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Natalie Wood (born Natalia Zacharenko; Cyrillic: Наталья Николаевна Захаренко; July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981) was an American actress.

Following her film debut in 1943, Wood 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 nominations for her performances in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Love With the Proper Stranger (1963).

Her career continued successfully into the late 1960s with lead roles in films such as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969); after this she worked less frequently so that she could start a family. She was married to actor Robert Wagner twice and had two daughters, Natasha Gregson and Courtney Wagner. 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, Californiamarker. Her final film, the science fiction drama Brainstorm (1983) with Christopher Walken, was released posthumously.

Child actress

At age 15, circa 1953
Wood's parents, Maria Stepanova (née Zudilov) and Nikolai Zacharenko, were Russian immigrants, but they grew up far from their homeland: her father lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadamarker, while her mother grew up in a Chinesemarker province, Harbinmarker. Shortly after her birth in San Francisco, they moved north to Sonoma Countymarker and lived in Santa Rosa, Californiamarker 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. By age four Natalia was being billed as Natasha Gurdin, Gurdin being the family's surname by this point. Like many parents of child actors, her mother tightly managed and controlled the young girl's career and personal life. Her father has been described by Wood's biographers as a passive alcoholic. At the studio's suggestion, Natalia's name was changed to Natalie Wood during her period as a child actor for Warner Bros.

As a seven year old, Wood 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".O'Conner, John J. - Arts: " TV Weekend; A Documentary Remembrance of Natalie Wood". - New York Times. - July 8, 1988 Her performance in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street made Wood one of the top child stars in Hollywood. She would 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. Her sister Svetlana Gurdin (better known as Lana Wood) also became an actress and later, notably, a Bond girl. They had a half-sister, Olga.

Teen stardom

Wood and Tab Hunter arriving at the 28th Academy Awards, 1956.
Wood successfully made the transition from child star to ingenue at age 16 when she co-starred in Nicholas Ray's film about teenage rebellion titled Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean and Sal Mineo. Her performance won her an Academy Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film is now considered a classic. 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. The following year, she received a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress.

Signed to Warner Brothers, Wood was kept busy during the remainder of the 1950s 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 eventuated. Among the other films made at this time were Kings Go Forth with Frank Sinatra and the title role in Marjorie Morningstar.

Adult career

After appearing in the box office flop, All the Fine Young Cannibals with her husband, Robert Wagner, Wood's career was salvaged by her casting in 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. She had been signed to do her own singing but was later dubbed by session singer Marni Nixon. Wood's own singing voice was used when she starred in the 1962 film Gypsy. She was dubbed by Jackie Ward in the slapstick comedy The Great Race (1965) co-starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Peter Falk. Wood received her third Academy Award nomination and another Golden Globe nod 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 Lampoonmarker 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."

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 1969, Wood also starred as a swinger in a film about sexual liberation, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. After this, however, she worked less in order to give her time to settle down and start a family. She would act only occasionally for most of the 1970s. She appeared as herself in The Candidate (1972), reuniting her for a third time with Robert Redford. She also reunited on the screen with husband Robert Wagner in The Affair (1973), a made-for-television remake of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976) and made appearances on his shows Switch and Hart to Hart. She would later begin to work more frequently as her daughters reached school age.

Between 1967 and 1980, Wood turned down roles that went to Faye Dunaway in Bonnie & Clyde, Ali MacGraw in Goodbye, Columbus, Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby and Kim Novak in The Mirror Crack'd among others. Instead, Wood chose to star in misfires like the disaster film Meteor (1979) with Sean Connery and the 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) with Christopher Walken. She was also scheduled to star in a theatrical production of Anastasia and in a film called Country of the Heart, playing the love interest of 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.

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."

Personal life


Natalie Wood's two marriages to actor Robert Wagner were highly publicized. "I was ten and he was 18 when I first saw him walking down a hall at 20th Century Fox," Wood recalled. "I turned to my mother and said, 'I'm going to marry him.' " It was on her 18th birthday when she went on her first date with Wagner, who was then 26. They married on December 28, 1957, separated in June 1961 and divorced in April 1962.

On May 30, 1969, Wood married British producer Richard Gregson. The couple dated for three years prior to their marriage. They had a daughter, Natasha (born September 29, 1970). They separated in August 1971 and Wood filed for divorce; it became final 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 after she divorced Gregson. Their daughter, Courtney Wagner, was born on March 9, 1974. They remained married until Wood's death on November 29, 1981.

Other relationships

Biographer Suzanne Finstad claimed Wood slept with director Nicholas Ray, while she was trying to land the lead role in Rebel Without a Cause, when she was 16 and he was 43. Meanwhile, costar Dennis Hopper was involved with Wood and reportedly made an unannounced visit only to discover her in bed with Ray.

Wood was romantically involved with her Splendor in the Grass costar Warren Beatty from 1962 to 1965. After this she had brief relationships with actors Michael Caine, Scott Marlowe, and director Henry Jaglom, all in 1966. She briefly dated her Love with the Proper Stranger costar Steve McQueen in 1972, though it was not an exclusive relationship on either part. Wood also had a relationship with singer Elvis Presley.

Wood went on studio-arranged dates with closeted gay actors. One of these was Tab Hunter who was seven years older than she and with whom she developed a lasting friendship. Wood's long relationship with Nick Adams, (who according to biographer Gavin Lambert was another "gay or bisexual actor") also began with such a "studio-arranged date." According to Lambert and his reviewer David Ehrenstein, Wood also financially supported homosexual playwright Mart Crowley in a manner that made it possible for him to write his play, The Boys in the Band. Concerning a possible relationship between Wood and homosexual actor Raymond Burr, 21 years her senior, Wood's biographer, Suzanne Finstad, cites Dennis Hopper as saying, "I just can't wrap my mind around that one. But you know, I saw them together. They were definitely a couple. Who knows what was going on there."


In September and October 1981, Wood and Wagner stayed in Raleigh, North Carolinamarker 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.

After Thanksgiving, Wood, Wagner and Walken went on to Catalina Islandmarker for the weekend and on the night of November 28 their 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. Wood apparently tried to either leave the yacht or secure a dinghy from banging against the hull when she accidentally slipped and fell overboard. 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". 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. There were marks and bruises on her body which Noguchi speculated could have been received as a result of her fall. Noguchi later wrote that had Wood not been intoxicated she likely would have realized her heavy down-filled coat and wool sweater were pulling her underwater and would have removed them. 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 Cemeterymarker.

Appearances and awards


Year Film Role Notes
1943 Happy Land Bit Part
1946 The Bride Wore Boots Carol Warren
Tomorrow Is Forever Margaret Ludwig
1947 Driftwood Jenny Hollingsworth
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Anna Muir as a child
Miracle on 34th Street Susan Walker
1948 Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! Bean McGill
1949 Father Was a Fullback Ellen Cooper
The Green Promise Susan Anastasia Matthews
Chicken Every Sunday Ruth Hefferan
1950 Never a Dull Moment Nancy 'Nan' Howard
The Jackpot Phyllis Lawrence
Our Very Own Penny Macaulay
No Sad Songs for Me Polly Scott
1951 The Blue Veil Stephanie Rawlins
Dear Brat Pauline
1952 The Star Gretchen
Just for You' Barbara Blake
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
One Desire Seely Dowder
1956 The Girl He Left Behind Susan Daniels
The Burning Hills Maria Christina Colton
A Cry in the Night Liz Taggert
The Searchers Debbie Edwards (older)
1957 Bombers B-52 Lois Brennan
1958 Kings Go Forth Monique Blair
Marjorie Morningstar Marjorie Morgenstern
1960 All the Fine Young Cannibals Sarah 'Salome' Davis
Cash McCall Lory Austen
1961 West Side Story Maria
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 Gypsy Rose Lee 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
The Great Race Maggie DuBois
1966 Penelope Penelope Elcott
This Property Is Condemned Alva Starr Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1969 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Carol Sanders
1972 The Candidate Herself
1973 The Affair Courtney Patterson Released theatrically outside of the U.S.
1975 Peeper Ellen Prendergast
1976 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Maggie Made for Television
1979 From Here to Eternity Karen Holmes Miniseries
Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
The Cracker Factory Cassie Barrett Made for television
Meteor Tatiana Nikolaevna Donskaya
1980 The Memory of Eva Ryker Eva/Claire Ryker Television
The Last Married Couple in America Mari Thompson
Willie & Phil Herself
1983 Brainstorm Karen Brace Nominated — Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress

Television shows

Year Title Role Notes
1953 Pride of the Family Ann Morrison One season
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

Other awards

Year Organization Award Film Result
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
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 Theatremarker 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
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (5th place)
1963 Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Musical Performance Gypsy Nominated
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Star Nominated (2nd place)
1964 Mar del Plata Film Festival Best Actress Love with the Proper Stranger Won
New York Film Critics Award Best Actress Love with the Proper Stranger Nominated
Golden Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Love with the Proper Stranger Nominated
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
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 Famemarker - Inducted



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