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July 21, 2019

12 Tragic Facts About the Life and Death of Natalie Wood

From scene-stealing child star to sexy ingénue, Natalie Wood (July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981) captured the hearts of millions on and off the screen with her infectious laugh and enchanting eyes.

One of Hollywood’s most beloved icons, the petite brunette beauty gave us some of the most emotionally charged performances in cinematic history in films including Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story. It’s been nearly 40 years since Wood’s tragic and untimely death, but her star power has stayed.

Natalie Wood would have turned 81 on July 20. To honor her, here are 12 facts you may not know about the brilliant actress who could make audiences laugh, cry and sympathize.

1. She Never Really Had a Childhood

Starting her career at just 5 years old, Natalie was often the victim of her overbearing mother’s attempts to fulfill her own dreams of stardom. Wood’s mother played a significant role in her daughter’s early career, coaching her and micromanaging aspects of her career even after Wood acquired agents.

After the huge success of Miracle on 34th Street, Natalie was working pretty much nonstop with over 20 films under her belt by the time she was 14. As a child actress, Wood received significant media attention. By age nine, she had been named the “most exciting juvenile motion picture star of the year” by Parents.

2. Teenage Troubles

As a young Hollywood actress in the 1950s, Wood was vulnerable to older men in the industry. In ‘Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood,’ author Suzanne Finstad writes that Wood was raped by a “prominent, married actor-producer” but was warned never to mention the name of her attacker. At the age of 15-years-old, she was also romantically linked to Frank Sinatra.

When director Nicholas Ray was searching for a female lead in his film Rebel Without a Cause. Later in an interview, Wood revealed that she was involved in a car crash with her boyfriend at the time, actor Dennis Hopper, and Ray had come to visit her in hospital. She revealed the doctor called her a “goddamn juvenile delinquent.” She then yelled at Ray, “Did you hear what he called me, Nick? He called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent! Now do I get the part?”

3. Phobia of Water

The fortune teller her mother had met in China prior to her birth also predicted that Wood would die in a drowning accident. Since her mother repeated this, Wood has always suffered from a phobia of water and even struggled with washing her own hair.

Aged 10-years-old, she was filming a scene for the 1949 film The Green Promise and the script called for her to cross a bridge. The crew had rigged the bridge so that once she reached the other side it would collapse into the raging river below. She then suffered her worst fear – the bridge collapsed early and threw her into the water. Instead of helping the petrified young actress, director William D. Russell told the crew, “Keep the cameras rolling” as Wood struggled with a broken wrist.

Later aged 14-years-old, whilst filming The Star with Bette Davis in 1952, the script was changed and she was ordered to hump off the back of a boat. Wood became hysterical but was told either to jump or lose her role.

4. She Always Wore Bracelets to Cover Up an Old Injury

While filming The Green Promise in 1949, a scene called for the young actress to run across a bridge that would then collapse. The stunt didn’t go as planned, and Natalie ended up with a broken arm. Her wrist never healed quite right, so she always concealed a protruding bone with large bracelets.

5. She Hated Her Stage Name

Natalie was born Natasha Nikolaevna Zacharenko on July 20, 1938, but as was common back in her early career, a studio executive changed it to the one we’re used to seeing on her film credits.

According to Natalie and R.J.: The Star-Crossed Love Affair of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, she said at one point, “I didn’t mind Natalie, but I hated ‘Wood.’ It didn’t suggest a nice image to me.”

6. She Was Incredibly Self-Conscious About Her Looks

At just shy of 5’2 (1.57 m), she would frequently wear high stiletto heels to appear much taller. She would also coat her face in heavy makeup and wear low-cut dresses to try to bolster her self-image.

Again as described in Natalie and RJ, someone once suggested that Natalie should tone things down, to which she replied, “I’m Natalie Wood and this is how I look when I go out.”

7. Doomed Marriages

On her 18th birthday, she went on a date with the 26-year-old actor Robert Wagner which was arranged through the studio they both worked for. One year later, they were married and their high-profile marriage featured on the cover of many magazines.

The partnership only lasted five years and Wood revealed in an interview, “My marriage collapsed (one) weekend. It’s too painful for me to recall in print the incidents that led to the final breakup. It was more than the final straw. It was reality crushing the fragile web of romantic fantasies with sledgehammer force.” According to her sister, Lana Wood, Wagner had been having an affair with a man. She claimed, “(Natalie) said she caught him with someone. And that someone was another man.”

8. Warren Beatty Seriously Broke Her Heart

After Natalie and Robert Wagner ended their first marriage, she spent time in a relationship with her Splendor in the Grass costar. When Warren decided to end things, however, he was brutally abrupt.

Reports from People magazine claim she was so distraught by his sudden absence that she even attempted to take her own life.

9. She Passed Away Just Before Her Big Comeback

Natalie had taken a break from acting to focus on motherhood, but returned to a major studio in 1981 to film her first big break in years, Brainstorm. They managed to complete the film using a body double in her place.

10. The Mysterious Death of a Star

On November 28th, 1981, during a break filming Brainstorm; Wood, Wagner, actor Christopher Walker and the boat’s captain Dennis Davern all set sail for a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island. What happened next is still undetermined. Around 8 a.m the following morning, the body of Wood was recovered from the water and her death was explained as an accidental drowning. Her body was bruised and there was also an abrasion to her cheek.

In a 1997 interview with Playboy magazine, Walken said, “What happened that night only she knows, because she was alone. A dinghy was bouncing against the side of the boat, and I think she went out to move it. There was a ski ramp that was partially in the water. It was slippery – I had walked on it myself. She had told me she couldn’t swim. She was probably half asleep, and she was wearing a coat.” Wood’s death has always been suspicious as to why the actress – with a known phobia of water – would attempt to board a dinghy in the middle of the night.

11. The Captain Speaks Out

There are only three people who really know what happened on the night of Wood’s death. Wagner, Walken and the boat’s Captain – Dennis Davern. In 2012, Davern told HLN’s Nancy Grace Friday that the tension on the boat was because Wagner had been jealous of Wood and her co-star Walken. He said, “(On that night) the jealousy was just getting so intense, he picked up the bottle of wine and smashed it right in front of Natalie and Christopher on the coffee table.”

He continued, “The arguing went on onto the upper deck and moments later everything became silent so I thought that was going to be the end of it. (Later) I went to the upper deck and Wagner was just standing there and he said that Natalie was missing and would I go search the boat.” After searching the boat, Wood was nowhere to be seen and Davern suggested turning on the searchlight to see if Natalie could be seen in the water. However, Wagner refused for the searchlight to be turned on. By the time they had called the coast guard it was already daylight.

12. Robert Wagner Becomes a ‘Person of Interest’

In 2012, Wood’s death certificate was amended from accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Now, Los Angeles police were interested in Wagner’s exact involvement in the death of Wood. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina told 48 Hours, “As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now. I mean, we know now that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”

They had also become suspicious as he had repeatedly changed his story about the exact events of the night. According to Wagner’s own memoirs, which were published in 2008, it was himself and Walken who had been arguing on the boat. Wagner recalls going to bed then waking only to realize that both Wood and dinghy were missing.

Since the case has been reopened Wagner has not been interviewed again and he has always denied any involvement in Wood’s death.

(via Crime Viral and Little Things)



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