Every year at this time, for the last thirty-two years -- like clockwork, I wake up over the Thanksgiving weekend thinking about this stunning and talented woman that I have idolized since I first saw her on the cover of a magazine when I was twelve years old. From that moment on, I aspired to be like Natalie Wood - everything about her seemed so wonderful to me - her looks, her petite frame, her voice, her adorable-ness. She was the 'bees knees'and the 'cat's pajamas' all rolled into one fabulous and talented woman.
Just the other morning I woke up with the sound of the song, “I Feel Pretty” from ‘West Side Story’ blaring in my head - it was a little eerie but then I realized it was my reminder that this is the week that the glamorous, classy Natalie Wood - Mother of two beautiful daughters, major movie star of the 1960's and 1970‘s, had found herself floating off the coast of Catalina Island, in shark-infested waters, on a cold, dark November evening, with no aid in sight. It is unfathomable that there were three men on board the boat that weekend, and yet with no one coming to her aid, even after a ‘bottle smashing’ scene on board only hours earlier, she met a tragic, painful, watery death. I cannot begin to imagine, as she floated and bobbed up and down in the choppy waters that black night, trying to keep her head above water, how frighteningly out of her mind she must have been as she tried to stay alive. She was found with her eyes wide open according to the man who found her.
As I clicked the TV remote this week I came across the James Bond movie, ‘Diamonds are Forever’, and there was another reminder staring back at me -- Lana Wood, Natalie’s sister, who played ‘Plenty O’Toole’ in the movie, right there on the screen in front of me. A few minutes later, b-a-m - in the same movie, Jill St. John appeared. If you don’t get the irony of this, let me explain. Natalie Wood had been married to the actor R.J. Wagner at the time she died. He was also on the boat, their boat, that night, called ‘Splendour’ (named after the movie “Splendor in the Grass’ which was one of Natalie’s biggest movie roles).
I should mention that also on the boat that fateful night, aside from the Skipper of the boat, was Christopher Walken, the actor, who had been at that time working on a movie with Natalie called “Brainstorm“ which was about to wrap up - and forever to be known as Natalie's final movie.
As an aside regarding Mr. Walken - it has never been clear to me why it seemed to be a well-kept secret that he was married, at least at that particular point in time - and why a 'married' man would not bring his wife with him on a boat outing, especially since it was a huge holiday weekend. Awkward is putting it mildly when I think about that scenario, especially when, by all accounts, Natalie was very much taken with Walken - case in point - the restaurant in Avalon where the management and patrons witnessed a lot of flirting going on between Natalie and Walken.
I’m not going to go into the entire story in this article on that fateful weekend, but I did write an article in more detail previously which can be found in my archived articles. There is much on this on the internet as well. Also, there is a book that Marti Rulli wrote in conjunction with the Skipper of the Splendour entitled “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour”. I read the book and I recommend it. It is an eye-opener.
Getting back to the irony of the happenings this week - I thought about the fact that not long ago there had been some type of brouhaha about Jill St. John - now Mrs. Wagner -- who it was reported refused to cooperate on a photo shoot for the cover of a magazine which was featuring all the ‘Bond’ girls throughout the years in each of the ‘James Bond’ movies. She refused to be photographed with Lana Wood, it had been reported at that time. As always, the heartache keeps coming for the family of Natalie Wood even after all these many years - which I'm sure hurts not only Lana, her sister, but also her daughters who had their Mother ripped away from them at tender ages. Why do people add insult to injury?
Lana Wood has spoken out, together with Marti Rulli, about the fact that she questions her sister’s death being listed as an accident - and that there has been bad blood between she and Robert Wagner (and apparently Jill St. John) for quite some time causing estrangement between Lana Wood and her beloved nieces. (In Rulli's book it is stated that RJ refers to Lana, his former sister-in-law, as "Crazy Aunt Lana".
Thankfully, the case has been reopened and reclassified - using the phrase ‘undetermined’ circumstances. Maybe Karma will finally come home to roost on anyone who withheld information or more to the point, who may have covered up what really happened that horrific night - and ultimately would have led to the proper investigation and much-awaited justice. Out of three men being on board the boat that night - how is it no one heard or knew or verbalized anything? Food for thought.
Mysteriously now, after all these years, the ‘dinghy’ involved that night - along with some other relevant items, cannot be located. Hmmm, just when it was reported that there was to be new testing done.
If you are a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Natalie Wood as I am, you are also probably still waiting for a proper investigation into her untimely death -- hoping the truth will finally win out. Natalie was denied raising her daughters, seeing them through their good and rough times, their weddings, her grandchildren - so many memories that were meant to be lived - and it was taken away from her at 43 years of age.
It’s been reported that Robert Wagner has stated that a movie about Natalie’s life will never be made in his lifetime, if he has anything to say about it. My question is - WHY NOT? She was fabulous, a unique and talented celebrity who was idolized by millions. Why shouldn't her life be put in the spotlight - she created a wonderful career and legacy - one that her daughters I'm sure are proud of.
I went out and bought Natalie’s favorite ’white burgundy Chardonnay’ - Pouilly-Fuisse - that was always kept on the boat for her. I am raising a glass to Natalie and to her memory - a beautiful life cut short.