However, I will say that of all the Hollywood star deaths in the past 30 years or so, Natalie's hit me hardest. She came to my attention in 1969, when her movie Penelope was shown on CBS Friday Night at the Movies. Even as a boy of 11, I realized the movie was a dud. But Wood's big brown eyes and immense charm captivated me. I was in love.
From that moment on, I scanned TV Guide for showings of her movies, which I devoured: Gypsy, Love With the Proper Stranger, This Property is Condemned, Rebel Without a Cause, Inside Daisy Clover, and probably my favorite, Splendor in the Grass. And of course, nearly every Christmas I adore her all over again Susan, the wise little girl in Miracle on 34th Street.
Wood was not what I'd call a great actress; sometimes, to be honest, she wasn't very good at all. But in Splendor in the Grass, she gave a heartbreaking performance as a young woman in small town America during the 1920s driven nearly over the edge. She was caught in a conflict between her Victorian mother, who insisted she be a "good girl," and the young man she loved and married, who, like most young men, had needs. I think we can all appreciate her character's agony, given the fact that the young Warren Beatty (in his first movie) played the boyfriend. Let me tell you, if this story were set today, Mama would get a fat piece of duct tape placed over her mouth before Natalie sashayed out the door and jumped into Beatty's awaiting convertible. This would be followed by the squealing of tires after Natalie whispered into Warren's ear, "Step on it!"
How sad I felt 30 years ago, upon hearing the news of Natalie Wood's death. Not long before, she had spent some time in the Raleigh area of North Carolina, filming what became her last movie, Brainstorm. At the time, I was a reporter in Roanoke Rapids, about a 90-minute drive from Raleigh. I'd conspired how I was going to get onto the movie set and meet her, but I never got around to it. Then, suddenly, she was gone.