Splendor at the Hollywood theatre with Natalie Wood .. five years later (when she would be 78 years old)

Nov 29th, 2016 | By | Category: In Brief

Natalie Wood with her daughter Natasha Gregson in 1973, early on in her second marriage to Robert John Wagner, Jr.

I’m told that for a few weeks now the statistics for this site have been showing fresh interest in a post of mine from exactly five years ago, on “Splendor at the Hollywood theatre : remembering the Natalie Wood who would be 73 years old.”

The occasion back then was the 30th anniversary of the sad and even tragic death of Ms. Wood, at the far too early age of 43.

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the same event.

Back then as well the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was apparently taking a fresh interest in the circumstances surrounding Natalie Wood’s death by drowning, somewhere between Los Angeles and “Santa Catalina … the island of romance … twenty-six miles away.”

Lana Wood confronts Robert Wagner at Hyatt Regency in Palm Springs, this past February. He should report her to Gibbs at NCIS.

Five years later there has also been some fresh speculation about just what did happen off Santa Catalina on the night of November 28–29, 1981.

This seems fueled more by the private demons of Natalie Wood’s younger sister, Lana Wood, and the business ambitions of a website called Radar Online (and a “private detective firm called Cold Case Investigative Research”), than by any serious concerns of the Los Angeles County Sheriff.

See, eg, a short, shaky article from this past September : “Robert Wagner to Be Arrested For Murder of Natalie Wood?” — the only even half-credible sentence of which is :

“It remains unclear if police have any intention of pressing charges against the 86-year-old Wagner.”

* * * *

Natalie Wood and RJ, during their first marriage, 1957–1962. This photo is from 1960, when he was 30 and she was 22.

My own general view of all this is the same as it was five years ago. The late “John Gregory Dunne’s 2004 conclusion …  still finally seems convincing to me: ‘What happened will probably never be known. Everyone was too drunk, the two survivors [Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken] assaulted by guilt and memories best forgotten.’”

The altogether new ingredients in what remains a 35-year-old mystery are two 2016 videos in which Robert Wagner is confronted with questions about his wife’s death :

* This past February Lana Wood, who has a long history of trying to in some degree blame Wagner for her older sister’s death, confronted him in a video encounter at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Palm Springs, California, where he was attending a lunch honoring his wife Jill St. John. Ms Wood asked “RJ” (Wagner’s legendary Hollywood nickname) : “’Why won’t you speak to the police?” (To which he replied “I have talked to everybody.”)

Natalie Wood, during her second marriage to Robert John Wagner Jr., 1972–1981, with her three girls — l to r : Natasha, Katie, and baby Courtney, born in 1974.

* Much more recently, this month, staff from the Radar Online site similarly confronted Wagner while he was moving from one event to another promoting a book he has just had published. And in the preposterous hyperbolic language the website employs : “In two explosive, bare-knuckle confrontations, RadarOnline.com finally put the question on America’s lips to veteran actor Robert Wagner: ‘Did you kill Natalie?’”

I have now dutifully watched both videos twice. And they have only increased my personal admiration for Robert Wagner. They certainly offer no new evidence about any kind of crime.

Happily enough, on the other hand, the Turner Classic Movies network has been airing Natalie Wood movies throughout November 2016. I have managed to catch a few of them, introduced by Robert Wagner and Natasha Gregson Wagner.

Robert Wagner and Jill St. John with Courtney and Natasha in the 1980s, not too long after Natalie Wood’s death. Wagner and St. John would marry in 1990.

Natasha is Natalie Wood’s daughter with her second husband Richard Gregson, and she is now three years older than her mother was when she died. Natasha was largely raised by Wagner and Wood during their second marriage — and then by Wagner and Jill St. John after Natalie’s sad death. (She calls Robert Wagner “Daddy” in the TCM introductions.)

Along with the latest never-ending speculations about Robert Wagner’s role in what happened to Natalie Wood off Santa Catalina in 1981, recent media reports have also made clear that Wagner and Wood established a strong family of three daughters during their nine-year second marriage — Natasha (see above), Katie (Wagner’s daughter from his second marriage to Marion Marshall), and Courtney (the natural daughter of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood).

Robert Wagner gets kiss from Courtney while Jill St. John (l) and Katie stand by, as Wagner honored with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, July 16, 2002. Photo: Reuters.

This strong family carried on after Natalie’s death, and into Wagner’s subsequent long-lasting marriage to Jill St. John (whose current Wikipedia article notes that she “has three stepdaughters” — Katie, Natasha, and Courtney).

When Lana Wood confronted “RJ” at the Hyatt Regency in Palm Springs this past February, he complained to her about the pressures her accusations have put on the Wagner family. Lana’s response was to complain that she was not part of this family. (And in a way that might make you think this is her real problem today with RJ, who has “known me since I was a child.”)

The Wagner girls 2002 — l to r: Natasha, Courtney, and Katie.

What Natalie Wood herself might make of all this we will of course never know. She in any case remains my own favourite Hollywood actress —  “a movie star, from probably the last period when stars were still icons and not like other people.”

(And if you want to know a little more about her iconic career and sad death, you could also go back to my own homage of five years ago : “Splendor at the Hollywood theatre : remembering the Natalie Wood who would be 73 years old.” Why not? I have just re-read it myself.)

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