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A Brief Introduction to Natalie Wood

There's something strikingly modern about Natalie Wood, a beautiful actress of modern style and personality cast in the old film glamour.

In the kaleidoscope of Classic Hollywood stars, the early story of her life fits in perfectly with a host of other child stars who were pushed into motion pictures. She had a typical obsessive stage mom controlling every aspect of her young life to become a Hollywood star. Achieving "overnight fame" with the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street at the young age of nine, Wood eventually grew up to be one of the most fresh and contemporary actresses to ever hit the big screen.

Maturing into teenager-dom and eventual adulthood, she wasn't like other screen goddesses. Wood didn't have studios to battle in the way of Bette Davis. She wasn't a particularly strong songstress or dancer, so a lifelong career of song and dance wasn't on the table in terms of a triple threat. But working as an actress was something that she enjoyed and tried to maintain a semi-regular life when she was away from the studios.

With her big brown eyes and raw vulnerability, Wood struck gold in an array of dramas and comedies. Over the span of her incredible career, she became the first every day girl of the screen. Her presence was effervescent yet natural with anguish, hope, remorse, happiness. Whatever a role called for Wood had a way of communicating her thoughts and feelings in the way she moved, being able to flirt with the bat of her eyelashes and a curious glance or root a character's isolation in a darker yearning.

To start, Rebel Without A Cause, an epic juvenile film about abandonment and coming of age, is one of her pivotal roles. Of course it helps that she starred alongside another little known legend James Dean. At the time of making the motion picture, she was just sixteen years old. As an actress, not just a young woman, she had an enormous range of vulnerability and maturity.

By the age of twenty-three, Wood had been nominated for two Academy Awards; one in the former and another in Splendor in the Grassstarring Warren Beatty. Though it's another film dealing with young adulthood, the content is much more mature; her character battles with rape and sexuality, and is nearly driven to madness by society's limitations and expectations of young women. Like Rebel, her portrayal is an alarming tale of trying to make sense of a world that will not listen.
My mother used to tell me, No matter what they ask you, always say yes. You can learn later.
Wood didn't stay stuck in coming of age flicks. Her career hit all kinds of notes as she grew into her twenties. With other flicks like The Searchers, she hit the epic Western as a young woman abducted from her family. The film draws criticism for its assessment of Native Americans' portrayal in cinema, though headliner John Wayne's role is considered one of his best performances.

In the Romeo & Juliet-esque musical, Wood tackled Maria in West Side Storya young woman caught in the crossfires of two gangs the Sharks versus the Jets, also representing race relations between newly immigrated Puerto Ricans and natural-born Americans citizens respectively. Her brother Bernando belongs to the former as she begins to fall in love with a member of the Jets. Though Wood is of Russian descent, the studios often found her looks to be "ethnic enough" to be cast in roles like Maria. The casting may be questionable of the times reflecting the studio system, but Wood committed to the role and delivered a solid performance.

With comedies Sex and the Single Girl tinted with sexual humor, the wonderfully playful personality Wood possessed had off-screen had the opportunity to shine. In The Great Race as a news reporter tagging along Tony Curtis on his race around the world against Jack Lemmon, there's only one gal who could nag the heart of bachelor Curtis and hold her own with a tomboyish charm and independent woman. And, it's Natalie. She matches her co-stars innuendo for innuendo never missing a beat.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the native San Franciscan was a chic girl of the eras. Though retiring in film at the ripe age of twenty-eight, she had forty films under her belt. With that brunette hair, wide eyes, and spirited personality, she stuck out but in a gloriously good way.

Smaller television and a very few theatrical roles make up much of the performances she gave throughout her thirties. Unfortunately, like many Hollywood legends, Wood's legacy on-screen would be darkened. In 1981, a weekend boat trip to the Catalina Islands with her husband Robert Wagner and co-star Christopher Walken would result in the mysterious circumstances of her death; the case around it that continues to go unsolved today. She was only forty three years old, leaving behind two children and a legacy as an incomparable talent.

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