Natalie Wood, 1938 – 1981

Natalie Wood: The Storybook Beauty Of a Hollywood Star
By Tom Shales | The Washington Post | Nov. 30, 1981

What is sadder than a beautiful woman dying young? Natalie Wood was able to remain a beautiful young woman through three decades of fantasy on the movie screen. Yesterday, her body was found floating in the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island.

When a movie star dies, all kinds of memories well up — not only of screen roles and whatever part of the star’s private life went public, but also of ways these distant visions and separate lives interacted with our own. In the ’50s, Natalie Wood was an ultimate idealized teenager to girls who wanted to be like her and to boys who may have found in her one of their first raging erotic fixations.

She stayed beautiful, she stayed gorgeous; she was never anything so minimal as merely a sex symbol, and yet it would be hard to sustain the contention that she was a great actress. Like others who make mysteriously indelible impressions on the mind and dream-life of the mass audience, she was a great movie star — on occasion, a scintillating presence, and Hollywood royalty for the first rock ‘n’ roll generation.

And even though millions grew up with her, and watched her grow up on the screen, she seemed incurably youthful and, at heart, incorrigibly naughty — the good girl with the bad girl inside. Her death at the age of 43, apparently by drowning, seems all the sadder and more of a cheat because of that youthfulness, and yet it ensures that there will never be a photographic image of her, anywhere, in which she looks old or spent or without that teasing insouciance.

It’s going to be awfully hard now to watch reruns of “Splendor in the Grass” on television and not get even more depressed than the movie is supposed to make you anyway, especially in the last scene, when Miss Wood’s voice on the soundtrack — over a shot of her walking away, smiling bravely, from the great love of her life — recites again from Wordsworth:

“Though nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.”


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