A TRUE HOLLYWOOD STAR
Natalie Wood, born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, the daughter of Russian emigrants, was a famous Hollywood actress almost as popular as Marilyn Monroe. She first appeared on movie screens at the age of four and continued acting until her death. By the age of eighteen, Natalie Wood’s filmography already consisted of more than 15 roles.
Audiences remembered Natalie Wood for many brilliant performances in such popular films as Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Big Races (1965) and others. Her most iconic roles were in the musical “West Side Story” and the movie ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ starring James Dean who, by coincidence, would also die unexpectedly.
By the age of forty-three, she had everything she could want: wealth, recognition from fans and critics, marriage and two lovely children. Her portfolio featured more than 40 films three Golden Globes and three Oscar nominations. She was flying high and then suddenly died in mysterious and suspicious circumstances on 29 November 1981.
DARK WATERS AND TRAGEDY AT SEA
At the age of 19, Natalie married the famous actor, Robert Wagner. Six years later, they divorced, and after another eight years, after putting aside their past issues, they once again got married. Wood and Wagner lived together until the tragic death of the actress. Many still believe that if it were not for this strange marriage, the famous Hollywood star would probably have lived a lot longer.
According to some reports, marital relations between Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner were not great to say the least. Despite 13 years of marriage and two daughters, the couple often had quarrels. Some say that Robert Wagner was jealous of her success and there were claims made that both actors had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which only made things worse.
On 29 November 1981, Wagner and Wood went on a boat trip on their beautiful yacht ‘Splendour’. Their special guest was actor Christopher Walken, with whom Natalie was working on the movie ‘Brainstorm’. Cristopher Walken was also at the peak of his career having just won an Oscar for his performance in the critically acclaimed movie – The Deer Hunter. Captaining the yacht was the skipper Dennis Davern.
According to some versions of the story, a little after midnight, Robert went to his wife’s cabin to say goodnight, but Natalie was not there. Concerned, he gathered the others and together the men searched the yacht. It was only after an hour and a half that Wagner finally called for help, announcing the disappearance of his wife. At first this seems odd as the yacht was only 55 feet in length and would have only taken a short time to search. However, the yacht’s dinghy was missing. Did the men onboard think that Natalie had taken the small boat and headed for the island?
BODY FOUND & AUTOPSY
Dawn saw the start of a coastguard search but before long the lifeless body of Natalie Wood was found by fishermen on the shore. Not far from the body was the missing dinghy from the Yacht. Investigation of the little boat revealed scratches that resembled fingerprints, as if someone tried to get into it from the water and could not.
The investigating Coroner, Thomas Noguchi, interviewed Wagner, Walken and Davern and it was decided that during the night, Mrs. Wood was awakened by the impact of the boat on the side of the yacht. The actress decided to tie it tighter, climbed into the boat, but could not cope with the rope and the boat fell off dragging Natalie fell into the water. Unable to get back onboard, she drowned. This version was supported by the fact that Natalie Wood drank had been drinking. It seemed obvious that the death was the result of an accident and Thomas Noguchi closed the case.
SUSPICIONS FROM THE START
Many people, particularly the friends and fans of Natalie Wood felt that something was wrong with the version of events that had been accepted by the police and shared with the media. They claimed, correctly, that Natalie had a serious fear of drowning and, as a child, had been traumatised by a psychic who told her she would die in dark waters. Records show that while filming in the water with Tony Curtis she had experienced a dramatic panic attack. The idea that she would get into a tiny boat in the middle of the night in a choppy sea is said to be ridiculous and psychologically impossible unless she was fleeing for her life. In addition, the autopsy report showed that Natalie had an abrasion on her left cheek as well as bruises on her body and arms. No sensible explanation for these injuries was put forward at the time.
Rumours of foul play persisted for decades but were given significant support when Dennis Davern, the skipper of the yacht, released new information in 2011. His new testimony prompted the resumption of the investigation into the death of Natalie Wood.
GOODBYE NATALIE, GOODBYE SPLENDOUR
According to Marti Rulli, author of ‘Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour’, in her Reel Talk interview with The Hollywood Kid, Dennis Davern noticed that things started badly on the night of the29 November 1981. Alcohol was drunk, and arguments broke out. At one point Wagner is said to have lost his temper and smashed a champagne bottle. After this Natalie went to her cabin at the rear of the boat and Walken went to his at the front. Davern admitted that he had later seen Wagner and Wood have a terrible argument. When he tried to intervene, he felt threatened by Wagner and feared for his own safety. Shortly after this all went quiet and Wagner claimed that Natalie Wood had disappeared.
Davern claimed that he wanted to call the coastguard immediately, but Wagner insisted that they ‘not rush’. Then Davern wanted to turn on the searchlight, but Wagner forbade him to do this, explaining that he wanted to avoid the hype.
When Wagner did decide to call for help, he chose to ring the restaurant where they had eaten earlier rather than call the police directly. It was the restaurant that later involved the authorities.
Later, in the morning, Wagner allegedly told Davern, that he would be grateful if, when talking with the investigators, he said that everything on the yacht was “quiet and peaceful”, and people that helped out would not go unrewarded. So, while Davern didn’t lie he also didn’t say then what he had seen.
According to Marti Rulli this information was checked during a polygraph test conducted by the LASD (Los Angeles Sheriff’s) Department and was assessed to be accurate.
The investigation was resumed in 2011, and the original autopsy reviewed. It was concluded that shortly before her death; Natalie Wood was beaten by an assailant and that the bruises were received before she went into the water.
MORE EVIDENCE EMERGES
Investigators also received a statement from former stockbroker Marilyn Wayne. In it, she said that on the night of November 29-30, 1981, she was aboard a yacht, anchored around 40 ft from the Splendour. “The porthole was open, and in the middle of the night my friend John and I were awakened by a woman’s cry:” Help, I’m drowning. ” Then they heard another voice – a man’s: “Hold on, we are coming to you.” They did not hear anything else, and in the morning, upon learning about the death of Natalie Wood, they decided not to get involved in case they were charged with failing to help.
Although nobody has yet been charged with the murder or manslaughter of Natalie Wood, the ongoing investigation did force the court to change the official wording of death from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other unknown factors.” With this, there is still hope, however unlikely, that the mystery will continue to be investigated and one day solved.
THE THOMAS NOGUCHI CONNECTION:
Thomas Noguchi was the LA Coroner who originally examined Natalie Wood’s body and declared accidental drowning. It is worth noting that this is the same man who declared Marilyn Monroe’s death a suicide and performed the autopsy on US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy after he was assassinated. All three of these cases remain shrouded in mystery. Shortly after his autopsy on Natalie Wood he was demoted to physician specialist.