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Natalie Wood 07/20/38-11/28/81

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Natalie Wood was tiny, barely five feet tall. You can see her footprints – the imprint of stilettos, probably – at Grauman’s on Hollywood Boulevard. And my mentor in LA took me to her grave in Westwood in Los Angeles. You could say I’m a fan. Have been, since I first saw her intense performance in Miracle on 34th Street when I was a tiny child myself. When I was carrying out research at the Margaret Herrick Library of AMPAS, I met her biographer, Gavin Lambert, one of my writing heroes. The book was about to come out and because I had reviewed one of his earlier biographies, we struck up a friendship before his untimely death. He and Wood were good friends and his book is a great tribute to a wonderful actress – she had starred in an adaptation of his Hollywood pastiche, Inside Daisy Clover. Bizarrely, on that same trip, I found myself on a flight out of LA  beside her babysitter’s neighbours – they said the woman had stayed at the Wood family home for 2 weeks following her death that terrible night 35 years ago. She was found near Catalina Island, having supposedly fallen off the Splendor, the boat she owned with husband Robert Wagner and named for what is her greatest performance in the astonishing Splendor in the Grass, where she met Warren Beatty. Wood and Wagner were hosting her Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken for the weekend. She was afraid of water. And she drowned. Eventually. Speculation persists as to how this occurred but I don’t know and whoever does isn’t telling. Wood played by Hollywood’s rules and survived, until that awful night. When she was raped by a major star who told her he’d always wanted to have intercourse with a child, she and her mother stayed quiet. (A recent documentary made it very clear who did it without having to verbalise it – he is the same nonagenarian thought to have murdered a little known actress from one of his films in another cover up a few years earlier: she just … vanished). What I do know is that Natalie Wood cracks my heart wide open every time I see her. She is just pure emotion. She could do comedy both sly and broad, straight drama, musicals, romance, slapstick, period and contemporary, and she even made Orson Welles look silly when she was just a kid. I adore her. She will never be forgotten. I still find it hard to believe she is gone.

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About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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