HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: This dark beauty rode '50s success to a rare stardom in the '60s, taking her from roles as a singin' senorita at the beginning of the decade to a swingin' suburbanite at the end.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Movie Star
BIRTH: Natalie was born in '38, so she was a gorgeous 22 in '60. Her exotic birthplace: San Francisco, California. Her moniker at birth: Natasha Gurdin.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: Natalie Wood was a major star who looked and lived the part, and she starred in some of the most-heralded, most-discussed movies ever, especially West Side Story and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. As great as her impact was, it might've been even greater if she'd accepted one more key '60s role that was supposedly offered to her but that she rejected: the role of Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde, which was played to Oscar-nominated perfection by Faye Dunaway. It's said that Warren Beatty begged Natalie to co-star in Bonnie and Clyde, but she refused, not wanting to be separated from her analyst while the movie went on location to Texas for three months.
CAREER IN THE '60s: The '60s for Natalie were filled with great movies that put her in romantic, comedic, dramatic, and musical roles, often as a sexy, strong-minded young woman. She starred in the classic West Side Story and Splendor in the Grass in '61 (the latter bringing her an Oscar nomination), Gypsy in '62, Love with the Proper Stranger in '63 (another Oscar nomination), Sex and the Single Girl in '64 (based on Helen Gurley Brown's popular book), and Inside Daisy Clover and The Great Race in '65, all before she was thirty. Yet supposedly she was so depressed over her career that she attempted suicide in '66 via a barbiturate OD. After Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in '69, the '70s and '80s saw a dwindling number, and a dwindling significance, of her films.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Born to Russian immigrants, she began her legendary career as a child star in the '40s, most notably in the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street in '47. Without skipping a beat, her stardom continued through her teen years, and she made two films per year during the '50s, including Rebel Without a Cause in '55, The Searchers in '56, and Marjorie Morningstar in '58. So busy and popular was Natalie that by the time she was twenty she'd already been in thirty movies. After the '60s, her '70s and '80s were highlighted by starring roles in Olivier's TV presentation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ('76), Meteor ('79), and Brainstorm ('83) stand as the best-known of her later works. She was successful as a producer, because she and Robert Wagner formed a production company in the '70s called RONA2, short for Robert Natalie Second Time; the company co-owned "Charlie's Angels" and produced Wagner's TV hit "Hart to Hart" that co-starred Stefanie Powers. Sadly, her career came to a tragic, sudden end. Throughout her life Natalie had an intense fear of water, and ironically, at the age of 43, she mysteriously drowned off Catalina Island. Today she's buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Westwood, California, the same cemetery where Marilyn Monroe is interred. And though she was a star who knew fame in every decade from the '40s to the '80s, her tombstone is a tribute to Natalie, the person: "Beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend," with the words "More than love" an adoring coda to her memory.
TALENT: She was versatile and well-respected by the public, though rival actresses sometimes made catty remarks about her lack of talent. Her singing was dubbed in West Side Story (the vocals were by Marni Nixon, the same woman who later dubbed Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), but Natalie really did sing in Gypsy. She was nominated for two Oscars in the '60s (Splendor in the Grass and Love with the Proper Stranger). Earlier she'd gotten an Oscar nomination for Rebel Without a Cause in '55, and she'd won a Golden Globe in '57 as the Most Promising Newcomer.
HER '60s LOOK: Glamorously beautiful with great coloring, Natalie was one of Hollywood's true beauties and one of the most popular queens of movie magazines (Life named her Screen Personality of the Year in '63). Her dark features enabled her to play ethnic roles, as in West Side Story, but also to play a traditional Hollywood siren in The Great Race. Early in her career she would wear six-inch high heels to add some loft to her 5' 3" height, but movie audiences rarely noticed her height as her stunning beauty and knockout figure developed. One physical characteristic that's rarely noticed: Bios refer to her slightly deformed left wrist, which she hid with bracelets, long sleeves, and proper camera angles. In '63's Movie Life Yearbook her stats were given as 100 pounds, 33-20-35.
LIFESTYLE: Early in her career she dated much older men such as Robert Vaughn and John Ireland. Later she dated Elvis, and she spoke about their dates:
"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 ... I'd never been around anyone who was that religious. He felt he had been given this gift, this talent, by God. He didn't take it for granted. He thought it was something that he had to protect. He had to be nice to people, otherwise God would take it all away."
She flew to Memphis to meet the family, but they didn't take to her and the affair broke off. During the decade she was also linked romantically to many major stars, including James Dean, Warren Beatty,Tab Hunter, Steve McQueen, and Frank. When she was eleven she had met teen heartthrob Robert Wager on the Fox lot, when they remet at a charity luncheon she was seventeen and already a stunning beauty. Their first date was on her eighteenth birthday, and a year later he proposed by slipping a diamond engagement ring into her champagne glass at a fancy restaurant. They married on December 28th of '57 in a formal, private ceremony in Scottsdale, Arizona. As his career tailed off and hers took off in the early '60s, they grew apart and separated in June of '61. She went on to date Beatty, he went on to marry Marian Marshall. At the end of the decade Natalie married the older Richard Gregson, who was a producer, but they were divorced in '71. She lived alone for awhile with her eighteen-month-old daughter, Natasha, and supposedly she dated pre-governor Jerry Brown. But when she ran into Wagner again at a party, they quickly hit it off and were remarried on July 16th of '72, a casual ceremony held on a yacht parked off Malibu. Their daughter Courtney was born March 9th of '74. Natalie put in a cameo on Wagner';s "Hart to Hart" in '79; she and Wagner were also in All the Fine Young Cannibals ('62) and the TV movies The Affair ('73) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (76) together. Of relationships, she once said, "The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man is when he's a baby." After her death Wagner was befriended by Jill St. John, whom he married a decade later.
EXTRAS: Director Elia Kazan nudged her into a sexual relationship with Beatty while Splendor in the Grass was shooting, figuring the sexual chemistry would add to the picture ... supposedly she beat out Ann-Margret, for the starring role in Gypsy ... for that movie she shed her sweet image to play the role of the sexy stripper ... one of the child actors in that movie was Ann Jillian, whom Natalie befriended on the set ... Natalie's sister is an awesomely constructed swingin' Bond chick of the '70s, Lana Wood, who played Plenty O'Toole in Bond's Diamonds Are Forever ... venerable actress Rosalind Russell once said about Natalie's role in Gypsy: "Natalie Wood will be sensational; she plays a stripper" ... after her death, Robert Wagner said, "What gets me is that Natalie has missed so much already -- seeing the kids grow up and flourish. She worked so hard all her life. Natalie had some tough times, being put out there to work at four years old, being pushed ... working very hard on her life, on her talent, and then bang! Gone! And it's terrible .... Natalie lived more than most of us live. She felt more. She experienced more. She did more and gave more. She created a lot of light in her life. She caught her rainbows" ... for some unexplained reason, for years fans have been leaving pennies on her grave, and nobody in her family knows why ... though Natalie was Russian Orthodox, leaving coins at a grave is not part of any religious tradition, leaving cemetery officials baffled by the strange practice.