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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Happy 73rd Birthday, Natalie Wood!


You probably know by now that Natalie Wood is one of my favorite actresses. Or, even if you didn't know, you know now, don't you? And that's what matters!

If Natalie had not drowned in 1981 (at the age of 43) she would have turned 73 on today, July 20th. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to look back one the life one of my favorite movie stars.

Natalie Wood was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko to Maria and Nicholas Zakharenko on July 20th, 1939, in San Francisco, California. She was named "Natalia" was picked out by her godmother, who apparently chose it after a pretty blond relative in China. "Nikolaevna" (a la the Romanov children) means "daughter of Nicholas" in Russia. However, it was not long before her father changed their last names to "Gurdin", a name he figured would be easier for Americans to pronounce. And they all called her "Natasha." She got work as a child actress, her best known movie likely "Miracle on 34th Street." The movie that helped her "grow up" and brought her to fame was as Judy in "Rebel Without a Cause," alongside James Dean and Sal Mineo, and directed by the notorious Nick Ray. After this, Natalie shot to stardom. In the next years, she was nominated for an Oscar in "Splendor in the Grass" and "Love With the Proper Stranger" (unfortunately, she did not win for either) and imortalized herself in one of the best musicals of all time, "West Side Story." In her personal life, she married Robert Wagner at the age of nineteen but divorced in 1962. She remarried to a Richard Gregson in 1969, from which she had her first child, a daughter, named Natasha. They divorced in 1971, and once again she returned to Wagner. Her third and final marriage took place on his yacht in 1972. She changed Natasha's name to Natasha Gregson Wagner and had her second and final child, another daughter, named Courtney in 1974. All her life, Natalie had feared dark waters and was scarred by a childhood accident in which she almost drowned. On November 29th, 1981, Natalie, Robert, and her new co-star, Christopher Walken, were boating on the Wagners' yacht, "The Splendour" (named after her 1961 film with Warren Beatty). The three of them had been intoxicated. For reasons that no one can fully explain, Natalie slipped off the boat that night. It took Wagner three hours to inform the Coast Guard that his wife was missing. They found her body floating off the coast of Santa Catalina Island the next morning - drowned from the waters she'd feared all her life.

That's just a very brief biography of Natalie's life. There is so much more to her story - from her stage mom mother to her personal struggles to her "kismet" death. Unfortunately, very few biographers have wandered into the "Natalie Wood" category - but there is at least one well done and authorized biography of her... "Natasha" by Suzanne Finstad. I strongly suggest you read it to learn more about Natalie's life. It as an excellent read - one of the best bios I've ever read.

For more info on buying "Natasha" go here:

Some Trivia 

  • Vivien Leigh was her favorite actress ever since she had seen her in "A Streetcar Named Desire" as a little girl
  • She apparently cooked great Spanish eggs
  • Once told Robert Redford that, as as a child star, when she was required to cry for a part but couldn't squeeze the tears out, her mother would snap a butterfly in two before her and remind her of a pet dog that had been run over right before a young Natalie's eyes
Here's some of my favorite Natalie pics:

This reminds me a lot of the one on my site header. I adore it - it's so 60's!

There is a scene in "Miracle on 34th Street" in which she is teaching Kris Kringle how to blow bubbles with gum. Here she does it so many years later on the set of "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice." I <3 this one, too!

She looks so fashionable here! I love her bracelets! Unfortunately, her love for chunky jewelry has a sad meaning... on the set of "The Green Promise" in the 1940's, she nearly drowned in a water accident on set. Her left wrist was broken, but her mother never took her to the doctor, afraid of being blacklisted. It grew back deformed - and Natalie used to cover it up with thick bracelets.

Finally, I've made one of my very first videos for what I'm planning to call "Frankly My Dear TV"! I didn't have much time to make this, so I'm not completely satisfied with the outcome, but I still did put work into it and so I hope you enjoy it. I do not own the song or the clips. It sticks at points, and for that I apologize, but there's Windows Live Movie Maker for you! The song is "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper (I thought I'd do something kind of fun for Natalie's 73rd, lol) and the clips are from "Gypsy" (1962), "West Side Story" (1961), "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964), and "This Property is Condemned" (1966)... well, enjoy!

Well, there it is. I hope you enjoyed this Birthday Blog to Natalie - who, in all fairness, should still have been with us today. Don't you think? And I encourage you, since today is her birthday, to watch some of her films! TCM will be showing her movies most of the day, including some rare movies from her childhood, so you can catch her there.

By the way - since I'm here, on the topic of birthdays and July birthdays in particular, I'd like to make a quick birthday shoutout to my friend Jovanna who also celebrates her birthday this week... Happy Birthday!!



Mommy said...

Hi Baby,

I love your video and most of all you put the song that I used to dance to the beats when I was a teen.

Love ya,


Rianna said...

Hi Mommy,

Thank you so much!! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope to make more soon, but they're quite difficult, actually. I used "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" mostly because I like the song, and it went well with the clips, and because I wanted to do something lighthearted instead of serious.

Love you!

Anonymous said...

I know it's been a month, but still, I'd like to leave you a tip. Check out this other tribute, too:
The song they used was written for Natalie by David Pack, so that's a nice touch. I really like this blog, as we seem to have a similar taste in movies and actors/actresses. Natalie is actually my favorite actress and it's nice to know you like her too.

Rianna said...

Hi once again :)
Thanks for sharing that tribute, it's very lovely. What a beautiful song, didn't know it was written for Natalie... I mean, THAT Natalie. ;)
That was actually the first tribute I ever did and it was quite repetitive. However, I do think I'm getting a little better now -- some more current work is up my sidebar. :)
I'm glad you like the blog and I'm going to check out yours, too. It's always great to see other Natalie fans - Lucille Ball is my favorite, but Natalie is in my top five. I really love her.

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