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Sunday, April 16, 2006

K'vitsh's book report

Isn't this picture lovely? This is Wood w/ her youngest daughter, Courtney.

I've been fascinated by Natalie Wood ever since I was a child. I don't remember why or how I was initially drawn to her. Probably a combination of seeing West Side Story and being enamoured of her dark hair and dark eyes, my favorite kind of beauty.

This book (Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood, by Suzanne Finstad) garnered a bit of controversy when it was released a few years ago, largely due to it's treatement of Wood's death. Finstad interviewd hundreds of people, including people who had their boats docked in the same harbour as the Wagners that night. Apparently, a family heard a woman screaming that she was drowning, then heard male voices mocking her. I guess many other witnesses observed the Wagners, their captain (or whatever), and guest Christopher Walken get absolutely smashed that weekend. What a shame.

It's not the most skillfully written book. Finstad tends to repeat the same thing over and over - especially her evil mother's manipulations and Wood's fear of drowning in dark water. It gets to be a bit much.

It was an interesting read, nonetheless. And strangely, more because of the memories and thoughts it stirred in me than for the subject matter itself.

I found myself comparing my thinking to the way I thought when I read the book her sister had written. I read it as a tween, probably.

It contained tales of woe, temper tantrums, suicide attempts. Love and kindness, too, but I want to focus on the nasty stuff.

As a young girl, I would read biographies of famous people, and be encouraged by stories of them being difficult and troubled. It made me feel better about myself. "See? Natalie Wood was a bitch sometimes. I'm a bitch sometimes. She was beautiful and famous. Not only does that make my bad habits admirable, but maybe it's destined that I be famous, too."

While my thinking was never that thuddingly literal, that's what I took away from these books, among being moved or entertained or appalled.

Basically, I did what most people do - romanticising things that are really quite awful. As I read this book, I saw a life that to me seemed filled with more pain than happiness or fulfillment. Wood was warped beyond belief by her mother. Maria Gurdin believed a gypsy prophesy fortold of her second daughter's greatness, even before Wood's birth.

Gurdin did things like refusing to take Wood to the doctor when, as a child, she broke her wrist on a set (which is why in nearly every picture of Wood you'll ever see, she wears a clunky bracelet on her left wrist), lest the movie production be delayed. She also instilled a fear of sex and childbirth in Wood so she wouldn't leave home (she overcame this in spades).

According the Finstad's book, Wood was violently raped by a major Hollywood star (alledged on the net to be Kirk Douglas), attempted suicide a few times, had affairs w/ men three times her age when she was sixteen, had a complex and needy relationship w/ her mother, and was always worried about her career. Okay, I guess that last point wasn't particularly tragic or limited to Wood, but it seemed sadder than it likely is for most. Acting is a scary business, especially if you're a woman. How awful to never feel sure, never feel validated, or safe.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book dealt w/ the persona Wood's mother created when she was a child actor. Wood struggled all her life to balance or reconcile her real self w/ her acting persona. It's ironic that as a child, I took a bit of a lesson in how to be a person from a woman who didn't know who she really was.