Thursday, August 4, 2011

Remember Her?

     She was born in San Francisco in 1938 to Russian parents, and named Наталья Николаевна Захаренко. You'd think a name like that might hold you back, but she was acting in movies by the age of four. 

     Her paternal grandfather, who worked in a chocolate factory, was killed in a fight between Red and White Russian soldiers in 1918. Her father was born in Vladivostok, then immigrated to Montreal, then San Francisco. Her mother originally came from Barnaul, in southern Siberia, and grew up in the Chinese city of Harbin, dreaming of becoming an actress or a ballet dancer.

     Shortly after she was born, her mother insisted on moving the family to Los Angeles to pursue a career for her daughter, who now "Americanized" her name to Natasha Zacharenko.

     She made her film debut with a bit part in a 1943 movie called Happy Land. Two years later she got the part of a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever. Welles later commented that the young girl was a born professional, and "so good she was terrifying."

     She appeared in 20 films as a child actress, then at age 16 made the transition to a teenage ingenue -- in a role that won her a nomination for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.

     In all, she made over 50 films. Three were with Robert Redford: Inside Daisy Clover (1965), This Property Is Condemned (1966) and a walk-on in The Candidate (1972). She was twice nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actress, but lost out both times. Her first nomination came for her 1961 role opposite Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass,(she lost to Sophia Loren in Two Women) and her second in 1963 playing opposite Steve McQueen in Love with the Proper Stranger. (when she lost to Patricia Neal in Hud.)

     Her Best Supporting nomination came in 1955 for her role in Rebel Without a Cause, playing opposite James Dean. Shortly after that, she won the Golden Globe Award as best new actress of the year. She starred in several other top movies, including Marjorie Morningstar, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (she played Carol), and West Side Story, a movie that won ten Oscars, but none for the leading lady, who by now was known as Natalie Wood, playing Maria.

     Natalie Wood married actor Robert Wagner in 1957. They divorced in 1962. She married British producer Richard Gregson in 1969. They had one daughter, and then got divorced in 1972. She married Robert Wagner a second time in 1972, and they remained together until her death in 1981, at the age of 43.

     It was the day after Thanksgiving. She and her husband and a few friends were anchored off Catalina Island on their boat the Splendour. She reportedly slipped and fell off the yacht. A woman on another boat said she heard cries for help. The cries were answered by someone, who said, "Take it easy, we'll be over to get you."

     The cries lasted about 15 minutes altogether, and then ... nothing. Her body was  found in the morning; she was wearing a light jacket, a nightgown and socks. There were fingernail scratches on the side of the boat's dinghy, suggesting that Natalie Wood tried to climb back up into the boat.

    A lot of partying was going on at the marina that evening. There were reports of arguments between Wagner and the actor Christopher Walken, a guest on the boat that night, who was rumored to be having an affair with Natalie Wood. The ship's captain also claimed he heard Wagner arguing with his wife. The coroner found that Wood had been drinking, perhaps seven or eight glasses of wine, and finally, her death was ruled an accident. More than a thousand mourners attended her funeral, including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Rock Hudson, Fred Astaire, Elizabeth Taylor and Gregory Peck.

     Natalie Wood had her star placed posthumously on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987. It is located at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.

10 comments: said...

One of my favorite actresses both as a child star and as an adult. I loved her in Gypsy and in The Searchers with John Wayne. I never believed that her death was anyhing other than an accident caused by excesive drinking, by both her and Bob. Did not know about Christorpher Walken. I like him as an actor. Always the bad guy these days. Hope you saw him in "True Romance."

Kay Dennison said...

I enjoyed Natalie Wood's work immensely! She was a favorite of mine when I was a teen!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I always admired Natalie Wood's work in films. It's so tragic that she died so young.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. I almost guessed her from the child photo but that Russian name threw me off.
I always injoyed her acting and she died way too young.
Arkansas Patti

Douglas said...

Personally, I thought her death was suspicious. And I did not know about the interesting testimony at the inquiry.

I recognized her immediately from the childhood photo.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I had a crush on her as a kid.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I do remember her. I didn't realize she was so young when she died. Probably because 43 sounded rather old to me in 1981.

June said...

The only movie of hers that I remember seeing is "Inside Daisy Clover," wherein she worked her eyebrows incessantly.
Pretty creepy death, and it seems clear, as it seemed clear back then, that it might have started as an accident, but then it got out of hand.

Linda Myers said...

I recognized her from the picture. I'd forgotten how young she was when she died.

Knatolee said...

Of course I know her! My mother named me after her. :)