‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind’: What was the actress's real name and why was it changed?

Born in 1938, Natalie Wood was first named Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko. Her parents were Russian immigrants


                            ‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind’: What was the actress's real name and why was it changed?
Natalie Wood (Getty Images)
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Natalie Wood was a bright bubble of joy. In HBO's new documentary, ‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind’, the Hollywood star's life is looked at in hindsight. As her childhood roles in films like in 'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947) and 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955) are shown, a young Natalie admits her name was changed.

So what was her real name? Born in 1938, she was first named Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko. Her parents were Russian immigrants, Nikolai Stepanovich Zakharenko, and Maria Stepanovna Zakharenko. Fluent in both English and Russian, she stuck to her roots and often took pride in it. Quite often, she was heard saying, “I’m very Russian, you know.”

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Her mother was an ambitious woman and wanted Natalia to chart out her path to the film industry ever since she was a child. Her name, Zacharenko, was quite difficult to pronounce. To make her a popular name among the commoners, her name was changed to “Natalie Wood” after a suggestion by studio executives. Interestingly, the surname “Wood” was chosen after director Sam Wood. They felt it was more star-friendly, and it worked wonders.

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Natalie Wood (Getty Images)

In 1955, she was named “The Most Beautiful Teenager in the World,” by Life Magazine. It wasn't just an idle title, her eyes glistened and she had an inescapable spark. Natalie's mother influenced most of her decisions and even enforced some of her own ambitions on her little one. From a very young age, Maria took her to the movies and told her she had to be on the screen.

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Recalling how her mother schooled her, Natalie once said, “My mother used to tell me that the cameraman who pointed his lens out at the audience at the end of the Paramount newsreel was taking my picture. I’d pose and smile like he was going to make me famous or something. I believed everything my mother told me.”

In one bizarre story, her mother was so heartless that she tore up a butterfly on set to make Natalie cry. After her action, she sobbed like a baby. Allegedly, on the sets of 'The Green Promise', when Natalie was just 10, she broke her wrist in a collapsing bridge stunt but her mother concealed it and said her daughter would continue filming. Her broken wrist never healed, leading to a deformity covered by a bracelet for the rest of her life. 

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Catch more snippets from Natalie Wood's fascinating life on the HBO documentary as it premieres on May 5, 2020, at 9 pm ET.