Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood

Finstad, Suzanne

Published by Three Rivers Press, 2002
ISBN 10: 0609809571 / ISBN 13: 9780609809570
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Synopsis: The New York Times bestselling definitive biography of Natalie Wood, Natasha is the haunting story of a vulnerable and talented actress whom many of us felt we knew.

We watched her mature on the movie screen before our eyes—in Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass, and on and on. She has been hailed—along with Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor—as one of the top three female movie stars in the history of film, making her a legend in her own lifetime and beyond. But the story of what Natalie endured, of what her life was like when the doors of the soundstages closed, has long been obscured.

Natasha is based on years of exhaustive research into Natalie's turbulent life and mysterious drowning. Author Suzanne Finstad conducted nearly four hundred interviews with Natalie's family, close friends, legendary costars, lovers, film crews, and virtually everyone connected with the investigation of her strange death.

Through these firsthand accounts from many who have never spoken publicly before, Finstad has reconstructed a life of emotional abuse and exploitation, of almost unprecedented fame, great loneliness, poignancy, and loss. She sheds an unwavering light on Natalie's complex relationships with James Dean, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Raymond Burr, Warren Beatty, and Robert Wagner and reveals the two lost loves of Natalie's life, whom her controlling mother prevented her from marrying.

Finstad tells this beauty's heartbreaking story with sensitivity and grace, revealing a complex and conflicting mix of fragility and strength in a woman who was swept along by forces few could have resisted.

Review: Natalie Wood (1938-81) came from the last generation of movie stars shaped by the Hollywood studio system, and Suzanne Finstad gives her life the all-out showbiz celebrity bio treatment in this compulsively readable book. As Finstad sees it, Wood was tortured by the conflict between her real self, born Natasha Zakharenko to Russian immigrants, and the glamorous "Natalie Wood" persona created by her ambitious mother. Wood admired rebellious actors like James Dean, her co-star in Rebel Without a Cause, but she wanted the mink coats, sexy cars, and huge salaries Warner Brothers doled out for appearances in forgettable pictures like Sex and the Single Girl. Working in films from age 6, she learned early that the way to get ahead was to please the grownups, a lesson she never really unlearned, even in her wild teens. She ditched a fiancé‚ deemed unsuitable by the studio, to marry suave rising star Robert Wagner, despite warnings from friends that he was bisexual; their first marriage ended when she found him "in a compromising position with another man," but they reunited in 1972 to become Hollywood's golden couple once more. But her attraction to more challenging artists remained; her friendship with Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken sparked the drunken quarrel that in Finstad's account led to Wood's drowning off Wagner's boat. (Chillingly, she had a lifelong fear of water.) Numerous quotes from practically everyone who ever knew Wood evoke Tinseltown's gossipy atmosphere, and Finstad's overwrought prose (she describes Wood as "bound to her mother, as if Maria were a snake coiled around her neck") sustains an appropriately high-pitched mood. Suicide attempts, reckless driving, excessive drinking, rape by an unnamed Hollywood star are all chronicled in detail that might be distasteful if the author weren't so sympathetic towards her vulnerable heroine. --Wendy Smith

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Title: Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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