Saturday, November 19, 2011

Celebrating Natalie Wood!

A lot changed when I had Natasha. I'm a survivor.
Natalie Wood

Happy Saturday!
I've been thinking a lot lately about Natalie Wood and for all the right reasons. Last week I interviewed and blogged about George Chakiris. Also saw West Side Story on the silver it was meant to be seen. There is one moment in the film where there is a close up of Natalie Wood and I thought you don't see close-ups like that on the screen anymore. The celebrities in the news this week are Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber, Nikki Reed. Together, they can't create the excitement in me that Natalie did and continues to do so. Yes, Natalie Wood is also tragically in the news also as the 30 year anniversary of her death approached and with that a new investigation as to what really happened that night. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1981. I was 20 years old and I was in rehearsals with The Nerian Players in the Bronx where I was living at the time. I think we were rehearsing The Pajama Game. It was Thanksgiving weekend and it was Sunday night and the news had just broken. The details of what we were rehearsing that night are fuzzy. But one thing is not fuzzy and that is how sad we all were. I still am.This little girl that had grown into a gorgeous teenager and an even more gorgeous woman. She was one of a handful of child sctors/actresses that had made a smooth transition through those awkward teen years into a full fledged adult.

We watched her along some of the hottest leading men in Hollywood both on and off screen Warren Beatty (pictured above) made his movie debut opposite Natalie Wood in Elia Kazan's Splendor In The Grass which is just as hot today as when it first came out.
Almost every girl falls in love with the wrong man, I suppose it's part of growing up.
Natalie Wood 

Then there was Robert Wagner. They had a tempestuous marriage...twice.
I don't know that there marriage was as volatile as the Burton-Taylor marriage. But like Burton and Taylor, that were star crossed lovers.
They couldn't live apart from each other and I believe it is one of those things that is just destined to be. I have a huge appreciation to what gifts she offered the screen and us!

 At night, when the sky is full of stars and the sea is still you get the wonderful sensation that you are floating in space. -Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood, born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko (July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981)
Wood began acting in movies at the age of four and became a successful child actress in such films as Miracle on 34th Street (1947). 
A well received performance opposite James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause (1955) earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and helped her to make the transition from a child performer.
She then starred in the musicals West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962).

She also received Academy Award for Best Actress nominations for her performances in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963). Her career continued successfully with films such as Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969).

After this she took a break from acting and had two children, appearing in only two theatrical films during the 1970s.
She was married to actor Robert Wagner twice, and to producer Richard Gregson.

She had one daughter by each: Natasha Gregson and Courtney Wagner.
Her younger sister, Lana Wood, is also an actress. Wood starred in several television productions, including a remake of the film From Here To Eternity (1979) for which she won a Golden Globe Award.
 Wood was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco to Russian immigrant parents Maria Stepanovna (née Zudilova; 1912–1998) and Nikolai Stepanovich Zacharenko.

As an adult, she stated, "I'm very Russian, you know."

She spoke both Russian and English. Her father was born in Vladivostok and he, his mother, and two brothers, immigrated to Montreal, Quebec, and later to San Francisco.

There, he worked as a day laborer and carpenter.

Her paternal grandfather Stepan worked in a chocolate factory in Russia and was killed in street fighting between Red and White Russian soldiers in 1918.
Natalie's mother originally came from Barnaul southern Siberia, but grew up in the Chinese city of Harbin.
She described her family by weaving mysterious tales of being either gypsies or landowning aristocrats.
In her youth, her mother dreamed of becoming an actress or ballet dancer.

Biographer Warren Harris writes that under the family's "needy circumstances," her mother may have transferred those ambitions to her middle daughter, Natalie. 
Her mother would take Natalie to the movies as often as she could: "Natalie's only professional training was watching Hollywood child stars from her mother's lap," notes Harris.

Natalie Wood would later recall this early period:

My mother used to tell me that the cameraman who pointed his lens out at the audience at the end of the Paramount newsreel was taking my picture. I'd pose and smile like he was going to make me famous or something.

I believed everything my mother told me.Shortly after her birth in San Francisco, her family moved to nearby Sonoma County, and lived in Santa Rosa, California where Wood was noticed during a film shoot in downtown Santa Rosa. Her mother soon moved the family to Los Angeles and pursued a career for her daughter. Wood had one younger sister, Svetlana Zacharenko (better known as Lana Wood), who also became an actress and later, notably, a Bond Girl.

She and Lana have an older half sister, Olga Viriapaeff. Though Natalie had been born "Natalia Zacharenko," her father later changed the family name to "Gurdin" and Natalie was often known as "Natasha," the diminutive of Natalia.

The studio known as RKO Radio Pictures later changed her name to "Natalie Wood," a name she never learned to like.

Wood made her film debut a few weeks before turning five, in a fifteen-second scene in the film Happy Land (1943).
Despite the brief part, she attracted the notice of the director, Irving Pichel, who remained in touch with her family for two years until another role came up.

The director phoned Natalie's mother and asked her to bring Natalie to Los Angeles for a screen test. Her mother became so excited at the possibilities, she overreacted and "packed the whole family off to Los Angeles to live," writes Harris.

 Her husband opposed the whole idea, but his wife's "overpowering ambition to make Natalie a star" took priority.
 Wood, then seven years old, got the part and played a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever.

Welles later said that Wood was a born professional, "so good, she was terrifying."
After Natalie did another film directed by Pichel, her mother signed her to a role with 20th Century Fox studio for her first major role, the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which made her one of the top child stars in Hollywood.
 Within a few months after the film's release, she was so popular that Macy's invited her to appear in the store's annual Thanksgiving Day parade.
She would eventually appear in over 20 films as a child, appearing opposite such stars as Gene Tierney, James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara, Bette Davis, and Bing Crosby.
As a child actor, her formal education took place on the studio lots wherever she was acting.
California law required that until age 18, actors had to spend at least three hours per day in the classroom, notes Harris. "She was a straight A student," and one of the few child actors to excel at arithmetic. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who directed her in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), said that "In all my years in the business, I never met a smarter moppet."

Wood remembered that period in her life:
I always felt guilty when I knew the crew was sitting around waiting for me to finish my three hours.

As soon as the teacher let us go, I ran to the set as fast as I could.
 Wood successfully made the transition from child star to ingenue at age 16 when she co-starred with James Dean and Sal Mineo in Rebel Without A Cause, Nicholas Ray's film about teenage rebellion.

She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

 She followed this with a small but crucial role in John Ford's western The Searchers which starred John Wayne and also featured Wood's sister, Lana, who played a younger version of her character in the film's earlier scenes. 

For the first time I feel an inner emotional security. There is reality and dependability. My life revolves around Richard and the baby.
Natalie Wood

In the 1953-1954 television season, Wood played Ann Morrison, the teenage daughter in the ABC situation comedy, The Pride of the Family, with Paul Hartman cast as her father, Albie Morrison; Fay Wray, as her mother, Catherine; and Robert Hyatt, as her brother, Junior Morrison.
Wood graduated in 1956 from Van Nuys High School.

From ages 10 to 12 or so, I barely remember anything.
Natalie Wood

I couldn't even go to the bathroom alone. My mother or a social worker always went with me.
Natalie Wood

Signed to Warner Brothers, Wood was kept busy during the remainder of the decade in many 'girlfriend' roles that she found unsatisfying.

The studio cast her in two films opposite Tab Hunter, hoping to turn the duo into a box office draw that never materialized.

Among the other films made at this time were 1958's Kings Go Forth and Marjorie Morningstar.
As Marjorie Morningstar, Wood played the role of a young Jewish girl in New York City who has to deal with the social and religious expectations of her family, as she tries to forge her own path and separate identity.

After Wood appeared in the box office flop All the Fine Young Cannibals, her career was salvaged by her casting in director Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass (1961) opposite Warren Beatty, which earned Wood Best Actress Nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. Also in 1961 Wood played Maria in the Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise musical West Side Story which was a major box office and critical success.
Although the singing parts were sung by Marni Nixon, West Side Story is still regarded as one of Wood's best films. Wood did sing when she starred in the 1962 film, Gypsy. She co-starred in the slapstick comedy The Great Race (1965), with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Peter Falk. Her ability to speak Russian was an asset given to her character "Maggie DuBois", justifying the character to record the progress of the race across Siberia, and entering the race at the beginning as a contestant.
Wood then received her third Academy Award nomination and another Golden Globe award in 1964 for Love with the Proper Stranger, opposite Steve McQueen.

Although many of Wood's films were commercially profitable, her acting was criticized at times. In 1966 she won the Harvard Lampoon Worst Actress of the Year Award. She was the first performer in the award's history to accept it in person and the Harvard Crimson wrote she was "quite a good sport."
Conversely, director Sydney Pollack said "When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress." 

Other notable films she starred in were Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and This Property is Condemned (1966), both of which co-starred Robert Redford and brought subsequent Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress.
In both films, which were set during the Great Depression, Wood played small-town teens with big dreams. After the release of the films, Wood suffered an emotional breakdown[citation needed] and sought professional therapy.[15] During this time, she turned down the Faye Dunaway role in Bonnie and Clyde because she didn't want to be separated from her analyst.

 I didn't know who the hell I was. I was whoever they wanted me to be.
Natalie Wood

 After three years away from acting, Wood played a swinger in Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969), a comedy about sexual liberation.
The film was one of the top ten box-office hits of the year, and Wood received ten percent of the film's profits.[15] After becoming pregnant with her first child, Natasha Gregson, in 1970, Wood went into semi-retirement and acted in only four more theatrical films during the remainder of her life. She made a very brief cameo appearance as herself in The Candidate (1972), reuniting her for a third time with Robert Redford. She also reunited on the screen with Robert Wagner in the television movie of the week The Affair (1973) and with Sir Laurence Olivier and husband Wagner in an adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976) broadcast as a special by NBC. She made cameo appearances on Wagner's prime-time detective series Switch in 1978 as "Bubble Bath Girl" and Hart to Hart in 1979 as "Movie Star." During the last two years of her life, Wood began to work more frequently as her daughters reached school age.

I didn't like children. I didn't think of myself as a child. I didn't like any of the things other children were interested in. Natalie Wood

Film roles Wood turned down during her career hiatus went to Ali McGraw in Goodbye, Columbus; Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby; and Faye Dunaway in The Towering Inferno.
Later, Wood chose to star in misfires like the disaster film Meteor (1979) with Sean Connery and the sex comedy The Last Married Couple in America (1980).
She found more success in television, receiving high ratings and critical acclaim in 1979 for The Cracker Factory and especially the miniseries film From Here to Eternity with Kim Basinger and William Devane.
Wood's performance in the latter won her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in 1980. Later that year, she starred in The Memory of Eva Ryker which proved to be her last completed production.

Source for some photos:
Chris Abram Blog

I never knew motherhood could be so truly gratifying until I had Natasha.
Natalie Wood




GREAT NEWS!!!!!--- JOHN O'HURLEY (Seinfeld, Dancing With the Stars and others.
O'Hurley has also been the host of Purina's annual National Dog Show every Thanksgiving since 2002) has joined the performers roster for the Zani's Furry Friends Benefit on November 26 and the Laurie Beechman. GET YOUR TICKETS!
With Emily Buttner, Sean Harkness, Amy Ralske, Len Cariou, Phil Geoffrey Bond, Mark Janus, Eve Weiss, Tanya Moberly, Bill Zeffiro, Elena Bennett, Jonathan Russell, Peter Napolitano, David Vernon, and Deb Berman! 
See The Variety Show does exist!

Nov 28
THE TRIAD, 158 West 72nd Street
This is the launch of a new series. Once a month, Richard will be celebrating a different theme. A Benefit for Carol Channing's Foundation for the Arts. ( Anna Bergman,Diane J. Findlay, Peggy Herman, Sue Matsuki, Miles Phillips, Jana Robbins, Richard Skipper, Lee Roy Reams, Walter Willison, Bob Mattern, John Patrick Schutz, Sarah Rice. RESERVATIONS A MUST! $25 show plus two drink minimum, $50 PREMIUM SEATS plus two drink minimum (includes complementary glass of champagne).

Have your voice heard – You can make a difference!

I have been fortunate enough to call among my friends several celebrities.
The one thing that I've gleaned from them beyond their bodies of work is their humanness.

Thank you to all of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you ALL have given to the world!

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Tomorrow's blog will be REVISING WEST SIDE STORY...YET AGAIN!
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