Born: July 20, 1938
Died: November 29, 1981
Born to Russian-immigrant parents, Natalie Wood made her first film appearance at age four as an extra in ‘Happy Land’ (1943). When she was promoted to supporting
roles, the young Wood was well prepared for the artistic discipline expected of her: She’d been taking dancing lessons since infancy. By 1947, she earned up to a thousand dollars per week for such films as ‘Miracle on 34th Street’. She made a reasonably smooth transition to grown-up roles, most notably as James Dean’s girlfriend in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ (1955) and Warren Beatty’s steady in ‘Splendour in the Grass’ (1961). She was also a regular on the 1953 sitcom ‘Pride of the Family’, playing the teenage daughter of Paul Hartman and Fay Wray. Despite being romantically linked with several of her leading men, Wood settled down to marriage relatively early, wedding film star Robert Wagner in 1957. The union didn’t last, and she and Wagner were divorced in 1962. Continuing to star in such important films as ‘West Side Story’ (1961), ‘Gypsy’ (1963), ‘Inside Daisy Clover'(1967), and ‘Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice’ (1969), Wood always managed to bounce back from her numerous career setbacks, and in 1971, after an interim marriage to screenwriter Richard Gregson, Wood remarried Robert Wagner, this time for keeps.
Opinions of her acting ability varied: Her adherents felt that she was one of Hollywood’s most versatile stars, while her detractors considered her to be more fortunate than talented. The Oscar people thought enough of Wood to nominate her three times, for ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, ‘Splendour in the Grass’, and ‘Love With the Proper Stranger’ (1963). In the midst of filming the 1981 sci-fi film ‘Brainstorm’, 43-year-old Natalie Wood drowned in a yachting accident just off Catalina Island.