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Natalie Wood, Remembered and Treasured
by Jon Schuller

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Scene stealer

Scene stealer
What with all the recent publicity surrounding Natalie Wood's "Mysterious" death in 1981(which I am personally upset about) I thought I would devote this week's column reflecting on her. She was one of the truly great iconic female stars who graced the screen in fifty-two films and was featured in six television shows. She received three Oscar nominations as well.

Natalie Wood, born Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko in 1938, was the daughter of Russian immigrants who had moved around a bit until settling in San Francisco. They lived in Santa Rosa until young Natalie was noticed and eventually her mother moved the entire family to Los Angeles when Natalie got her first screen-test. Minor roles in two films (Happy Land and Tomorrow is Forever) led the way for her first major part in Miracle on 34th Street in 1947. As a child star she appeared in more than twenty films.
Her next major role, as a rebellious teenager, was in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean. Natalie had transitioned from child star to a young (sixteen year old) adult
A match for James Dean

A match for James Dean
and her amazing talents were even more noticed now. For this film she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She went on to do The Searchers, Kings Go Forth and Marjorie Morningstar. All the Fine Young Cannibals and a ground-breaking role opposite Warren Beatty in 1961's Splendor in the Grass, directed by Elia Kazan, showed her incredible range and powers. This part has been considered a major episode in Natalie Wood's career because Kazan not only saw her depths as an actress but was able to help her reach new heights for emotion and passion on-screen. From this role in 1961 she became Maria in West Side Story the same year. Some have written that the similarities between her teenage character in Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story's Maria evolved from the rebellious spirit in American youth during the 1950's and 1960's. Wood's performances were evocative and accurate as she strives to overcome the alienation many teenagers experienced as America was rapidly changing during these years.

A series of
The town in the palm of her hand

The town in the palm of her hand
successful movies in the 1960's re-enforced her star power and acting stature:
Gypsy 1962
Love With a Proper Stranger 1964 (her third Academy Award nomination)
The Great Race 1965
Inside Daisy Clover 1965
This Property is Condemned 1966
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice 1970

I am not a follower of gossip shows on cable television. I think it's a tragic sign that so many people are more fascinated with what famous people are supposedly doing than what real people are actually doing. We are apparently in the midst of a re-opening of the case surrounding Natalie Wood's tragic death in 1981. Where this is leading is simply morbid curiosity in my view. I want to remember Natalie Wood as a many-faceted actress, famous for her beauty and talents, who could portray any number of different women on the screen. Her private life is not my business nor should it be anyone else's. I know that
Eternally beautiful

Eternally beautiful
when people reach a certain level of fame the media want to know every detail especially the dirty ones and the results can be terrible. Princess Diana was hounded mercilessly by photographers. I think they should be left alone.

When I watch a film with Natalie Wood I try to focus on her actions and reactions with her fellow actors. It's pretty near impossible not to watch her, of course, because her beauty was all-encompassing. But she was talented and resourceful even at an early age. She was noticed for her stage presence at the tender age of seven in Miracle on 34th Street, stealing scenes without even trying. Natalie Wood was nominated for and received many awards during her career. She created memorable roles and brought women to life despite the fact that her beauty belied her talent. I wrote a column about how many beautiful women in the movies had such incredible acting talents some went undiscovered I'm sure and some, like Natalie Wood, rose to heights that will live in our memories as long as we watch movies.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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