Like: Natalie Wood (1961)

August 5, 2010

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

The problem with dying under mysterious circumstances is that often people forget how you lived.

Natalie Wood is not regarded as one of our great actresses. In some ways I understand this as when compared to the heavy weights (Hepburn, Kelly, Monroe, etc) she just wasn’t quite on that level… but in another way, this makes no sense whatsoever. That’s because Natalie Wood was in some damn good movies.

We constantly think about how hr life was cut short, but in reality her career bridged three decades. She was a child star, a teen star, and finally an Adult Star (not that kind of adult, get your mind out of the gutter). And she made absolutely classic films at every stage. Seriously, why does no one talk about her more? She was in five bonafide classics: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET(1947) [she was the young girl!] REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) [opposite Dean in his defining film] THE SEARCHERS (1956) [Ford’s best film!]. WEST SIDE STORY(1961) [She was Maria for god’s sake!]  SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS(1961) [her sultry performance was lauded across the board and began the last stage of her glory years]. From there she took what she did in … IN THE GRASS and used that persona to string together some really good performances: GYPSY(1962) LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER(1963) INSIDE DAISY CLOVER(1965) THE PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED(1966) All great work.

You could make a joke that she was one of the first stars who “had talent, but an even more talented agent” and I can’t exactly argue with her luck. She was cast in movies that transcended generations. These are seminal movies that are still with us. I can remember seeing WEST SIDE STORY as a kid and then being shocked when I sat down to watch it a theater for film school. The cinematography in that film was off the charts good. Revolutionary even. But still, she was good. She got these parts for a reason. Perhaps Sydney Pollack said it best: “When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress.” The whole key being when she’s right for the part but isn’t that everyone. We get so few true chameleons in our movie stars (streep, day lewis, etc) that you have to recognize the ability of someone who merely “casts well.” Believe me, it’s a talent.

So here’s to Natalie Wood. Who cares how she died?

She’s a part of three decades of movie history and an integral part of some of the best films of all time.

That’s reason enough to care.

By the way, welcome to the 60’s.