Natalie Wood: A Life
She spent her life in the movies. Her childhood is still there to see in Miracle on 34th Street. Her adolescence in Rebel Without a Cause. Her coming of age? Still playing in Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story and countless other hit movies. From the moment Natalie Wood made her debut in 1946, playing Claudette Colbert and Orson Welles’s ward in Tomorrow Is Forever at the age of seven, to her shocking, untimely death in 1981, the decades of her life are marked by movies that–for their moments–summed up America’s dreams.
Now the acclaimed novelist, biographer, critic and screenwriter Gavin Lambert, whose twenty-year friendship with Natalie Wood began when she wanted to star in the movie adaptation of his novel Inside Daisy Clover, tells her extraordinary story. He writes about her parents, uncovering secrets that Natalie either didn’t know or kept hidden from those closest to her. Here is the young Natalie, from her years as a child actress at the mercy of a driven, controlling stage mother (“Make Mr. Pichel love you,” she whispered to the five-year-old Natalie before depositing her unexpectedly on the director’s lap), to her awkward adolescence when, suddenly too old for kiddie roles, she was shunted aside, just another freshman at Van Nuys High. Lambert shows us the glamorous movie star in her twenties—All the Fine Young Cannibals, Gypsy and Love with the Proper Stranger. He writes about her marriages, her divorces, her love affairs, her suicide attempt at twenty-six, the birth of her children, her friendships, her struggles as an actress and her tragic death by drowning (she was always terrified of water) at forty-three.
For the first time, everyone who knew Natalie Wood speaks freely–including her husbands Robert Wagner and Richard Gregson, famously private people like Warren Beatty, intimate friends such as playwright Mart Crowley, directors Robert Mulligan and Paul Mazursky, and Leslie Caron, each of whom told the author stories about this remarkable woman who was both life-loving and filled with despair.
What we couldn’t know–have never been told before–Lambert perceptively uncovers. His book provides the richest portrait we have had of Natalie Wood.
drinking for two hours. Around four o’clock RJ and Davern joined them, after calling for a shore boat by radio, and the drinking continued until seven, when they moved to the restaurant area for dinner. By then Natalie’s mood was distinctly “Russian.” She consulted the wine list, found it unsatisfactory and sent Davern to fetch three bottles from Splendour. Later in the evening, according to Walken, “we proposed a toast” (to whom or what his statement didn’t specify, and it’s hard to imagine).
After Courtney was born, her mother’s attention had mainly focused on Natasha, “because she needed it then. But Natalie planned to get around to me very soon.” Then she died before “very soon,” and Courtney always felt closer to Willie Mae. During the trip, they sleep in the same bed. In one way, as RJ explains later, “Natalie’s death was harder for Natasha, because she was old enough to come to terms with it, and they’d been very close.” But in another way it will be even harder for Courtney.
inflammation and refused to wear the lenses anymore. When the movie opened during Christmas week, none of the reviewers commented on the mysterious change in young Helena’s eyes from blue to very dark brown, then back to blue for Mayo’s first appearance. Most likely they were too bored by a relentlessly pedestrian movie to notice the discrepancy—although they should have noticed the production’s one positive feature: the sets by Rolf Gerard, a theatre designer chosen by Victor Saville, the
for love. She was constantly asked to cry, praised and admired when she did, realized that if she could cry authentically, everyone adored her, and she soon established a connection between love and pain.” Almost certainly Dr. Lindon had first pointed this out; but after four years of analysis, Natalie was still unable to break the connection. And Henry, privileged rebel, antiestablishment and anti–Vietnam War, moderate pot smoker, equally intelligent and accomplished as lover and self-lover, was
“analyst needing” after ten days away from Dr. Lindon, and alternating between “extreme connection and noncommunication. Unpredictable, yet maintaining appearance of normalcy.” They discussed a mutual desire to have children (but not by each other), and “she became very emotional about this, terrified she’d be like her mother.” In the second week of June, while Penelope was filming at MGM, Warren Beatty came to North Bentley to offer Natalie the role of Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde, which he was