TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twenty-Two — Natalie Wood

Unforgettable star.

It’s not often that a popular child star makes a successful transition to screen fame. From the Golden Age of Hollywood, I can only think of a few off the top of my head – Judy Garland. Mickey Rooney. Elizabeth Taylor. Bonita Granville. Roddy McDowall.

And Natalie Wood.


Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko was born on July 20, 1938, in San Francisco, the second of three daughters born to Russian immigrants Nikolai, who worked as a day laborer and carpenter, and his wife, Maria. Shortly after Natalia was born, the family moved to Santa Rosa, and when a movie was filming in the area one day, when Natalia was four years old, her mother took her to audition as an extra. Natalia landed a bit part in the movie, Happy Land, and director Irving Pichel was so charmed by the little girl that he vowed to one day “send for her.”

Adorable moppet.

Certain that Natalia was meant for a future on the big screen, Maria urged her husband to move the family to Los Angeles, and two years later, Pichel made good on his promise. After Natalia landed a part in Pichel’s upcoming film Tomorrow is Forever for RKO, studio exec William Goetz shortened her first name to Natalie and chose her last name in honor of his friend, director Sam Wood. The following year, Natalie was cast in three pictures (whose filming schedules often overlapped) – The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay, and the movie that would make her a household name, Miracle on 34th Street.


  • During a scene in the 1949 movie The Green Promise, a collapsible bridge threw Natalie into the raging waters below. Natalie broke her left wrist and almost drowned. The accident left Natalie with a bone protrusion that she masked with large bracelets – both on and off-camera – for the rest of her life.

    Natalie and Robert — the first time around.

  • When she was 15, Natalie appeared in an episode of the live anthology series General Electric Theater opposite 23-year-old James Dean. On the show, Natalie got her first kiss. A short time later, she was cast with Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1954).
  • Natalie was married twice to actor Robert Wagner, from 1957 to 1962, and from 1972 until her death in 1981.
  • Wood had a longtime fear of water, particularly dark water, and often dreamed of drowning. Sadly, she died at the age of 43 after reportedly falling off of the yacht she was aboard with her husband, Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken. While her death was originally ruled an accidental drowning, her cause of death was modified by the L.A. County Chief Coroner in 2012 to “’drowning and other undetermined factors.”
  • Pallbearers at Natalie’s funeral were Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Elia Kazan, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and Frank Sinatra.


See it.

With no Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, or even Miracle on 34th Street to gum up the works, my choice for Natalie Wood Day was a cinch: Love with a Proper Stranger (1963), where she stars with Steve McQueen. Natalie earned her third Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (the other two were for Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass), playing a Macy’s store clerk who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a musician. Whether you’ve seen it already, or this will be your first-time viewing, you’re in for a treat. Trust me.

And join me for Day 23 of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 21, 2020.

One Response to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twenty-Two — Natalie Wood”

  1. […] Day 22: Natalie Wood […]

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