Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Natalie Wood

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the very tragic death of Natalie Wood on Nov. 29th 1981. Of course, that terrible incident has been back in the news lately, due to the captain of the yacht coming forward with what may be new information that was not disclosed at the time of her drowning all those years ago. I was only 21 at the time, but I remember the sad news with great clarity. Natalie had been starring in Brainstorm, which was still in the middle of production when she died. She hadn't been in many theatrical films for awhile, as it seemed she was doing more in the way of made-for-TV movies in the late 1970s. At the time of her tragic death she was only 43, still a very vibrant and beautiful woman.

There was so much mystery surrounding her death by drowning, that speculation ran rampant about what led to it and what possibly transpired on the yacht that night. I doubt that this current re-investigation will turn up anything more conclusive that would disprove it being an "accident", but it will be interesting to see if any new facts come to light. It was certainly a very suspicious incident, though, and there has to be far more behind it that we'll probably never know the truth about.

Interestingly, as I was looking through her list of theatrical film credits on IMDb, I think I've only seen about a dozen of them that I recall. In fact, she only made about 30 odd films as an adult performer, if you start counting from her appearance in John Wayne's The Searchers, when she was just 15. Of those I have seen, there are several that I've watched a number of times, including her iconic performances as "Maria" in West Side Story, the vaudeville-to-burlesque performer "Gypsy Rose Lee" (aka "Louise") in Gypsy, and as the intrepid feminist reporter, "Maggie Dubois" in The Great Race.

Another film I've seen several times is 1964's Sex and the Single Girl, in which Natalie played real life writer (and later editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine) Helen Gurley Brown, although the movie is a fictitious romp only loosely related to Ms. Brown's book of the same title. It's not a great film, but it is a lot of fun to watch. Natalie's paired up with Tony Curtis, before costarring again together famously in The Great Race the following year, and they've got terrific on-screen chemistry. (Actually, their first onscreen pairing was in Kings Go Forth, in 1958 alongside Frank Sinatra.) Here's a clip from the film where Tony's character is trying to seduce Miss Brown while they're waiting for their clothes to dry off after a scene in which they both ended up toppling over a pier into the water. (Yes, there's a tragic irony in that, isn't there?). Of course, it was from this film that I chose to sketch my caricature of Natalie Wood that appears at the head of this post.

A truly beautiful lady with great warmth and charm. She was one of the true screen goddesses of the 1960s, and I miss her very much.


Eliezer França (Eli) said...

Great post!

Floyd Norman said...

She truly was a beautiful young woman.

I do think her death was an accident especially if she had been drinking. Too much wine and a slippery deck is a bad combination. Since this happened at night, that was even more reason to suspect her death was accidental.

S. Stephani Soejono said...

Looks like a young Wendie Malick.