Saturday, July 20, 2013

Natalie Wood's 75th Birthday

Hollywood has boasted many beautiful actresses over the years, but only a handful have made my personal list of truly great beauties.

That list doesn't actually exist, of course — well, outside my mind, I suppose. But my mental list includes the likes of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood. I'm sure there are others that you readers will think of, but those are the top five on my list.

If she had not died in 1981 under circumstances that are still labeled, at best, mysterious — and if we further presume that nothing else would have killed her in the last 32 years — today would have been Natalie Wood's 75th birthday. If she was alive, she'd be a grandmother. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

It's always hard for me to picture people who died young as they might have been at advanced ages, whether they were famous or not. Whenever the subject of prominent people who died young comes up, it never fails to include the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monroe, John Belushi, Elvis, Princess Diana, and it is always difficult for me to picture them being 30 or 40 or even 50 years older than they were when last we saw them.

I had a friend who died of cancer before his 30th birthday. If he was still living, he would be in his 50s today. I find that very hard to picture. I remember him as he was, and it is hard for me to imagine what he would be like if he had not been dead for nearly 22 years — primarily, I suppose, because I can't really imagine what might have happened in his life in the last couple of decades and how those events might have shaped him.

In a way, I guess, it is the same with Natalie Wood, whether you think of her as a young girl in the original "Miracle on 34th Street" or as a young adult in "West Side Story" or as a more mature woman in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice." She was 43 when she died. How can we know what might have happened in her life that would have shaped her into the 75–year–old we will never know?

I guess the hardest part of imagining Natalie Wood at 75 is remembering her when she was 8 in "Miracle on 34th Street."

I don't remember how old I was when I saw that movie for the first time. I may have been no older than Wood had been when she made it, and I remember having a huge crush on her. I guess she was my first.

Anyway, that is the image of Natalie Wood that always comes to my mind first when her name is mentioned — and, I suppose, always will, no matter how many times I see "Splendor in the Grass" or "Rebel Without a Cause" — or the movie she was making when she died, "Brainstorm."

When Wood drowned while on a yachting trip with her husband Robert Wagner and her "Brainstorm" co–star Christopher Walken, her death was ruled an accident, but many of the details surrounding her death were unknown then and are mostly unknown today.

I remember that rumors were rampant at the time. I always dismissed most of it as idle gossip. Nevertheless, there were parts of the story, however incomplete it may have been, that were disturbing.

It was known that Wood had been drinking that evening and that she and Wagner had argued. But no one could be found who could say definitively how Wood — who was known to have a fear of the water and drowning — wound up in the waters of Santa Catalina Island.

But the case was reopened last year when the captain of the yacht reportedly told authorities that an argument between Wood and Wagner had caused her death. To date, no one has been charged in connection with Wood's death.

After all these years, I'm not really sure if I want to know the truth about what happened to Natalie Wood.

At the time, it was enough for me simply to know that she was dead. I suppose there was a time when I wanted to know if someone had caused her death, but after 32 years, I really don't know what useful purpose could be served. If Wagner really was the cause of her death, would there be anything to gain by putting him on trial now and perhaps imprisoning him? The man is 83 years old.

Wood's family may be seeking some kind of closure. If they are still seeking it after 32 years, I hope they find it — even if it doesn't come in the form they may be hoping for. Thirty–two years is a long time to wait for anything.