By Leticia Lopez
Have you ever imagined what Rebel Without a Cause would be without the rebellious yet loving female outsider, or West Side Story without the “I Feel Pretty” singer Maria? It’s hard to imagine these iconic films without the actress who played those roles. It’s even harder to image another in her place.
July 20th is more than an ordinary summer day. It is the day when fans share photos and create appreciation posts on social media to honor Natalie Wood. The actress would have turned 80 this year if it weren’t for her mysterious death on November 29, 1981.
Wood died at age 43 when she was on a boat with her husband Robert Wagner, actor Christopher Walken and captain Dennis Davern. Sure, she was afraid of water and probably didn’t know how to swim, but the bruises and scratches on her body? How so?
Any classic film enthusiast’s mind will flashback to the overwhelmed and horrified Wood in the bathtub scene of Splendor in the Grass (1961). We can only imagine how she fought the waves as she fell off the boat Splendour, frantically yelling for help in the middle of the night until her body became part of the still and dark Santa Catalina Island.
The night of her death has recently been on the news again, and this time her cause of death has been changed from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors,” according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
The life of Natalie Wood was more than a mystery wanting to be revealed like a message in a bottle hitting the beach three decades later. Therefore, Marjorie Magazine celebrates the star-studded career and the films that became significant to classic movie fans because of the performances by Natalie Wood.
Born in San Francisco, California to Russian immigrants on July 20, 1938, Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko became an actress at age seven when she had her first small roles in Tomorrow is Forever (1946) and The Bride Wore Boots (1946). In 1947, the 8-year-old captivated audiences with her first starring role in Miracle on 34th Street. Then, at age 16 she had the supporting role alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). It is this movie that launched her into the glamour and high demand of Hollywood.
Wood was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1956 for her role in Rebel Without a Cause, and nominated for Best Actress for Splendor in the Grass in 1962 and Love With the Proper Stranger in 1964. Her radiant brown eyes were captured in paintings by Margaret Keane, the artist whose artwork depicted people with big eyes.
Of course, Wood was more than a pretty face. By simply studying her movie credits from the 1960s her acting potential ranged from a burlesque dancer in Gypsy (1962), a romantic sales clerk in Love With The Proper Stranger (1963), a young psychologist who wrote a book on Sex and the Single Girl (1964), a tomboy turned star in Inside Daisy Clover (1965), and a wife who adapts the modern way of sexuality with her husband Bob and their friends Ted and Alice. Wood had become an acclaimed actress and a sex symbol during her sparkling career.
Throughout her years as an actress Wood shared the big screen with other Hollywood legends including, Warren Beatty, Tony Curtis, John Wayne, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Barbara Stanwyck, Maureen O’Hara, among others.
Natalie Wood continued to act until 1981, and she has 73 acting credits to her name, according to IMDb. She was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987, and her hand and footprints were immortalized with her signature outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1961.
Natalie Wood was more than a starlet who made headlines because of her mysterious death. Her career as a successful actress defined her as woman who worked hard to be in Hollywood and became a legend for generations of fans.
By Leticia Lopez