Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Monday, February 11, 2008

NATASHA: The Biography of Natalie Wood

NATASHA: The Biography of Natalie Wood. Suzanne Finstad. Harmony Books; 2001.

This is a thorough, readable account of the life of Natasha Gurdin, who became famous in Hollywood as Natalie Wood, Movie Star. The book takes us from her days as a child star to her adult stardom in such films as West Side Story and Love with the Proper Stranger and on to her middle years, where she had fewer film assignments, did television movies, and died much too young one horrible night off the yacht, Splendor [named for her film Splendor in the Grass]. Finstad offers some new insights into what might have happened that night of drunken merriment and unpleasant argument – did somebody get away with manslaughter or, at the very least, depraved indifference to life? Or was everyone, Wood included, just too inebriated to do anything to save Natalie? You can judge for yourself. Finstad also goes into Wood's relationship with Robert Wagner, whom she married twice, divorcing him, according to Finstad's sources, after catching him in a compromising position. Finstad did a lot of research and interviews for this book, although some of her sources aren't as credible in their accounts as others. If I have one problem with this book, it's the slant, which seems to imply that Wood's life was as tragic as her death. Wood may have complained about being a movie star at times – especially when she began to slip at the box office – but she also seemed to take great enjoyment in all of its advantages, not the least of which was financial. Finstad also works too hard to make her stage mother Maria out to be a deep, dark villainess, although, to be fair, she does quote a couple of people who offer opinions to the contrary. Maybe this isn't the last word, but it's still a solid biography.
Verdict: Very readable and informative. ***.

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