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Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood, born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, also billed as Natasha Gurdin (July 20, 1938, San Francisco, CaliforniaNovember 29, 1981, Santa Catalina Island, California) was a three-time Academy Award nominated American film actress. Wood began appearing in movies when she was 5 years old, had parts in successful Hollywood films and unlike many child actors made the difficult transition to adult roles, most notably in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and West Side Story (1961). By age 25 she was a three-time Oscar nominee for Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass and Love With the Proper Stranger. After her untimely death Time magazine noted that although critical praise for Wood had been sparse throughout her career, "she always had work."

Child actor

Wood's parents Nikolai and Maria Zakharenko were Russian immigrants, but they grew up far from their homeland: her father lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, while her mother grew up in a Chinese province. Shortly after her birth in San Francisco they moved north to Sonoma County and lived in Santa Rosa, California where Wood was noticed during a film shoot in downtown Santa Rosa. Her mother soon moved the family to Los Angeles and pursued a career for her daughter. By age four Natalia was being billed as Natasha Gurdin, Gurdin being the family's surname by this point. Like many parents of child actors her mother tightly managed and controlled the young girl's career and personal life. Her father has been described by Wood's biographers as a passive alcoholic. At the studio's suggestion, Natasha's name was changed to Natalie Wood during her period as a child actor for Warner Bros.

As a seven year old, Wood played a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever. Welles later said that Wood was a born professional, "so good, she was terrifying". Her performance in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street made Wood one of the top child stars in Hollywood. She would appear on over 20 films as a child, appearing opposite such stars as James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara, Bette Davis and Bing Crosby. Her sister Lana Wood also became an actress and later, notably, a Bond girl. They had a half-sister, Olga. (Gavin Lambert's biography strongly suggests that Wood's biological father was Captain George Zepaloff, Maria's longtime lover, and not Nikolai Gurdin as Wood believed.)

Adult career

Wood successfully made the transition from child star to ingenue at age 16 when she co-starred in Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean and Sal Mineo. Her performance won her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She followed this with a small but crucial role in John Ford's The Searchers opposite John Wayne. Her sister, Lana played her as a child in the film's earlier scenes. She graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1955.

Signed to Warner Brothers, Wood was kept busy during the remainder of the 1950's in many 'girlfriend' roles that she found unsatisfying. The studio cast her in two films opposite Tab Hunter, hoping to turn the duo into a box office draw that never eventuated. Among the other films made at this time were Kings Go Forth with Frank Sinatra and the title role in Marjorie Morningstar.

After appearing in the box office flop, All the Fine Young Cannibals with then husband, Robert Wagner, Wood's career was salvaged by her casting in Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass in 1961 which earned her Best Actress Nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards.

Also in 1961 Wood played Maria in the Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise musical West Side Story which was a major box office and critical success. She had been signed to do her own singing but was later dubbed by session singer Marni Nixon. Wood's own singing voice was used when she starred in the 1962 film Gypsy and she also sang in the slapstick comedy The Great Race (1965) co-starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Peter Falk. Wood received her third Academy Award nomination (and another Golden Globe nod) in 1963 for Love with the Proper Stranger opposite Steve McQueen.

Although many of Wood's films were commercially profitable her acting was often criticized. In 1966 she won the Harvard Lampoon Worst Actress of the Year Award. She was the first performer in the award's history to accept it in person and the Harvard Crimson wrote she was "quite a good sport.

Other notable films Wood made during this period were Inside Daisy Clover and This Property Is Condemned, both of which co-starred Robert Redford and both bringing subsequent Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress. After appearing in the hit film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Wood semi-retired to start a family with her second husband Richard Gregson but their marriage ended in divorce a short time later.

She appeared in occasional theatrical films during the 1970's, preferring roles in TV Movies, including a remake of From Here To Eternity that won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. At the time of her death, Wood was filming the sci-fi film Brainstorm with co-star Christopher Walken.

Relationships

Biographer Suzanne Finstad claimed Wood slept with director Nicholas Ray while she was trying to land the lead role in what became her breakthrough picture, Ray's Rebel Without a Cause. Meanwhile Dennis Hopper was publicly involved with Wood and reportedly made an unannounced visit only to discover her in bed with Ray. Biographer Gavin Lambert claimed both Ray and James Dean helped renew Wood's passion for acting after roles in lackluster movies like Chicken Every Sunday, Dear Brat and Father Was a Fullback. Wood also had highly publicized relationships with actors Raymond Burr, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty, Nick Adams, Tab Hunter, Michael Caine and Scott Marlowe, along with singer Elvis Presley.

However, Lambert writes that contrary to popular belief, Wood's casting in Rebel Without a Cause did not lead to a romance with co-star James Dean: "Like many people," she was only "fascinated by his charm." In fact, the teenaged Wood went on studio-arranged dates, often with closeted gay actors. In 1956, one of these was Tab Hunter who was seven years older than her and with whom she developed a lasting friendship. They attended parties to promote films they co-starred in that year, The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind. In his autobiography, Hunter tells how highly publicized, sham Hollywood romances were a marketing strategy meant to stir up interest in forthcoming films among the newly influential teenaged girl market. Wood's long relationship with Nick Adams, according to Lambert another "gay or bisexual actor," also began with such a "studio-arranged date." In his biography of gay Hollywood agent Henry Willson, Robert Hofler deals with the rise of the studio star system, in which several gay actors dated girls in order to cover their homosexuality. "In the Henry Willson date pool, Nick Adams was one client, among many, who glommed on to Natalie Wood to get his picture taken. According to Lambert and his reviewer David Ehrenstein, Wood also financially supported homosexual playwright Mart Crowley in a manner that made it possible for him to write his play, The Boys in the Band. Concerning a possible relationship between Wood and homosexual actor Raymond Burr, 21 years her senior, Wood's biographer, Suzanne Finstad, cites Dennis Hopper as saying, "I just can't wrap my mind around that one. But you know, I saw them together. They were definitely a couple. Who knows what was going on there." However, "the studio pressured Wood and Raymond to break up their romance", Burr biographer Ona L. Hill writes, "because they wanted to keep Wood's sweet, all-American girl image. ... Deeply hurt by this command, they parted as friends...

Robert Wagner

Natalie Wood's two marriages to actor Robert Wagner were highly publicized. As newlyweds in 1958 they were asked to hand out Oscar trophies at that year's Academy Awards ceremony. Four years later Wood sought a divorce telling the judge Wagner spent a lot of time playing golf and regularly criticized her friends, who did not play golf. The breakup may have had more to do with the stress of financial worries and Wagner's lagging career. Wood and Wagner remarried in 1972.

Death

In September and October 1981, Wood and Wagner stayed in Raleigh, North Carolina while Wood did location work for the science-fiction film Brainstorm. Wood then spent most of November in California shooting interior scenes with Christopher Walken and other cast members on the MGM lot in Culver City.

After Thanksgiving, Wood, Wagner and Walken went on to Catalina Island for the weekend and on Saturday night their yacht (Splendor) was anchored in Isthmus Cove. Also on board was the boat's skipper, Dennis Davern, who had worked for the couple for many years. Wood apparently tried to either leave the yacht or secure a dinghy from banging against the hull when she accidentally slipped and fell overboard. A woman on a nearby yacht said she heard calls for help at around midnight. The cries lasted for about 15 minutes and were answered by someone else who said, "Take it easy. We'll be over to get you". "It was laid back," the witness recalled. "There was no urgency or immediacy in their shouts". An investigation by Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi resulted in an official verdict of accidental drowning. Noguchi concluded Wood had drunk "seven or eight" glasses of wine and was intoxicated when she died. There were marks and bruises on her body which could have been received as a result of her fall. Noguchi later wrote had Wood not been intoxicated she likely would have realized her heavy down-filled coat and wool sweater were pulling her underwater and would have removed them. Noguchi also wrote that he found Wood's fingernails embedded in the rubber boat's side.

At the time of her death at the age of 43, Wood was scheduled to make her stage debut in an Ahmanson Theatre production of Anastasia with Dame Wendy Hiller. Rehearsals were planned to begin in December. Brainstorm was released in theaters two years later (missing at least one unfilmed scene meant for Wood) and was neither a critical nor a commercial success. Her body is buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

Appearances and awards

Filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1943 Happy Land Bit Part
1946 The Bride Wore Boots Carol Warren
Tomorrow Is Forever Margaret Ludwig
1947 Driftwood Jenny Hollingsworth
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Anna Muir as a child
Miracle on 34th Street Susan Walker
1948 Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! Bean McGill
1949 Father Was a Fullback Ellen Cooper
The Green Promise Susan Anastasia Matthews
Chicken Every Sunday Ruth Hefferan
1950 Never a Dull Moment Nancy 'Nan' Howard
The Jackpot Phyllis Lawrence
Our Very Own Penny Macaulay
No Sad Songs for Me Polly Scott
1951 The Blue Veil Stephanie Rawlins
Dear Brat Pauline
1952 The Star Gretchen
Just for You Barbara Blake
The Rose Bowl Story Sally Burke
1954 The Silver Chalice Helena as a child
1955 Rebel Without a Cause Judy Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
One Desire Seely Dowder
1956 The Girl He Left Behind Susan Daniels
The Burning Hills Maria Christina Colton
A Cry in the Night Liz Taggert
The Searchers Debbie Edwards (older)
1957 Bombers B-52 Lois Brennan
1958 Kings Go Forth Monique Blair
Marjorie Morningstar Marjorie Morgenstern
1960 All the Fine Young Cannibals Sarah 'Salome' Davis
Cash McCall Lory Austen
1961 West Side Story Maria
Splendor in the Grass Wilma Dean Loomis Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Nominated - BAFTA Award Best Foreign Actress
1962 Gypsy Gypsy Rose Lee Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1963 Love with the Proper Stranger Angie Rossini Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1964 Sex and the Single Girl Helen Gurley Brown
1965 Inside Daisy Clover Daisy Clover Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
The Great Race Maggie DuBois
1966 Penelope Penelope Elcott
This Property Is Condemned Alva Starr Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1969 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Carol Sanders
1972 The Candidate Herself
1975 Peeper Ellen Prendergast
1979 Meteor Tatiana Nikolaevna Donskaya
1980 The Last Married Couple in America Mari Thompson
1983 Brainstorm Karen Brace

Television

Year Film Role Notes
1953 Pride of the Family Ann Morrison Television series (one season)
1973 The Affair Courtney Patterson Released theatrically outside of the U.S.
1976 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Maggie
1979 From Here to Eternity Karen Holmes Miniseries, Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
The Cracker Factory Cassie Barrett
Hart to Hart Cameo Pilot episode, as Natasha Gurdin
1980 The Memory of Eva Ryker Eva/Claire Ryker

Other awards

Year Group Award Film Result
1946 Box Office Magazine Most Talented Young Actress of 1946 Tomorrow is Forever Won
1956 National Association of Theatre Owners Star of Tomorrow Award Won
1957 Golden Globe Award New Star Of The Year - Actress Rebel Without A Cause Won
1958 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Marjorie Morningstar Nominated
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (13th place)
1959 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (7th place)
1960 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (9th place)
1961 Grauman's Chinese Theatre Handprint Ceremony Inducted
1961 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (14th place)
1962 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Splendor in the Grass Nominated
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (5th place)
1963 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Musical Performance Gypsy Nominated
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (2nd place)
1964 Mar del Plata Film Festival Best Actress Love with the Proper Stranger Won
New York Film Critics Award Best Actress Love with the Proper Stranger Nominated
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Love with the Proper Stranger Nominated
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (3rd place)
1965 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (6th place)
1966 Golden Globe Award World Film Favorite Won
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (8th place)
1967 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (3th place)
1968 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (12th place)
1970 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (9th place)
1971 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (9th place)
1984 Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actress Brainstorm Nominated
1987 Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Hollywood Walk of Fame - Inducted

See also

References and notes

Bibliography

  • Finstad, Suzanne. Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood. Three Rivers Press, 2001. ISBN 0-609-80957-1.
  • Frascella, Lawrence and Al Weisel. Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause Touchstone, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-6082-1.
  • Harris, Warren G. Hollywood's Star-Crossed Lovers "Natalie and R.J.". Doubleday, 1988. ISBN 0-385-23691-3.
  • Lambert, Gavin. Natalie Wood: A Life. London: Faber and Faber, 2004. ISBN 0-571-22197-1.
  • Nickens, Christopher. Natalie Wood: A Biography in Photographs. Doubleday, 1986. ISBN 0-385-23307-8.
  • Noguchi, Thomas T. Coroner. Simon & Schuster (October 1983). ISBN 0671467727.
  • Wood, Lana. Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister. Putnam Pub Group, 1984. ISBN 0-399-12903-0.

External links

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