Not hard to imagine then that her mad, jealous husband beat her up and threw her off the boat in the dead of night. But, there is little to support that. Numerous police agencies investigated and found no evidence of it. And Natasha – her daughter – sat and talked to her stepdad, “Daddy Wagner” and clearly loved him like a real father. She recalled how he wouldn’t get out of bed for days after Natalie died. How the press would climb on top of fences to snap pictures at the funeral and while the kids walked around their home yard, distraught. She detailed the emotional toll it took on her, her brothers and sisters , and most of all, on Robert Wagner. And he seemed fully believable. Yes, he’s an actor, and yes, he admits to drinking a lot that night and being “a little high”. But it’s also clear she was the love of his life. He eventually got back on his feet and kept the kids – his and hers and theirs alike – close. He was breaking up thinking about Natalie and about that fateful night.

The most likely explanation, the original one. Natalie was, a bit drunk, a bit under the influence of sleeping pills, just wanting to sleep. She got up and went to the boat life raft/dinghy which was banging against the boat in the storm. Making noise. Her daughter said she was a light sleeper and had complained before of the noise the dinghy made banging into the boat. She probably figured she could tie it up tighter to keep it from banging around, and fell overboard in the stormy seas, perhaps banging her head off the little boat doing so. A tragic accident.

I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy… I do believe there are at least some extraterrestrials flying around our planet at time and not all UFOs are ‘swamp gas’ … but this one seems like … the obvious answer was the real one. Moreover, my love, who for years fully believed Wagner to be a murderer, was turned around after watching it. Nothing pointed towards murder. She, and I, now fully believe it was a horrible accident, a result of poor choices by all involved regarding going out on a boat in a storm and drinking too much …but an accident nonetheless.

It was a good lesson. Sometimes bad things happen for no apparent reason, and remember, the entertainment and tabloid media need headlines to sell their product. At times they may uncover real dirt…but sometimes, they just fabricate it. And real people end up paying the price for it. And it showed the power of a good, thoughtful documentary.

Moral of the story – once again…examine all the evidence, then think for yourself. The truth is out there… and sometimes, it’s not as hidden as we might think.

Time For Politicians Thoughts To Turn To Taking Action Not Offering More Prayers

If people had ever heard of Uvalde, Texas before last week, it was probably in context of being the home town of movie star Matthew McConaughey. In a matter of about 45 minutes one evil teenager changed all that, as we know. Now, wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute for the town to be remembered as the place where the straw broke the camel’s back and things began to change for the better?

21 dead, 19 of them small kids, because one piece of human refuse was having a bad day. Because he supposedly had been bullied when he was younger. Because he didn’t like his low-wage job at Whataburger. And mostly because he could go out and celebrate his birthday by buying two assault rifles, guns designed to be used by the army in a war. Days before that, Buffalo, New York made the headlines for reasons other than the usual snowstorms because another 18 year old was disgruntled to see so many Black people around and fancied himself an action hero in some sort of real-life killing video game. And had access to weapons of war.

The little bodies weren’t even put into the Uvalde ground before 10 people got shot at a wild party in Charleston, SC (where the party-goers met the responding police with more gunfire). It was the 151st mass shooting of this year in the U.S. I don’t know if it was just before or just after the six kids, under 16 years of age, were shot in Chattanooga; the police there note some of those youth were “unintended victims”…but you know what happens when some high school age, or junior high school age kids run into each other on the street and one looks at another in a funny way. Two nights back, in my home city area, four people were shot at one location, only two blocks and less than 24 hours or so away from where one woman shot another…while police were investigating another disturbance a further block away. They just followed the sound of gunfire. So routine is that becoming that it was only the fourth or fifth top story on most local news sites. A new high school principal being hired was ranked more important by one TV station website. And of course, last night an evil man with a backache decided to shoot up his doctor’s clinic in Tulsa.

We could go on and on, but by now we all get the point – we’re in a gun violence epidemic and it’s showing no signs of going away. As McConaughey put it eloquently, “we have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us.” He adds, “every American (needs) to take a longer look in the mirror and ask ourselves ‘what is it that we truly value? How do we repair the problem?”

Sadly, a complete repair probably won’t happen, at least not in our lifetimes. There are too many guns out there, too many irresponsible hotheads, too many who value the Second Amendment above all else to make the problem go away. However, I don’t believe that means we can do nothing to ease the toll, reduce the body count and make us somewhat safer, whether shopping at a grocery store or sending our little children to the classroom. It’s ridiculous to call for a ban on guns altogether or anything remotely like that. Few politicians would even consider it, and fewer citizens would bother obeying anyway. There are too many of them and they’re too much a way of life in parts of the land. But there are some things we could do that I think the majority might consider. Such as –

Ban sales of AK-47/AR-15 style assault weapons. Vice President Harris said, in response to the Uvalde shooting, “assault weapons (are) designed for a specific purpose – to kill a lot of human beings quickly. An assault weapon is a weapon of war, with no place in civil society.” Little surprise they are a weapon of choice then for uncivil street gangs and deranged loner gunmen. Just as banning guns is a non-starter, so too is outlawing hunting. But you don’t need one of those military-grade weapons to take a squirrel out of a tree or a canvasback out of the sky. Ban their sales and importation. Existing ones can be grandfathered in, but not sold or given away and if they are found in possession of criminals or used for any criminal act, they will be confiscated and destroyed. If that were to occur, even if (or when) evil psychopaths go on a rampage, the damage they inflict will be lessened if they’re restricted to ordinary hunting rifles or shotguns, or non-automatic handguns.

Raise the minimum age to buy guns to 21. It seems ludicrous that we don’t as a society, think 18 year olds responsible enough to have a beer or glass of wine…but we’ll allow them to buy as many weapons of war as they can afford. In many states, that 18 year old is too much a “boy” to be able to legally have sex with a girlfriend who’s six months younger than him, and in none of them can he buy a six pack of lite beer or a pack of cigarettes. What’s more, few lawmakers are clamoring to give them such rights. But there are few if any restrictions on the same “boy” buying semi-automatic, high-powered guns. Where’s the rationale relating to potential damage there?

Speaking of teens, if they’re old enough to be handling and using guns, they should be old enough to face the consequences. Treat young offenders in gun crimes like adult ones. By all means give 14, 15 year old non-violent offenders – the kids painting graffiti or maybe shoplifting a pair of shoes – a chance for redemption. For them the current system works. But the 14, 15 year olds who are killing others in gang fights, armed robberies, school shootings, and the like are not innocent children. They’re dangerous individuals who society should be protected from. If you like, house them in youth facilities until they hit 18 and move to grown-up jail… but don’t mistake them for little children who are just misbehaving a wee bit.

Institute tougher penalties – and mandatory mental evaluation – for animal cruelty offenders. I like animals, so I find these crimes abhorrent, but that isn’t relevant here. What is relevant is that a large percentage of mass-shooters have histories of abusing animals first. It’s seemingly the training ground for killing people with ease later in life. The Uvalde killer was reported beating a dog senseless in the weeks leading up to the school massacre. If we take such crimes more seriously, and get the offenders checked over by psychiatrists (with those found to have violent of sociopathic tendencies flagged to at least make their access to guns more difficult), tomorrow’s mass-shooter might be discovered today.

Work with social media to help do more to prevent it. I note, I do not blame the online sites – be it Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitch or anything else that comes along – for causing the killings or failing to prevent them. In many cases, including the Buffalo and Uvalde ones, the criminals put up messages on some of these outlets suggesting what might happen. The sites are just too busy to screen everything effectively. Instagram, for instance, report over 500 million people post to it daily. Even if they only put up one picture or clip per day, that’s half a billion posts to look through (and if you’ve ever looked at Instagram, you know that people and companies who like it like it a lot. Some seem to put up a post an hour more than a post a day.) However, with today’s technology, there must be AI filters around which can quickly find suspicious “red flags” – repeated pictures of multiple firearms, threatening phrases, gang (be they street gangs or cyber-extremist groups) code words. If Facebook can quickly see your face in someone else’s group photo and “tag” you, it should be able to quickly do the same with an AR-style rifle or racist dog-whistles for violence. Those posts could be more quickly looked at by authorities. We’ll never be ahead of all the criminals who are blatant enough to preview their attentions, but we could get the drop on some more than we do now.

And lastly, we need police to go back to acting like police all the time. I’m aware it’s a tough and demanding job and that right now, a sizable chunk of society look at them disapprovingly. I think the vast majority of them are good people trying to do a sometimes thankless, sometimes dangerous job. Rarely is it more dangerous than when confronted by sociopathic killers with semi-automatic weapons bent on destruction. But that is sadly, part of the job…even if they’re only street patrol officers or “school cops.” It was irresponsible for the police on scene at Uvalde to wait outside for upwards of 40 minutes as children and teachers were being shot, because they were waiting for an out-of-town, more highly-skilled SWAT team to come by. Forget the arguments that perhaps most of the victims were shot already by the time the first couple of police arrived. If so, it was only because the killer got bored. Seemingly he could have carried on and wiped out most of the students in the building before any police were willing to go in and confront him. This is not acceptable, even if it might be official policy on some forces which prefer SWAT to handle such things. It’s tough to make policy to cover every possible situation. Perhaps a robber holding hostages can be stalled and negotiated with while waiting for special squads to show. But the Buffalo supermarket freak and the Uvalde demon were not that. Bottom line is that if it’s an “Active” shooter, once there are at most a couple of officers on site, they need to go in and confront the killer and minimize his (or her) death toll. Give them bullet-proof vests by all means (most police wear them routinely already) and battle helmets if you like, but get them into the fray.

Mere suggestions, and I’m afraid, ones which won’t eliminate gun violence in the country. But we’d not be banning guns, stopping deer hunts or ownership of pistols or shotguns by law-abiding adults… nothing to step too hard on the toes of the advocates of the Second Amendment. And I believe they would significantly reduce the number of times we’re confronted with yet another Buffalo, or Columbine, or Uvalde. Once we take that McConaughey longer look in the mirror, it seems the very least we can do in good conscience.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started