Professional Name: Natalie Wood

Birth Name: Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko

Birth Date: 20 July 1938

Birth Place: San Francisco, California, USA

Date of Death: 29 November 1981

Place of Death: Santa Catalina Island, California, USA

Cause of Death: Drowning (in boating accident)

Profession: Actress

Notable Works: West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass, Love with a Proper Stranger


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It's one of Hollywood's bitter ironies that an actress who gave the world so much pleasure, both as a child and an adult, should chiefly be remembered for the mysterious and unhappy manner in which she died. She began appearing in movies at the age of five, with a bit in Happy Land (1943), then reappeared a few years later with roles in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), winning the hearts of audiences that same year as the little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. She literally grew up onscreen, appearing in Chicken Every Sunday (1948), Father Was a Fullback (1949), Never a Dull Moment (1950), Dear Brat (1951), The Star (1952), and The Silver Chalice (1954), and passing into a graceful adolescence without hitting that gawky stage that so many girls suffer before attaining womanhood.

Her teenage years saw Wood in two of her best roles: as James Dean's girlfriend in Rebel Without a Cause (1955, for which she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination), and as John Wayne's niece, kidnapped by Indians in The Searchers (1956). Wood tiptoed into adult roles in the likes of Kings Go Forth, Marjorie Morningstar (both 1958), All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960, with Robert Wagner), and Splendor in the Grass (1961, Oscar-nominated, and paired with young Warren Beatty). By then, she'd grown into a stunning young woman with lustrous dark hair, large eyes, and a lovely figure.

A living embodiment (and vindication) of studio-system grooming, Wood entered the peak phase of her career, starring in West Side Story (1961, as Maria), Gypsy (1962, as stripper Gypsy Rose Lee), Love With the Proper Stranger (1963, Oscar nominated again), Sex and the Single Girl (1964, a pre-feminist comedy starring her as a "liberated" psychologist), The Great Race, Inside Daisy Clover (both 1965), Penelope and This Property Is Condemned (both 1966). After costarring in the smash hit Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), she put her career on the back burner.

Wood made only a few more movies, including Peeper (1975), The Last Married Couple in America (1979), and Willie and Phil (1980, in a cameo as herself), although she enjoyed considerable success on TV, as Maggie in a small-screen adaptation of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (with Robert Wagner and Laurence Olivier) and as Karen in "From Here to Eternity." Married twice to actor Robert Wagner (1957-63, and then from 1972), Wood in 1981 was working with Christopher Walken on a sci-fi thriller called Brainstorm when, on the Wagners' yacht, she disappeared one night. Her body washed ashore the next morning, and the circumstances of her death were never fully discovered. The unfinished Brainstorm languished for two years before being cobbled together and released to mixed reviews and indifferent box office. Though the film was flawed, she lent it a luminous presence.

A subsequent book by Wood's younger sister Lana, herself an actress, revealed that, in fact, Natalie's life had been filled with unhappiness and insecurity. Lana played Natalie as a child in The Searchers (1956), and as an adult appeared in Diamonds Are Forever (1971, as Plenty O'Toole), and numerous exploitation films, including A Place Called Today (1972), Satan's Mistress (1975), and Nightmare in Badham County (1976).

-Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia


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Brainstorm (1983) .... Karen Brace
The Memory of Eva Ryker (1980) (TV) .... Eva/Claire Ryker
The Last Married Couple in America (1980) .... Mari Thompson
Meteor (1979) .... Tatiana Nikolaevna Donskaya
Hart to Hart (1979) (TV) (as Natasha Gurdin) .... Cameo appearance
The Cracker Factory (1979) (TV) .... Cassie Barrett
"From Here to Eternity" (1979) (mini) TV Series .... Karen Holmes
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976) (TV) .... Maggie
Peeper (1975) .... Ellen Prendergast
The Affair (1973) (TV) .... Courtney Patterson
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) .... Carol Sanders
Penelope (1966) .... Penelope Elcott
This Property Is Condemned (1966) .... Alva Starr
Inside Daisy Clover (1965) .... Daisy Clover
The Great Race (1965) .... Maggie DuBois
Sex and the Single Girl (1964) .... Helen Gurley Brown
Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) .... Angie Rossini
Gypsy (1962) .... Louise 'Gypsy Rose Lee' Hovick
West Side Story (1961) .... Maria
Splendor in the Grass (1961) .... Wilma Dean Loomis
All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960) .... Sarah 'Salome' Davis
Cash McCall (1960) .... Lory Austen
Kings Go Forth (1958) .... Monique Blair
Marjorie Morningstar (1958) .... Marjorie Morgenstern
Bombers B-52 (1957) .... Lois Brennan
The Girl He Left Behind (1956) .... Susan Daniels
The Burning Hills (1956) .... Maria Christina Colton
A Cry in the Night (1956) .... Liz Taggart
The Searchers (1956) .... Debbie Edwards (older)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) .... Judy
One Desire (1955) .... Seely Dowder
The Silver Chalice (1954) .... Helena, as a child
"The Pride of the Family" (1953) TV Series .... Ann Morrison (1953-1955)
The Star (1952) .... Gretchen
Just for You (1952) .... Barbara Blake
The Rose Bowl Story (1952) .... Sally Burke
The Blue Veil (1951) .... Stephanie Rawlins
Dear Brat (1951) .... Pauline
Never a Dull Moment (1950) .... Nancy 'Nan' Hayward
The Jackpot (1950) .... Phyllis Lawrence
Our Very Own (1950) .... Penny Macaulay
No Sad Songs for Me (1950) .... Polly Scott
Father Was a Fullback (1949) .... Ellen Cooper
The Green Promise (1949) .... Susan Anastasia Matthews
Chicken Every Sunday (1949) .... Ruth Hefferan
Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948) .... Bean McGill
Driftwood (1947) .... Jenny Hollingsworth
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) .... Anna Muir as a Child
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) .... Susan Walker
The Bride Wore Boots (1946) .... Carol Warren
Tomorrow Is Forever (1946) .... Margaret Ludwig
Happy Land (1943) (uncredited) .... Bit Part


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-Married Robert Wagner (16 July 1972 - 29 November 1981) (remarried) (her death); 1 child

-Married to Richard Gregson (30 May 1969 - 1 August 1971) (divorced) 1 child

-Married to Robert Wagner (28 December 1957 - 27 April 1962) (divorced)

-In the 1950s she was known as a "Hollywood Badgirl" along with Janet Leigh & Debbie Reynolds.

-Natalie was suffering from a deep fear of drowning after having barely survived an accident 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).

-On April 23, 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.

-Reportedly turned down Warren Beatty's offer to play opposite him in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) because she didn't want to be separated from her analyst while the film was on location in the Midwest.

-Splendour, the name of the yacht Wood was on the night she died, was named after her 1961 movie Splendor in the Grass (1961). She co-starred in the film with former love Warren Beatty.

-An accident on a movie set 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.

-Director Sydney Pollack credits her with his big break.

-Attended ballet classes with two time husband Robert Wagner's third wife Jill St. John and Wagner's "Hart to Hart" (1979) co-star Stefanie Powers.

-Pallbearers at her funeral were Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Elia Kazan, Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Fred Astaire.

-Daughter with Robert Wagner: Courtney Brooke (b. 9 March 1974).

-Daughter with Richard Gregson: Natasha (b. 29 September 1970).

-Natalie dated Elvis Presley in the 1950s, Elvis wanted to marry her, but Elvis's mother did not like Natalie.

- Natalie 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).

-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 was Russian. The source of this misconception comes from the studio that Natalie worked at when she was young - 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.

"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 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." (1961)

"I felt a little funny when we were going to do the bed scene, all four of us, in 'Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.' 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."