Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remembering Natalie Wood: You Don't Know What You've Got 'Till It's Gone

For no particular reason, I have been thinking of Natalie Wood a lot lately and missing her. 

She was ever present in my life as a pre-teen, teenager and beyond. There was no doubt that she was a star, but she was rarely praised for her acting. During her lifetime she was frequently disrespected by the critics, but loved by her fans. 

Natalie Wood was one of the few child stars who made the successful transition to both teen and adult star. As a child she was adorable, but knowing. She certainly seemed like the smartest person in the room. As a teenager she was a high school goddess, the one the boys all wanted and the girls  imitated. As an adult, oh my, she was perfection: sophisticated, beautiful, elegant and approachable. Proud of her Russian heritage, Natalie (born Natasha Zakharenko and always called Natasha by her friends) was the beautiful girl of slightly exotic origin (she was an ethic all-purpose and,  during her career, played an Hispanic, Native American, Italian and Jewish girl). She was with us for so long, it seemed as though she was an eternal part of the Hollywood scenery. She was always there and, no matter what new faces came and went, she was permanent. Or so we thought.

Here are some of my favorite Natalie Wood films.


"Miracle on 34th Street" is my favorite Natalie childhood film. Aside from the fact that it is a totally magical film in all ways, Natalie's Susan is the beating heart of this great movie. She is us, doubting, but secretly wanting to believe.
I love Natalie in "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," too. She doesn't have a whole lot to do, but it is another magical film and she is just too cute.


Every boy fell in love with Natalie after seeing "Rebel Without a Cause." As part of the troubled-teen trio with James Dean and Sal Mineo, Natalie's Judy showcased her growing talent and beauty in a landmark film. While the film belongs to Dean, Natalie's performance gives heartfelt and moving support.
I loved Natalie's performance in "Marjorie Morningstar." First, she gets to go to camp with friend Carolyn Jones and, while at camp and beyond, gets to have a mad affair with older man Gene Kelly (yum yum). That never happened to me at camp!! Then she gets to be an actress. Maybe not a great film, but it grabbed me from the get-go and I was rooting for Marjorie Morningstar (nee: Morgenstern) all the way. She is beautiful and affecting.
Plus, she wore a back metallic weave bathing suit that was killer.

Ah, "Splendor in the Grass." Natalie's breakout performance as an adult star and one of her very best. This is a beautiful film, one that has a special place in the hearts of so many filmgoers. Her raw-nerve performance as Deanie Loomis has been described as poetry and I think that's a fair assessment. Yet another film that seems to get better with each viewing.

Bells and banjos, indeed. This is the love that Natalie Wood's Angie Rossini wants from Steve McQueen in "Love with the Proper Stranger." Both stars are romantic (in a anti-romance kind of way) and breathtakingly young and beautiful. I saw this movie recently, and, seen from the rear view mirror of life, it made my heart both break and sing.
"Inside Daisy Clover" is not a great film, but it is one of my great guilty pleasures. First of all, Natalie is aces in this film - singing, cutting her hair and getting drunk and screwed over by everyone. Next, it has some of my favorite actors in support: Christopher Plummer being totally mean and sexy, a young and delicious Robert Redford being secretly gay, and the great Ruth Gordon as Daisy's nutty mama. Add a neat song ("You're Gonna Hear From Me," by Andre and Dory Previn) and lovely Edith Head costumes and I'm in. Can't help it - I love it , and I am placing this on my list of favorite Natalies instead of "West Side Story," as I think she looks kind of uncomfortable in the role of Maria.
The Great Leslie, Professor Fate, garters, furs and pies! "The Great Race" has it all. 
Natalie, as photojournalist Maggie DuBois gets to follow and join Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in this over-the-top wonderful Blake Edwards extravaganza.
She look great in all of her wonderful costumes, including the garters, corsets, furs and pies. Silly, but another that gets better with every viewing. 

Movie Star
Most favorite is Natalie Wood as movie star. Always glamorous, she was the vision of a sixties movie star for the junior set. She graced those marvelous movie magazine covers for years. What girl didn't follow her romances, her fashions and her latest films?
And, who wasn't always rooting for her and RJ? Didn't your heart just melt when they married again?
Natalie Wood was a child of Hollywood. Her films and her performances were always professional. always made with that telltale gloss of the Hollywood product. She was dependably, reliably covered in stardust. So, take that all you nay-sayers. Natalie Wood was the real deal and her star burns ever brighter as the years go by. Miss you, beautiful girl.

EXTRA! EXTRA! Click HERE and check out these gorgeous Natalie Wood paper dolls at "Creme de la Creme."


Rianna said...

I adore Natalie as well. I think she was a wonderful actress yet it is so overlooked. And this November 29th marks the thirtieth anniversary of her drowning, so I've been thinking about her a lot, too.

FlickChick said...

I can't believe she has been gone that long. She really was something special.

Rick29 said...

Wonderful post on an always charming actress. You are so right in noting that she was one of the few performers to make an effortless transition from child star to teen to adult. Like you, I adore the so very sad SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (what a gut wrenching closing scene). I also love her in the underrated THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED. I need to watch a Natalie flick this weekend.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Rick! I almost added "This Property is Condemned" over "daisy Clover" - it was a close call. She was so underrated and taken for granted. I agree a Natalie flick is in order!

The Lady Eve said...

I've always thought Natalie was most gorgeous in "Gypsy" - as an actress, I'm not sure. She was always solid, but died so young it's possible her best could still have been ahead of her. Lovely tribute, FlickChick

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Lady Eve. She was gorgeous in "Gypsy," but it was hard to get a breath in edgewise with Roz Russell tearing the place up. Agreed that she might not have been the greatest actress, but she was a great star - and after the Golden Era had passed, they were few and far between.

Caftan Woman said...

I would have been disappointed had "Love With the Proper Stranger" not been on your list, but I don't know why I even a second of doubt.

I so agree about "The Great Race" improving with age. I've always gotten a great kick out of it, but used to grouse about the length. Now I'm on board with Blake Edwards. After all, what would he have wanted to cut.

Do you remember the commercials Natalie did for Lux soap? The gorgeous star walking down the street while Roy Orbison sang "Pretty Woman". There couldn't have been a better beauty aid campaign.

FlickChick said...

Cw - you are so right. As for Blake Edwards - he also gets better as time goes by (or I just get older - or movies just get worse).I do remember those commercials - she was breathtaking and always groomed to perfection. She was the girl all the boys had a mad crush on.

Diane said...

Wow I did not know all that about Natalie. Great post.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Diane.Glad you liked it.

Inge Gregusch said...

A lovely post of a great star we lost way too soon. Thanks, FC.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Inge. She really was one of the last of the "Hollywood" breed.

Jessica P. said...

I love Natalie as well. She was a very good child actress and was so lucky she did well as an adult-even if she did have a crazy mother.

I get tired of people giving her flack for not singing or being Puerto Rican for West Side Story (on my mind esp. since I just watched it in theaters). So many other people in that time were dubbed and playing ethnic roles and others in the film were dubbed sooo don't get it.

Anywho, Im glad you said you like "Love with a Proper Stranger" because I really love that one too. All the Fine Young Cannibals is also a guilty pleasure :)

Oh I also saw (on tabloids lol) where they wanted to reopen her death case-I don't know if it will actually ever happen though.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Jeesica. I don't dislike her in WWS, and certainly the dubbing is not an issue, but I just think she was better in some others (kind of hard to hold your own against Leonard Bernstein!. When I was looking for photos of her and RJ I found so many where they were either on a boat or near water - very weird.

Dawn said...

Natalie, was a wonderful actress. I also loved her in the film, The Ghost and Mrs.Muir. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, said that.. "In all my years in the business, I never met a smarter moppet."

Paul 2 said...

She was excellent in a TV version of Cat on A Hot Tin Roof. I sure would not call Daisy Clover a guilty pleasure the scene in the dubbing booth still blows me away

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Dawn & Paul. She really was a wonderful child actress - so natural and not at all annoying like so many others. And Paul, I won't feel "guilty" about Daisy anymore!

The Lady Eve said...

Natalie Wood was absolutely beautiful in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" and "The Candidate," though both were made a bit after her heyday. I'll always remember how stunning she was as Louise Hovick/Gypsy Rose Lee in "Gypsy." I suppose, if I had to pick one, I'd say her performance in "Splendor in the Grass" was her most memorable - though I've always had a soft spot for "Love With the Proper Stranger" (Steve McQueen, after all).

It seems that though Natalie made the transition from child to adult actress, her career was in decline when she died. I've often wondered if she might've been able to transition to character actress.

FlickChick said...

It's true Natalie's career was in decline when she dies, but she had working her butt of for years, so she earned her semi-retirement. Besides, once an actress hits 40 - watch out - need to go to "Plan B." She was gorgeous in "Gypsy," but Roz Russell just ruins that film for me. She might have well as worn fangs.

The Lady Eve said...

FlickChick - I read a bio on Gypsy Rose Lee earlier this year and in comparison to the real 'Mama' Rose Hovick, Roz's character was Mother Theresa. The real lady was a sick, child-abusing horror (truly gothic) . It's amazing that Louise and June managed any kind of lives at all..."raised by wolves" would have been a blessing...

Page said...

I hate to admit it but I haven't seen as many Natalie Wood films as you have and most. : ( I will say though that my absolute favorite film of Natalie's is This Property is Condemned. A beautiful performance although it's a very heartbreaking film.
A wonderful tribute that Natalie would be proud of.
Another talented actress that was taken away from us.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve: I have that book on my kindle ready to read! As a fan of the musical, I've seen it more than a few times and I guess I just have a bias against RR's performance. But the end, when Natalie/Gypsy puts her in her place, is swell.

FlickChick said...

Page - If I were going to add one more film to the list, it would have been "This Property is Condemned." She was beautiful in it, and, as with most of her films, better in it than we remembered.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post, FlickChick!

And as with any "limited" list, there will always be comments about what was not included.

For Natalie's childhood films, "Tomorrow Is Forever" is one that is so authentic and heart wrenching, on Natalie's part, that I cannot watch it with a dry eye.

Regarding Natalie's beauty, Natalie's sister Lana says that Natalie looked her most beautiful in "The Great Race."

Regarding Natalie's acting, well, I personally believe that she should have received 3 Oscars.

Regarding Natalie's singing, it was really not that bad; it was simply not "booming" enough for what the producers wanted in "West Side Story."

And regarding Natalie's re-marriage to Robert Wagner: it seemed romantic at the time. But it is regrettable, looking back at the circumstances of her death. And it completely soured when Robert Wagner released his book "Pieces Of My Heart." In his book, Wagner reveals that, despite saying in published and TV interviews for years that Natalie was his "first love," his real first love was actually Barbara Stanwyck. And the burial plots that Natalie purchased at Westwood Memorial Park so that she and Wagner, and perhaps their girls, if they chose, could be buried together--well, Wagner sold those plots, and in his book he mentions that rather than being buried next to Natalie, he chooses to be buried elsewhere, next to his dog and Jill St. John.

Rotarian said...

Lovely post on Natalie. I am the author of Natalie Wood: a Biography in Photographs and I always salute anyone, such as yourself, who treats her with the respect she worked so hard to attain. Her performance in Splendor is as riveting and haunting as any ever put on film, and I have always felt she is the very best thing about Gypsy. Thanks for this piece!