CAROLE LOMBARD - My Favorite Actress

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gone Too Soon Blogathon: Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood is one of my favorite screen actresses of all time. And I jumped at the chance to write about her for this gone too soon blogathon. It’s ironic that the first film I saw of hers was the last one she made before her untimely death.

Brainstorm which was made in 1981 but wasn’t released until 1983 was the first film I recall seeing of hers. I was around 13 and we had just got HBO. Back then HBO would show new releases every other day, up to 3 airings at a time. So I got plenty of opportunities to watch Brainstorm. Of course I had no idea who she was or her history. And I definitely did not know she had just passed away recently. But from that moment on I learned everything I could about her.

It was quite a surprise to learn as I got older that Natalie  had been around since the forties making movies. Starting out as child and appearing in such films like the sentimental holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. She then entered the 50's as one of the best teen actresses to ever grace the silver screen. Starring in such films like The Searchers (1956) with John Wayne; The Star (1952) with Bette Davis and of course Rebel Without A Cause (1955).

But I think Natalie's best era is definitely the 60's. It's where she entered adulthood and showed her very impressive range of acting. Doing everything from dramas to musicals to comedies, Natalie was at the top of her game. Let me just run off the films she did during her peak period: West Side Story (1961), Splendor in the Grass (1961), Gypsy (1962), Love With The Proper Stranger (1963), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), The Great Race (1965), Inside Daisy Clover (1965), This Property Is Condemned (1966), and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). There is no denying the fact that Natalie was one of the top ten film stars of that decade and you can see why. She just displayed such an easy going style of acting that was so casual. It was like hanging out with your best friend and listening to them tell stories of their past. I was and and still is captivated by Natalie's presence in any of her films.

I can think of only one film that I have seen of hers that I'm not too crazy about and it just happens to her biggest film of her career. I just can't get into West Side Story. I do like musicals, but couldn't never get into that film. I've seen it twice and I just can't. But that is the sole exception. Everything else she did is on the spot. I love her in those bright and funny comedies like The Great Race and Sex and The Single Girl where she gets to show off her physical comic abilities. And she was really strong in those top notch dramas like Love With the Proper Stranger and This Property Is Condemned.

While her film career was shining, her personal life was a different story. After her relationship with Warren Beatty soured, she dated several different men, some of whom were very much married. She attempted suicide in 1966. She was able to work out her issues by seeing a psychiatrist and got married in 1969 to Richard Gregson. It didn't last but her next marriage would, to former boyfriend Robert Wagner.

Of course tragedy would strike in 1981 when Natalie drowned off the coast of Catalina Island. Rumors persist to this day that foul play was involved. But whatever happened, we did lose a very talented actress and amazing woman that day at the young age of 43. This post has stirred memories of Natalie in me and I will honor her this weekend with a marathon of the films of her that I own. I would like to think Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood for hosting this blogathon and so glad that I could be a part of it. Please go to her page to check out all the other wonderful entries being posted this weekend of other great stars that left this world way too soon.


Patti said...

Monty, I am SO with you on "West Side Story." I tried it once and gave up after about 25 minutes. It just never captured my interest.

Do you know that I completely remember her death. I was in college at the time, and it was Thanksgiving time. One of my roommates was beyond upset about Miss Wood's death, and it was all she could talk about. I didn't even have a clue who she was at the time, but all these years, I have remembered that my roommate was devouring every news article she could find about it.

I do hope her death was just an accident and that there was no foul play involved.

Great post...thanks for helping us get to know this lovely lady a bit more.

Have a great day,

Irene Palfy said...

Fantastic post, Monty! Glad you picked her!

Dawn said...

Monty, please add me to the list of those who do not care much for the classic film, "West Side Story." I also tried watching it a couple of times.

Thank you for sharing your memories of Miss Wood, with us..

FlickChick said...

Add me to the list of those who love Natalie but not her performance in West Side Story.It just wasn't for her. I grew up with her and she was always the epitome of the glamorous Hollywood movie queen. I still miss her.

Victoria said...

I also didn't care for West Side Story but I don't like musicals at all. I loved Natalie Wood though and...if you have any reservations about whether foul play was not watch A Kiss Before Dying with Robert Wagner because you will most definitely think something fishy went on!

A fun read though and she definitely left us too soon:(

P.S. You have the crazy Yahoo double word verification and it's really hard to read the words! Just a heads up:)

The Gal Herself said...

Yup! Me, too. Love Nat but not in West Side Story. I'm glad she was nominated that year for a much better performance, Splendor in the Grass. She was so beautiful but, unlike Liz Taylor, she had a fragility about her which created tension -- we wanted her characters to live happily ever after but we weren't sure they would. My favorite Natalie role: Alma in This Property Is Condemned. Thanks for a great post! Here's my blogathon contribution about one of Natalie's dates in the 1950s

Kimberly J.M. Wilson said...

Wood was definitely gone too soon. I agree that her best acting decade was the 60s, where she got to play adult roles.

Kristen said...

I have to say West Side Story was the movie that made me a Wood fan but I can see how some people dislike it (the stereotypical depiction of Puerto Ricans being obvious).

To me, the best movies are Splendor in the Grass and Love with the Proper Stranger, both of which cultivated my love of classic film.

Having followed the reopening of her death, it just seems like we're dredging this up because of internal issues with the LAPD which is sad. Either way, love the post and have become addicted to the blog!

Laura said...

Hi Monty,

What a great tribute to a wonderful actress. I'm fascinated that you and several commenters didn't care for WEST SIDE STORY, as I've always been a huge fan and adored her performance in it; incidentally, I saw George Chakiris speak at a 50th anniversary screening and he said the very nicest, most admiring things about Natalie.

I loved her as a child actress -- THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR is a favorite -- and I think my favorite of her adult performances, other than WSS, is LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER.

Like Patti I vividly remember her passing as I was home from college for Thanksgiving break when I heard the news, and as a big Wood fan I was terribly shocked.

Thanks for your post!

Best wishes,

Rich said...

I have nothing against her role in WSS, but not too long ago I watched her in 'Splendor' and was amazed with her in that. My favorite role of hers is probably still 'Miracle on 34th Street,' though.

Kalli said...

This is a wonderful post, Monty! Splendor in the Grass and Rebel Without a Cause are my favorites.

KC said...

How funny that you saw Brainstorm first. I still haven't gotten around to seeing that one. I love West Side Story! I don't think it was one of Wood's best performances though. Maybe that's what you didn't like about it? Man, that movie makes me cry every time I see it.


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