She spent her life in the movies. Her childhood is still there to see in Miracle on 34th Street. Her adolescence in Rebel Without a Cause. Her coming of age? Still playing in Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story and countless other hit movies. From the moment Natalie Wood made her debut in 1946, playing Claudette Colbert and Orson Welles’s ward in Tomorrow Is Forever at the age of seven, to her shocking, untimely death in 1981, the decades of her life are marked by movies that–for their moments–summed up America’s dreams.
Now the acclaimed novelist, biographer, critic and screenwriter Gavin Lambert, whose twenty-year friendship with Natalie Wood began when she wanted to star in the movie adaptation of his novel Inside Daisy Clover, tells her extraordinary story. He writes about her parents, uncovering secrets that Natalie either didn’t know or kept hidden from those closest to her. Here is the young Natalie, from her years as a child actress at the mercy of a driven, controlling stage mother (“Make Mr. Pichel love you,” she whispered to the five-year-old Natalie before depositing her unexpectedly on the director’s lap), to her awkward adolescence when, suddenly too old for kiddie roles, she was shunted aside, just another freshman at Van Nuys High. Lambert shows us the glamorous movie star in her twenties—All the Fine Young Cannibals, Gypsy and Love with the Proper Stranger. He writes about her marriages, her divorces, her love affairs, her suicide attempt at twenty-six, the birth of her children, her friendships, her struggles as an actress and her tragic death by drowning (she was always terrified of water) at forty-three.
For the first time, everyone who knew Natalie Wood speaks freely–including her husbands Robert Wagner and Richard Gregson, famously private people like Warren Beatty, intimate friends such as playwright Mart Crowley, directors Robert Mulligan and Paul Mazursky, and Leslie Caron, each of whom told the author stories about this remarkable woman who was both life-loving and filled with despair.
What we couldn’t know–have never been told before–Lambert perceptively uncovers. His book provides the richest portrait we have had of Natalie Wood.
From the Hardcover edition.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Gavin Lambert was born and educated in England. He coedited the film magazine Sequence with Lindsay Anderson, was the editor of Sight and Sound and wrote film criticism for The Sunday Times and The Guardian. He is the author of four biographies—On Cukor, Norma Shearer, Nazimova and Mainly About Lindsay Anderson—and seven novels, among them, The Slide Area and The Goodbye People. His screenplays include The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, the Oscar-nominated Sons and Lovers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. He lives in Los Angeles.
From the Hardcover edition.
Out of Russia
Shortly after eleven p.m. on November 6, 1917 (New Style calendar),
the Bolsheviks seized power by storming government buildings and the
Winter Palace in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). After months of
violent disorders throughout Russia, the revolution was under way;
and as the majority members (Bolsheviki) of the Socialist Party
believed in "dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants,"
thousands of wealthy landowners and businessmen realized their lands
and businesses would be confiscated, and fled the country with all
the money and possessions they could take with them. Supporters
and/or relatives of Tsar Nicholas II (government ministers, army
officers, princes and grand dukes with their wives and children) also
took flight, and when fighting between Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik
forces erupted across the country, thousands more fled their homes to
become refugees from a savage and devastating civil war.
Among the refugees were two families, one rich, one poor, living
three thousand miles apart. A daughter of the rich family and a son
of the poor family eventually emigrated to California, met in San
Francisco, and were married on February 8, 1938. The Russian Orthodox
ceremony took place at the Russian church on Fulton Street, when the
bride was almost five months pregnant, and the following July a
future star was born.
In 1917, Stepan Zudilov was forty-two years old, a portly, prosperous
middle-class businessman who owned soap and candle factories in
Barnaul, southern Siberia, and an estate in the outlying countryside.
By then he had fathered a large family: two sons and two daughters by
his first wife, who died in 1905 after giving birth to their younger
daughter; and by his second wife, whom he married a year later, two
more daughters followed by two more sons.
His youngest daughter, Maria Stepanovna, born in 1912, claimed years
later in California that her mother came from an aristocratic family
with Romanov connections, and had "married beneath her." But this was
Maria the fabulist speaking, with her dreams of nobility, and Zudilov
the outspoken tsarist and land-and-factory owner had no need of
Romanov connections to qualify for the Bolshevik hit list. The
Zudilovs were known as "gentry," and to the Bolsheviks all landowning
gentry were suspect, like the family of the great Russian writer Ivan
Bunin (who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1933). "Any of us
who had the slightest chance to escape did so," Bunin wrote after he
fled from his estate in central Russia to France by way of Romania.
But the armies of the new government headed by Lenin were slow to
gain control of an enormous country, and for almost a year the
Zudilovs, like their tsarist neighbors, were in no imminent danger by
remaining in Barnaul. It was not until the summer of 1918, six months
after the civil war broke out, that the Bolsheviks managed to gain
control of all southern and central Russia. On the night of July 16,
Tsar Nicholas II, his entire family, their doctor and servants, were
executed by a squad of Red Guards at Ekaterinburg, the western
terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway. When the news reached
Barnaul, it sent tremors of fear throughout the neighboring gentry;
and by late November, Red Guard units were only a hundred miles from
the town, after executing suspected tsarists en route.
Zudilov had arranged to be warned of their approach in advance, and
when the alert came, the family hurried to a prepared hiding place on
the estate, stuffing as much money and jewelry as they could inside
loose-fitting peasant clothes. Forgotten in the panic of the moment
was eighteen-year-old Mikhail, Zudilov's eldest son, who happened to
be out of the house.
After the soldiers moved on, the family left their hiding place. Just
outside the house, they were confronted by Mikhail hanging from a
tree. The sight of her dead half-brother sent six-year-old Maria into
Knowing the soldiers were bound to return, the Zudilovs quickly made
plans to leave Russia, and in the dead of winter they set out for
Harbin in Manchuria, the northeastern province of China. Maria
claimed later that they traveled by private train, with a retinue of
servants as well as stacks of rubles and the family jewels stowed in
their luggage. Although there's no doubt they escaped with enough
assets to live very comfortably in exile, the private train is almost
certainly another example of Maria the fabulist.
Red Guards were still searching the area for potential enemies of the
new Soviet Russia, and a private train would have aroused immediate
suspicion. But as Barnaul was a stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway,
only four hundred miles from the Manchurian frontier, and Harbin the
last stop before Vladivostok for eastbound trains, it seems far more
likely that the Zudilovs decided to keep a low profile and traveled
by the regular route.
When the child from a secluded country estate looked out the train
window during that journey of almost three thousand miles, she would
have glimpsed the same frighteningly alien world as the Anglo-Russian
novelist William Gerhardie, who traveled by the Trans-Siberian that
same year. He saw a "stricken land of misery," with ravenous and
spectral refugees huddled on the platform when the train slowed down
past a wayside station; dismal tracts of frozen steppe, occasionally
swept by a violent gale that caused the coaches to rattle, squeal,
and shudder; and near the Chinese frontier, where civil war had been
especially ferocious, a wake of gutted villages and more desperate
refugees, some dying or dead.
Ivan Bunin: No one who did not actually witness it can comprehend
what the Russian Revolution quickly turned into. The spectacle was
sheer terror for anyone who had not utterly lost sight of God.
Like thousands of other refugees, Zudilov chose Harbin because it was
a Chinese city with a strong Russian presence. The Byzantine dome of
the Russian cathedral dominated its skyline, and there was an
extensive Russian quarter, part business, part residential, with
street signs in Russian, droshkies instead of rickshaws, restaurants
that served borscht and beef Stroganoff. Japan had also moved in,
with trading concessions at the port on the Songhua River,
investments in the city's grain mills, and a chain of "Happiness
Mansions," brothels that featured very young boys as well as girls;
and Britain, with the British Export Company, which employed
ruthlessly underpaid Chinese to slaughter thousands of pigs, fowl and
sheep every year, then freeze them for export to the homeland and the
Business as usual, of course, meant politics as usual, colonial
expansion in a country weakened by years of internal rebellions led
by rival warlords. By the spring of 1918, Russian nationals formed
almost a third of Harbin's population of three hundred thousand, and
the Chinese quarter was just a suburb, like a picturesque Chinatown
set in a Hollywood silent movie; while the much larger central
downtown area, with its handsome beaux-arts railroad station and
Hotel Moderne, looked solidly Western. Under the agreement between
Russia and China, the stretch of the Trans-Siberian that crossed
Manchuria was officially known as the Chinese Eastern Railway; but it
was Russian-financed, maintained by Russian workers, and guarded by
regiments of Russian soldiers headquartered in Harbin.
And in the wake of the revolution, the Zudilovs escaped one political
upheaval only to find themselves in the middle of another. Not long
before they arrived, fighting had broken out between Red and White
Russian workers and guards on the railway. The Soviet government had
sent in militiamen to rout the anti-Bolsheviks; and in case a
full-scale civil war developed, the Japanese made ready to invade
Manchuria and seize control of the Chinese Eastern. At the end of
December, when the Zudilovs reached Harbin, the Chinese government
intervened by sending in an army to disarm and deport the Soviet
militia; and for the moment at least, the situation was defused.
A few weeks later, on February 8, 1919, the Zudilovs celebrated
Maria's seventh birthday. Although she was too young, of course, to
understand the ways of the great world, the flight from Barnaul had
stamped images of warning and terror on her mind. Like most Russian
refugees, the Zudilovs stayed within their own community of exiles,
ignoring China and the Chinese; but as she grew up, Maria couldn't
fail to notice-beyond the house in the Russian quarter where Zudilov
established his family with a Chinese cook and a German nanny for the
girls, and the Russian school where she occasionally took ballet
lessons as well as regular classes-more warning signs that the great
world was a disturbingly insecure place.
Throughout the 1920s, the city witnessed several outbreaks of
fighting between Red and White Russians, parades of underpaid Chinese
workers on strike against foreign companies, and street
demonstrations by the growing nationalist movement. In 1920 one of
these demonstrations led to violence, and smoke covered the city when
the storage plant of the British Export Company was burned to the
ground. Occasional Soviet threats to invade Manchuria and restore
order sent shivers of alarm through the exiles; and an increasingly
familiar experience for Maria was the sight of Russians who had
arrived in style, like her own family, reduced to begging in the
streets when their money ran out.
The sight of her half-brother hanging from a tr...
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