Saturday, November 19, 2011

Natalie Wood -- Why I Loved Her & Who Should Play Her

Natalie Wood is in the news again. The actress died under murky circumstances nearly 30 years ago, during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1981. Detectives are investigating the case again as some new information has come to light. I won't go into the details; you can read them on The Huffington Post and practically anywhere on the Internet.

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 CondemnedRebel 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!"

Natalie Wood
Of course, Natalie's other big acting moment came in West Side Story, in 1961. Never mind that Wood couldn't sing, or that she wasn't Latina. She won the role of Maria in the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical. She was pretty good in it, too, especially in the climactic moment when she says "Now I have hate!" Despite my long-time Natalie mania, I refrained from watching West Side Story on TV. I waited until the mid 1980s, when the Fox Theater in Atlanta showed it on their huge screen. The wait was well worth it. I was electrified throughout the film, beginning with those first helicopter shots over Manhattan until the closing credits.

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.

Marion Cotillard
Regardless of whatever information emerges during this new investigation, I hope the publicity will cause the curious to rent a few of Natalie's films, especially Splendor in the Grass. And who knows? Maybe someone will make a film about her. If they do, I have someone in mind: the gorgeous actress Marion Cotillard. Not only does she look a lot like Natalie, she's got the acting chops to do her justice.


  1. Enjoyed this blog about Natalie Wood. Interesting how the yacht captain decides he must be honest and "remember" deatails of the night she died just as he is releasing a book, isn't it?
    Note: you in the South weren't the only ones to have Piggly Wiggly --- we had also had them in North Dakota where I grew up.

  2. I have always been bothered by the circumstances of her death. But not so sure any new developments will make any difference....

  3. Oooh I totally agree that Marion Cotillard should play her!

  4. I thought she was great as Deanie in Splendor in the Grass. What a sad descent into madness that was..

  5. RIP Beautiful Natalie. It's so sad what happened to you...

  6. I think Jennifer love Hewitt should play her in a movie

  7. Just watched splendor in the grass and the whole time I was thinking the same thing. She looks exactly like coullitard. Beautiful girl x