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May 15, 2017

30 Beautiful Black and White Photographs of Natalie Wood at Home in Los Angeles in the 1950s

Before she was a lady of Beverly Hills, Natalie Wood (July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981) was a Valley Girl—long before the term came to satirize adolescent fatuousness. As a teenage movie star in the fifties, Natalie, together with her Russian immigrant parents and sister Lana, lived in a succession of communities in the San Fernando Valley: Burbank, Northridge, Sherman Oaks and Laurel Canyon’s north slope, where it widens into Studio City.

The family had moved to Los Angeles from the San Francisco area in 1945, when Natalie, at the age of seven, landed her first speaking part in a movie, Tomorrow Is Forever, with Claudette Colbert and Orson Welles. Born Natasha Gurdin, she became Natalie Wood when director Irving Pichel decided that the name Natalie sounded better than Natasha and that Gurdin should be replaced by Wood, after his friend the director Sam Wood. The Tomorrow part led to others, culminating in a leading role in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which turned Natalie Wood into a genuine child star.

Unlike many child actors who flame out when they reach adolescence, Natalie thrived. Her mother managed her career, her father worked as a studio carpenter and artist, and the family enjoyed life in the San Fernando Valley. It was while living in a house on Laurel Canyon Boulevard—a stucco-and-stone fifties modern with three bedrooms at the top of a steep driveway—that Natalie Wood flowered from a tree-climbing, pet-loving kid into the duskily beautiful sixteen-year-old who starred in Rebel Without a Cause.

Released in 1955, the film struck a strong chord with the same generation of young people who were being captivated by J. D. Salinger and Elvis Presley. To rehearse for Rebel, Natalie was driven by her mother from the Laurel Canyon house south through the twisting canyon to writer-director Nicholas Ray’s suite at the Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard. There Natalie got to know her fellow actors: James Dean, Nick Adams, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper, among others. Soon her new friends were frequenting the Laurel Canyon house, where they made a game of diving and touching a smiling tile mermaid on the bottom of the swimming pool.

“Boys flowed in and out of our house, and every arrival and departure—plus all that went on in between—was carefully monitored by Mother,” recalled Natalie’s sister Lana Wood in her book, Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister.

(Photos by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Really enjoyed that post. Thank you so much.

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