Russian: Наталья Николаевна Захаренко);July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981) was an American actress.
Wood began acting in movies at the age of four and became a successful child actor in such films as Miracle on 34th Street (1947). A well received performance opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and helped her to make the transition from a child performer. She then starred in the musicals West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962). She also received Academy Award for Best Actress nominations for her performances in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963).
Her career continued successfully with films such as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). After this she took a break from acting and had two children, appearing in only two theatrical films during the 1970s. She was married to actor Robert Wagner twice, and to producer Richard Gregson. She had one daughter by each: Natasha Gregson and Courtney Wagner. Her younger sister, Lana Wood, is also an actress. Wood starred in several television productions, including a remake of the film From Here to Eternity (1979) for which she won a Golden Globe Award.
Wood drowned near Santa Catalina Island, California at age 43. She had not yet completed her final film, the science fiction drama Brainstorm (1983) with Christopher Walken, which was released posthumously.
Early life and childhood stardomWood was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco, to Russian immigrant parents Maria Stepanovna (née Zudilova) (1912–1998) and Nikolai Stepanovich Zacharenko. As an adult, she stated, "I'm very Russian, you know." Her father was born in Vladivostok and he, his mother, and two brothers, immigrated to Montreal, Canada and later to San Francisco. There, he worked as a day laborer and carpenter. Her paternal grandfather Stepan worked in a chocolate factory in Russia and was killed in street fighting between Red and White Russian soldiers in 1918. Natalie's mother originally came from Barnaul, southern Siberia, but grew up in the Chinese city of Harbin. She described her family by weaving mysterious tales of being either gypsies or landowning aristocrats. In her youth her mother dreamed of becoming an actress or ballet dancer.
Natalie Wood would later recall this early period:
My mother used to tell me that the cameraman who pointed his lens out at the audience at the end of the Paramount newsreel was taking my picture. I'd pose and smile like he was going to make me famous or something. I believed everything my mother told me.Sonoma County, and lived in Santa Rosa, California, where Wood was noticed during a film shoot in downtown Santa Rosa. Her mother soon moved the family to Los Angeles and pursued a career for her daughter. Wood had one younger sister, Svetlana Zacharenko (better known as Lana Wood), who also became an actress and later, notably, a Bond girl. She and Lana have an older half sister, Olga Viriapaeff. Though Natalie had been born "Natalia Zacharenko," her father later changed the family name to "Gurdin" and Natalie was often known as "Natasha," the diminutive of Natalia. Hollywood would later change her name to "Natalie Wood," a name she really never cared for.
Wood made her film debut a few weeks before turning five, in a fifteen-second scene in the film Happy Land (1943). Despite the brief part, she attracted the notice of the director, Irving Pichel, who remained in touch with her family for two years until another role came up. The director phoned Natasha's mother and asked her to bring Natasha down to Los Angeles for a screen test. Her mother became so excited at the possibilities, she overreacted and "packed the whole family off to Los Angeles to live," writes Harris. Her husband opposed the whole idea, but his wife's "overpowering ambition to make Natasha a star" took priority.
Wood, then seven years old, got the part and played a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever. Welles later said that Wood was a born professional, "so good, she was terrifying". After doing another film directed by Pichel, her mother signed her to a role with 20th Century Fox studio for her first major role, the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which made her one of the top child stars in Hollywood. Within a few months after the film's release she was so popular that Macy's invited her to appear in the store's annual Thanksgiving Day parade.
She would eventually appear in over 20 films as a child, appearing opposite such stars as Gene Tierney, James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara, Bette Davis and Bing Crosby. As a child actor, her formal education took place on the studio lots wherever she was acting. California law required that until age 18, actors had to spend at least three hours per day in the classroom, notes Harris. "She was a straight A student," and one of the few child actors to excel at arithmetic. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who directed her in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), said that "In all my years in the business, I never met a smarter moppet." Wood remembers that period in her life:
I always felt guilty when I knew the crew was sitting around waiting for me to finish my three hours. As soon as the teacher let us go, I ran to the set as fast as I could.
Teen stardomchild star to ingenue at age 16 when she co-starred with James Dean and Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause, Nicholas Ray's film about teenage rebellion. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She followed this with a small but crucial role in John Ford's western The Searchers which starred John Wayne and also featured Wood's sister, Lana, who played a younger version of her character in the film's earlier scenes. She graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1956.
Signed to Warner Brothers, Wood was kept busy during the remainder of the decade in many 'girlfriend' roles that she found unsatisfying. The studio cast her in two films opposite Tab Hunter, hoping to turn the duo into a box office draw that never materialized. Among the other films made at this time were 1958's Kings Go Forth and Marjorie Morningstar. As Marjorie Morningstar, she played the role of a young Jewish girl in New York City, who has to deal with the social and religious expectations of her family, as she tries to forge her own path and separate identity.
Adult careerAfter appearing in the box office flop All the Fine Young Cannibals, Wood's career was salvaged by her casting in director Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass (1961) opposite Warren Beatty, which earned Wood Best Actress Nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. Also in 1961 Wood played Maria in the Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise musical West Side Story which was a major box office and critical success, however, the singing parts were sung by Marni Nixon. Wood did sing when she starred in the 1962 film, Gypsy. She co-starred in the slapstick comedy The Great Race (1965), with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Peter Falk. Wood then received her third Academy Award nomination and another Golden Globe award in 1964 for Love with the Proper Stranger, opposite Steve McQueen.
Although many of Wood's films were commercially profitable, her acting was criticized at times. In 1966 she won the Harvard Lampoon Worst Actress of the Year Award. She was the first performer in the award's history to accept it in person and the Harvard Crimson wrote she was "quite a good sport." Conversely, director Sydney Pollack said "When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress." Other notable films she starred in were Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and This Property Is Condemned (1966), both of which co-starred Robert Redford and brought subsequent Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress. In both films, which were set during the Great Depression, Wood played small-town teens with big dreams. After the release of the films, Wood suffered an emotional breakdown and sought professional therapy. During this time, she turned down the Faye Dunaway role in Bonnie and Clyde because she didn't want to be separated from her analyst.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), a comedy about sexual liberation. The film was one of the top ten box office hits of the year, and Wood received ten percent of the film's profits. After becoming pregnant with her first child, Natasha Gregson, in 1970, she went into semi-retirement and only acted in four more theatrical films during the remainder of her life. She appeared as herself in The Candidate (1972), reuniting her for a third time with Robert Redford. She also reunited on the screen with Robert Wagner in The Affair (1973), a television adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976) and made cameo appearances on his shows Switch in 1978 as "Bubble Bath Girl" and Hart to Hart in 1979 as "Movie Star". During the last two years of her life, Wood began to work more frequently as her daughters reached school age.
Film roles Wood turned down during her career hiatus went to Ali MacGraw in Goodbye, Columbus, Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby and Faye Dunaway in The Towering Inferno. Later, Wood chose to star in misfires like the disaster film Meteor (1979) with Sean Connery and the sex comedy The Last Married Couple in America (1980). She found more success in television, receiving high ratings and critical acclaim in 1979 for The Cracker Factory and especially the miniseries film From Here to Eternity with Kim Basinger and William Devane. Wood's performance in the latter won her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in 1980. Later that year, she starred in The Memory of Eva Ryker which proved to be her last completed production.
At the time of her death, Wood was filming the sci-fi film Brainstorm (1983), co-starring Christopher Walken and directed by Douglas Trumbull. She was also scheduled to star in a theatrical production of Anastasia with Wendy Hiller and in a film called Country of the Heart, playing a terminally ill writer who has an affair with a teenager, to be played by Timothy Hutton. Due to her untimely death, both of the latter projects were canceled and the ending of Brainstorm had to be re-written. A stand-in and sound-a-likes were used to replace Wood for some of her critical scenes. The film was released posthumously on September 30, 1983, and was dedicated to her in the closing credits.
She appeared in 56 films for cinema and television. Following her death, Time magazine noted that although critical praise for Wood had been sparse throughout her career, "she always had work."
Marriagesand on her 18th birthday she went on a studio-arranged date with the 26-year old actor. They married a year later on December 28, 1957, which met with great protest from Wood's mother. In an article in February 2009, Wagner recalled their early romance:
I saw Natalie around town but she never seemed interested. She was making Rebel Without a Cause and hanging out with James Dean; I was with an older crowd. The first time I remember really talking to her was at a fashion show in 1956. She was beautiful, but still gave no hint about the mad crush she had on me. I later found out she had signed with my agent simply because he was my agent. A month later, I invited Natalie to a premiere on what turned out to be her 18th birthday. At dinner, we both sensed things were different. I sent her flowers and the dates continued. I remember the instant I fell in love with her. One night on board a small boat I owned, she looked at me with love, her dark brown eyes lit by a table lantern. That moment changed my life.A year after their wedding, Wood expressed her feelings in a letter to her new husband:
They had a daughter, Natasha Gregson (born September 29, 1970). They separated in August 1971 after Wood overheard an inappropriate telephone conversation between her secretary and Gregson. The split also marked a brief estrangement between Wood and her family, when mother Maria and sister Lana told her to reconcile with Gregson for the sake of her newborn child. She filed for divorce, and it was finalized in April 1972.
In early 1972, Wood resumed her relationship with Wagner. The couple remarried on July 16, 1972, just five months after reconciling and only three months after she divorced Gregson. Their daughter, Courtney Wagner, was born on March 9, 1974. They remained married until Wood's death seven years later on November 29, 1981.
Other relationshipsBiographer Suzanne Finstad writes that Wood had a relationship with director Nicholas Ray, director of Rebel Without a Cause, when she was 16 and he was 43.During her teens, Wood went on studio-arranged dates with older men, including actors Tab Hunter and Nick Adams, and dated actor Raymond Burr, when she was 17 and he was 38. Wood also dated actors Michael Caine, Steve McQueen, Warren Beatty and Dennis Hopper, singer Elvis Presley, director Henry Jaglom, and politician Jerry Brown.
Among her celebrity friends were fellow child performers Margaret O'Brien, Carol Lynley, Stefanie Powers, .
DeathIn September and October 1981, Wood and Wagner stayed in Raleigh, North Carolina, while Wood did location work for the science-fiction film Brainstorm. Wood then spent most of November in California shooting interior scenes with Christopher Walken and other cast members on the MGM lot in Culver City.
The day after Thanksgiving, which Wood spent with her parents and sister Lana in Los Angeles, Wood, Wagner and Walken went to Catalina Island for the weekend. On Saturday night, November 28, the Wagners' yacht (Splendour) was anchored in Isthmus Cove. Also on board was the boat's skipper, Dennis Davern, who had worked for the couple for many years. The official theory is that Wood either tried to leave the yacht or to secure a dinghy from banging against the hull when she accidentally slipped and fell overboard. When her body was found, she was wearing a down jacket, nightgown, and socks. A woman on a nearby yacht said she heard calls for help at around midnight. The cries lasted for about 15 minutes and were answered by someone else who said, "Take it easy. We'll be over to get you". "It was laid back", the witness recalled. "There was no urgency or immediacy in their shouts". There was much partying going on in the area, though, and while it has never been proven that the woman calling for help was, indeed, Natalie Wood, no other person ever has been identified or come forward as having called out for help on that night. An investigation by Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi resulted in an official verdict of accidental drowning. Noguchi concluded Wood had drunk "seven or eight" glasses of wine and was intoxicated when she died. Noguchi also wrote that he found Wood's fingernail scratches on the side of the rubber dinghy indicating she was trying to get in. Wood was 43 at the time of her death and is buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. On March 11, 2010 Wood's sister Lana stated that she is going to ask that the L.A. county sheriff reopen the case of her death.
At the funeral, at least a thousand spectators, along with scores of photographers and reporters from around the world, were spread out behind the cemetery walls. Among the guests at her funeral was Laurence Olivier, who flew there from London. Also there were Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, David Niven, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, and director Elia Kazan.
|1943||Happy Land||Little girl who drops ice cream cone||uncredited|
|1946||The Bride Wore Boots||Carol Warren|
|1946||Tomorrow Is Forever||Margaret Ludwig|
|1947||The Ghost and Mrs. Muir||Anna Muir as a child|
|1947||Miracle on 34th Street||Susan Walker|
|1948||Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!||Bean McGill|
|1949||Father Was a Fullback||Ellen Cooper|
|1949||The Green Promise||Susan Anastasia Matthews|
|1949||Chicken Every Sunday||Ruth Hefferan|
|1950||Never a Dull Moment||Nancy 'Nan' Howard|
|1950||The Jackpot||Phyllis Lawrence|
|1950||Our Very Own||Penny Macaulay|
|1950||No Sad Songs for Me||Polly Scott|
|1951||The Blue Veil||Stephanie Rawlins|
|1951||Dear Brat||Pauline Jones|
|1952||The Star||Gretchen Drew|
|1952||Just for You'||Barbara Blake|
|1952||The Rose Bowl Story||Sally Burke|
|1954||The Silver Chalice||Helena as a child|
|1955||Rebel Without a Cause||Judy||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|1955||One Desire||Seely Dowder|
|1956||The Girl He Left Behind||Susan Daniels|
|1956||The Burning Hills||Maria Christina Colton|
|1956||A Cry in the Night||Liz Taggert|
|1956||The Searchers||Debbie Edwards (older)|
|1957||Bombers B-52||Lois Brennan|
|1958||Kings Go Forth||Monique Blair|
|1958||Marjorie Morningstar||Marjorie Morgenstern|
|1960||All the Fine Young Cannibals||Sarah 'Salome' Davis|
|1960||Cash McCall||Lory Austen|
|1961||West Side Story||Maria|
|1961||Splendor in the Grass||Wilma Dean Loomis||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress |
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
|1962||Gypsy||Louise||Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy|
|1963||Love with the Proper Stranger||Angie Rossini||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress |
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
|1964||Sex and the Single Girl||Helen Gurley Brown|
|1965||Inside Daisy Clover||Daisy Clover||Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy |
Nominated—World Film Favorite – Female
|1965||The Great Race||Maggie DuBois|
|1966||This Property Is Condemned||Alva Starr||Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama|
|1969||Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice||Carol Sanders|
|1973||The Affair||Courtney Patterson||TV movie|
|1976||Cat on a Hot Tin Roof||Maggie||TV movie|
|1979||From Here to Eternity||Karen Holmes||Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama|
|1979||The Cracker Factory||Cassie Barrett||TV movie|
|1979||Meteor||Tatiana Nikolaevna Donskaya|
|1980||The Last Married Couple in America||Mari Thompson|
|1980||The Memory of Eva Ryker||Eva/Claire Ryker||TV movie|
|1980||Willie & Phil||Herself||(cameo)|
|1983||Brainstorm||Karen Brace||Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|1953||Jukebox Jury||as Herself||Guest appearance|
|1953||Pride of the Family||Ann Morrison||One season|
|1954||The Public Defender||Rene Marchand||One episode, "Return of the Dead"|
|1969||Bracken's World||Cameo||Guest appearance|
|1978||Switch||Girl in the Bubble Bath||Guest Appearance|
|1979||Hart to Hart||Movie Star||Pilot episode, as Natasha Gurdin|
|1946||Box Office Magazine||Most Talented Young Actress of 1946||Tomorrow Is Forever||Won|
|1956||National Association of Theatre Owners||Star of Tomorrow Award||Won|
|1957||Golden Globe Award||New Star Of The Year – Actress||Rebel Without a Cause||Won|
|1958||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Dramatic Performance||Marjorie Morningstar||Nominated|
|1958||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (13th place)|
|1959||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (7th place)|
|1960||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (9th place)|
|1961||Grauman's Chinese Theatre||Handprint Ceremony||Inducted|
|1961||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (14th place)|
|1962||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Dramatic Performance||Splendor in the Grass||Nominated|
|1962||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (5th place)|
|1963||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Musical Performance||Gypsy||Nominated|
|1963||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (2nd place)|
|1964||Mar del Plata Film Festival||Best Actress||Love with the Proper Stranger||Won|
|1964||New York Film Critics Circle Awards||Best Actress||Love with the Proper Stranger||Nominated|
|1964||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Dramatic Performance||Love with the Proper Stranger||Nominated|
|1964||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (3rd place)|
|1965||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (6th place)|
|1966||Golden Globe Award||World Film Favorite||Won|
|1966||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (8th place)|
|1967||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (3rd place)|
|1968||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (12th place)|
|1970||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (9th place)|
|1971||Golden Laurel Awards||Top Female Star||Nominated (9th place)|
|1987||Hollywood Chamber of Commerce||Hollywood Walk of Fame||Inducted|