Natalie Wood appeared in 56 films for TV and the silver screen and received 3 Oscar nominations before turning 25.
Her real name was Natasha Gurdin, and she was born in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 20th, 1938, to Russian émigrés Maria and Nicholas Zakharenko (they had changed their last name to Gurdin before coming to America). Natalie has one sister, Lana Wood, who is younger. They have a half-sister, Olga Viriapaeff, who is older. When she was just four years old, Natalie made her film debut in Happy Land (1943), although she had less than 10 seconds of screen time. When she was seven, she was cast in a major role opposite the legendary Orson Welles in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946). The following year, she starred as Susan Walker in one of the most famous films of all time, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which for many people has become a traditional viewing every Christmas. Natalie stayed very busy as a child actress and appeared in over 20 films, including The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Driftwood (1947), Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948), The Green Promise (1949), The Jackpot (1950), and Our Very Own (1950),
When she was 16, Natalie got her big break when she was cast as Judy in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), starring opposite 24-year-old James Dean and 16-year-old Sal Mineo. Her performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film was very popular and is now considered a classic. Both of her co-stars in the film also died young under tragic circumstances, and the main cast has become known as the "tragic three." The following year, she played a small but crucial role in the classic western The Searchers (1956), which starred John Wayne. Natalie was a rebellious teenager, started smoking and was romantically linked to much older men. Publicly, she dated Dennis Hopper and Elvis Presley, who were only a few years older. Privately, Natalie (age 16) was romantically involved with 43-year-old bisexual director Nicholas Ray, who did not face statutory rape charges because their affair was not made public knowledge until long after it ended. In the spring of 1957, Natalie started a relationship with actor Robert Wagner when she was 18 and he was 27. They married on December 28th of that year. The couple made a film together called All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960), which flopped.
In 1961, Natalie's career reached a higher level when she starred in two hit films. The first was Splendor in the Grass (1961), a rural period drama in which she and Warren Beatty played teen lovers. Natalie received her second Academy Award nomination for her role, as Best Actress. The other film she made that year was West Side Story (1961), in which she played a Puerto Rican girl who falls in love with a member of her community's rival gang in New York. In June of that year, 22-year-old Natalie filed for divorce from Wagner. Although he said that their careers conflicted with the marriage, biographer Suzanne Finstad wrote that she caught him "in a compromising position with another man." Their divorce was finalized in April 1962, and she began a relationship with Warren Beatty. Natalie's next two films were very successful: the musical Gypsy (1962) and the melodrama Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), in which she played a young shopgirl who faces an unwanted pregnancy. The latter film earned her a third Academy Award nomination. She was only 25 years old. After this she starred in Sex and the Single Girl (1964) (which flopped) and The Great Race (1965), which was a modest commercial success but a critical failure. She delivered some of the best work of her career by playing southern depression-era teens with big dreams in Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and This Property Is Condemned (1966), both of which co-starred Robert Redford and earned her Golden Globe nominations. Although they were not box-office hits, many consider the latter to be Natalie's greatest performance.
In her personal life, Natalie broke up with Warren Beatty then had a string of short-lived romances with screenwriter Henry Jaglom, actors Michael Caine and Tom Courtenay, and was even engaged to Venezuelan shoe tycoon Ladislav Blatnik. Following an unhappy relationship with an unnamed older married man, Natalie attempted suicide in November of 1966. Then, she began seeing a psychiatrist and, sadly, semi-retired from acting at just 28 years old. After a three-year hiatus, Natalie made a brief return with a role in the 1969 ensemble film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). It was a box office hit, but she did not parlay the success into furthering her career. On May 30th, 1969, 30-year-old Natalie married 39-year-old British producer Richard Gregson after dating on and off for two years. He had been married before and already had two children.
On September 29th, 1970, Natalie gave birth to a daughter, Natasha Gregson (later Natasha Gregson Wagner). Ten months later, on August 1, 1971, she and Richard Gregson separated when she found out he was having an affair. Following their separation, Natalie dated politician Jerry Brown. However, she reunited with Robert Wagner on January 26, 1972. On July 16, 1972, 33-year-old Natalie married for the third and final time, to 42-year-old Wagner in Malibu, just three months after her divorce from Gregson was finalized. The couple worked together in a TV movie called The Affair (1973) (TV), which marked Natalie's first acting role in over four years. On March 9th, 1974, Natalie gave birth to her second child (and her only child with Wagner), daughter Courtney Wagner.
Meanwhile, Natalie turned down the role of Daisy in The Great Gatsby (1974). By 1975, while only in her mid thirties, Natalie was no longer being considered for plum film roles due to the fact that she had been offscreen for so long. The best roles were going to Jane Fonda, who was actually a year older than Natalie, despite the public's perception to the contrary. She finally appeared in another movie, Peeper (1976), but it wasn't even widely released in theaters. In 1977, Natalie became inclined to start acting more often, and over the next year she signed on for one feature film and two made-for-TV movies.
In 1979, Natalie saw the release of three projects. "From Here to Eternity" (1979) was a miniseries costarring Kim Basinger and William Devane; it earned Natalie a Golden Globe Award. The Cracker Factory (1979) (TV) provided another meaty role for Natalie, but it was, after all, still just a TV movie. Meteor (1979) was Natalie's first feature film in an entire decade (excluding Peeper (1976), which wasn't widely released). However, it was not a comeback for her, as she only had a supporting role and the film was a huge flop both critically and commercially. Her next film, the 1980 sex comedy The Last Married Couple in America (1980), was also a flop, even though Natalie gave a wonderful performance. The poor reception of this film couldn't have been much of a surprise, though, because Natalie had been off the radar for so long. It was a shame that she had done virtually no movies while in her 30s, which should have been the prime years of her career.
Determined to re-ignite her film career, Natalie went to North Carolina in September 1981 to make Brainstorm (1983), a compelling science fiction drama in which she and Christopher Walken played a husband-and-wife team of researchers who create a device that can record human thoughts. At 43, this marked the first time in 15 years (since she was 28) that Natalie had a serious starring role in a major film. She spent two months working on it before returning to L.A. for Thanksgiving break. Walked accompanied her.
On November 27, 1981, Natalie invited Walken to join herself, Wagner, and boat captain Dennis Davern on a boat trip to Catalina Island. The following day, they dined at a restaurant on Catalina where Natalie became very intoxicated. That night, the four of them returned to their yacht, the "Splendor". The rest is a mystery, and the stories about how she ended up in the water have been conflicting. On the morning of Sunday, November 29th, 1981, her body was found floating face down in the ocean. Rumors of foul play immediately surfaced, but no charges were filed and her death was declared an accidental drowning. She was 43 years old. She had not completed all of her scenes in Brainstorm (1983). As a result, her character was written out of several scenes, while a stand-in and sound-a-likes were used to replace her in some crucial scenes. The film was finally released in the fall of 1983, to mixed reviews and bad box office. However, unlike the majority of Natalie's films, it has found a larger audience on DVD.
Since Richard Gregson lived in Europe, Wagner got custody Natalie's daughter Natasha and raised her. He also cut off all contact with Natalie's family. In 1984, Lana Wood published the book "Natalie: a Memoir by Her Sister," in which she expressed her disappointment concerning Wagner's behavior.
Natalie had only outlived her father, Nick, by one year after he died of a heart failure in November 1980 at age 68. Her mother, Maria, never stopped grieving for Natalie and developed Alzheimer's disease. She died of pneumonia in Lana's home in 1998 at age 85.
On May 30, 2012, Natalie's first grandchild was born, when Natasha gave birth to a daughter, Clover Clementine Watson, named after Natalie's character in Inside Daisy Clover (1965). The father of Natasha's baby is her boyfriend, actor Barry Watson.
|Robert Wagner||(16 July 1972 - 29 November 1981) (remarried) (her death); 1 child|
|Richard Gregson||(30 May 1969 - 12 April 1972) (divorced) 1 child|
|Robert Wagner||(28 December 1957 - 27 April 1962) (divorced)|
Big brown eyes
Her youthful beauty
Small, petite frame
Often played vulnerable characters put through emotional ringers
Her sister is Lana Wood. Her half-sister is Olga Viriapaeff.
Named after director Sam Wood.
She suffered from a deep fear of drowning after having barely survived an accident when she was a little girl, during the filming of The Green Promise (1949). Her fear was so great that Elia Kazan had to lie - promising a double - and trick her into doing the scenes at the water reservoir in Splendor in the Grass (1961). She also had to do her own swimming scenes in "From Here to Eternity" (1979) despite her protests.
Interred at Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California, USA, Section D, #60. On her grave, marked Natalie Wood Wagner: Beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend "more than love".
Was commonly listed as 5' 3" wearing heels in movie magazines, though her actual height was 5' 0".
On Suturday, April 23rd, 1966, she made Harvard history when she became the first performer voted the year's worst by the Harvard Lampoon to show up and accept her citation.
An accident on a movie set (she fell into a river and almost drowned) when she was 9 years old left her with a permanently weakened left wrist and a slight bone protrusion, which, for the rest of her life, she hid with large bracelets. Regardless of the movie role, or anytime that she was out in public, she always wore a large bracelet on the left wrist.
The rubber dinghy "Prince Valiant" she'd allegedly been trying to board after falling from husband Robert Wagner's yacht that fateful Thanksgiving weekend in 1981, was named after Wagner's movie Prince Valiant (1954), a film the actor considered among his worst.
Attended ballet classes as a child with Jill St. John and Stefanie Powers. All three women would go on to have long-term relationships with Robert Wagner. Natalie was married to Wagner at the time of her death and St. John is now married to him. Powers was his costar on the 1979-1984 television series "Hart to Hart.".
Her death was kismet, as she always cited a fear of water.
Her and co-star Richard Beymer's singing voices were both dubbed in West Side Story (1961). The woman who dubbed Natalie, Marni Nixon, also dubbed Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) and Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956). It was later reported that Wood was disappointed that her singing voice was not use in the movie.
The daughter of a Russian architect and a French ballerina could do a proper plié before she could barely walk.
Her mother, Maria, claimed that the family was closely related to the Romanov dynasty.
Spoke Russian and English.
Though some people cite her mother as being French, her mother is Russian. The source of this misconception comes from the studio that Natalie worked at when she was a child -- people noticed her mother's accent and when asked if she was French, Maria replied: "Oh yes", a white lie that would contribute to this confusion.
Was offered the role of Daisy in The Great Gatsby (1974). At the time, it had been 5 years since Natalie had made a film. She was asked to do a screen test, and felt so offended that she withdrew from the role. After this, Natalie was no longer offered plum roles due to the fact that she had been forgotten after years away from acting, despite being younger than popular actresses of the time such as Jane Fonda.
Turned down roles that went to Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park (1967), Katharine Ross in The Graduate (1967) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Ali MacGraw in Goodbye, Columbus (1969), and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby (1974). After the mid-1970s, high-profile plum roles were no longer being offered to her due to the fact that she had not appeared in a widely released film since Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) and was no longer considered bankable. Altogether, she spent ten years without appearing in any widely released films, finally ending her hiatus in 1979 when she returned to the screen with a supporting role in the science fiction disaster film Meteor (1979).
She was cast as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976) (TV) quite unexpectedly, without campaigning for the role. Wood explained that when Laurence Olivier would come to Hollywood, she would often be seated with him at the table at formal sit-down dinners. When Olivier decided to make a version of the Tennessee Williams play, he thought of casting Wood, his dinner companion, and her husband, Robert Wagner, in the husband-wife roles of Brick and Maggie. Naturally, they accepted.
Wood knew screenwriter Gavin Lambert as both were intimates of director Randy Suhr. In the early 1960s, he wrote a novel about a Hollywood child star in the 1930s, Inside Daisy Clover (1965). After reading the book, Wood telephoned Lambert and said, "I'd kill for that part." He assured her she was his first choice for the movie, for which he was writing the screenplay. She got the part and Ruth Gordon got her first Oscar nomination as an actress for portraying Daisy's mother.
Both she and her sister Lana Wood have played the love interest of Richard Beymer in 2 separate films: she as Maria opposite Richard's Tony in West Side Story (1961), and Lana as Karen opposite Richard's Dean in Scream Free! (1969) (aka Free Grass).
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives." Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 889-890. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
People Magazine (USA) named her one of "The 25 most intriguing People of 1976" for the January 3 1977 issue.
Entertainment Weekly placed her on the "100 greatest stars of all time" list, at #70.
Voted one of the top sex stars of the 1970s in Playboy magazine.
Called "The Most Beautiful Teenager in the World" by Life magazine in 1956.
Once interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger, before his career took off, for the magazine "Hollywood Reporter" in 1979 two years before her her death. The article was entitled "The Body meets the Face".
Her death was listed at number 24 on E! Televisions 101 Most Shocking Moments in Entertainment.
Don Henley wrote the song "Dirty Laundry" to express his outrage at the tabloid press for their treatment of her after her death.
"Natalie's Song" by David Pack, was written about Natalie Wood.
"Eyes Like Natalie Wood" by Kathy Fleischmann, was written about her.
Former stepmother of Katie Wagner.
Started smoking at age 16. She remained a heavy smoker until her death at age 43.
She starred in over 40 theatrical films between ages 4 and 27. She went into semi-retirement afterwards, only appearing in five movies between age 28 and her death at 43.
Was scheduled to make her stage debut in "Anastasia" in February 1982 and was developing a film called "Country of the Heart," where she would play a terminally ill writer who has an affair with a younger man, to be played by Timothy Hutton. Both projects were canceled due to her death.
Her sole niece, Evan Taylor Maldanado, born on Sunday, August 11th, 1974.
Her mother, Maria Gurdin, died of pneumonia on January 6, 1998 at age 85.
Her sister, Lana Wood, is the author of the 1984 book "Natalie: a Memoir by Her Sister".
Her father, Nick Gurdin, died of a heart attack on Tuesday, November 18th, 1980 at age 66.
Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway turned down the role of Carol in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) before Natalie got the part. Natalie turned down Katharine Ross's role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) so she could star in the film.
If she lived, she would have two grand-nephews, Nicholas (born 1998) and Max (born 2003), and a grand-niece, Daphne (born 2000). Their mother is Evan Maldanado, who is the daughter of Natalie's sister Lana Wood.
According to a biographer, 43-year old Nicholas Ray wooed 16-year old Natalie by adorning a table with pink tablecloth and champagne, her preferred color and drink of choice.
Was the youngest nominee in her category each of the three times she was nominated for an Oscar, the first being when she was 17 and the last when she was 25.
Has multiple connections with the James Bond franchise. Her sister, Lana Wood, was a Bond girl in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Jill St. John, who was Natalie's childhood friend and is now married to her widower, Robert Wagner, also appeared as a Bond girl in the same film. Natalie co-starred in Meteor (1979) with Sean Connery, who played the James Bond character in seven films, and in Brainstorm (1983), she co-starred with Christopher Walken, who was a Bond villain in A View to a Kill (1985). Natalie also co-starred in "From Here to Eternity" (1979) with Kim Basinger, who was a Bond girl in Never Say Never Again (1983). Robert Wagner's character, "Number Two" in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), is a spoof of the character "Largo" in Thunderball (1965).
Twice appeared in her husband's television series Switch (1975) (TV) in cameos.
In March 2010, her sister Lana Wood spoke out about her death, announcing that she wants the case re-opened.
Often played the love interest of a significantly older man (Frank Sinatra, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Gene Kelly and Tony Curtis) or one that was several years older (James Garner, James Dean, Michael Caine, Tab Hunter and Steve McQueen). With the exception of Dean and McQueen, all of these actors ultimately outlived her.
Columbia Pictures secured the film rights for the Henry De Vere Stacpoole novel, "The Blue Lagoon" in the mid-1950s, with Natalie in the role of Emmeline Lestrange. However, the project was shelved for many years and wasn't filmed until the late 1970s and the film The Blue Lagoon (1980), released in 1980, ultimately starred Brooke Shields.
Had she lived, she would have become a first-time grandmother on 30 May 2012 when her eldest daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, gave birth to a girl named Clover Clementyne Watson.
Wood's death certificate was modified to show some of the uncertainties surrounding the actress' death. The document was amended in August 2012 and changed from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors," according to a copy of the certificate obtained August 21, 2012 by The Associated Press.
Her longtime friend, actress Hope Lange, delivered a eulogy at her funeral.
You get tough in this business, until you get big enough to hire people to get tough for you. Then you can sit back and be a lady.
[in 1961] In so many ways I think it's a bore to be sorry you were a child actor - so many people feel sorry for you automatically. At the time I wasn't aware of the things I missed, so why should I think of them in retrospect? Everybody misses something or other.
I felt a little funny when we were going to do the bed scene, all four of us, in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). I'm open to suggestions, I'm no prude, but four is a crowd in my book. Fortunately, Dyan Cannon was there. The thought of another woman being in there in the bed helped get me through it. It's not like it sounds. It's just that I don't think I could have done it if it had been me and three men.
[on being a child actor] I spent practically all my time in the company of adults. I was very withdrawn, very shy, I did what I was told and I tried not to disappoint anybody. I knew I had a duty to perform, and I was trained to follow orders.
[shortly before her death] You know what I want? I want yesterday.
[on dating Elvis Presley] Elvis was so square, we'd go . . . for hot fudge sundaes. He didn't drink, he didn't swear, he didn't even smoke. It was like having the date that I never had in high school.
[In 1981] I've always been terrified, still am, of water -- dark water or sea water, or river water or whatever.
[on Marilyn Monroe] When you look at Marilyn on the screen you don't want anything bad to happen to her. You really care that she should be all right...happy.
|Dear Brat (1951)||$2,333|
|Just for You (1952)||$6,500|
|Cash McCall (1960)||$150,000|
|All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960)||$150,000|
|West Side Story (1961)||$250,000|
|Sex and the Single Girl (1964)||$750,000|
|The Great Race (1965)||$7,000 (Director Blake Edwards and co-star Jack Lemmon each gave her half of his respective salary)|
|Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)||$250,000 + 10% of the net profits.|
(2001) Release of the book, "Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood" by Suzanne Finstad.
(1988) Release of the book, "Natalie and R.J.: Hollywood's Star-Crossed Lovers" by Warren G. Harris.
(1984) Release of the book, "Natalie: A Memoir By Her Sister" by Lana Wood.
(2004) Release of the biography, "Natalie Wood: A Life" by Gavin Lambert.
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