Rape of Natalie Wood: Murky story of 16-year-old star brutally assaulted by a 'powerful Hollywood figure'
A rising Hollywood star who got three Oscar nominations before she was 25, Natalie Wood was an enigma. She started acting when she was barely four and her cinematic career had a tinge of modern American womanhood.
Born as Natasha Zacharenko, she made a mark with her talent soon after stepping into tinsel town and appeared in many films including 'Miracle on 34th Street', 'Rebel Without a Cause' and 'West Side Story'. Could anyone have guessed from her innocent smile that a tragedy so shocking could have stung her?
On November 29, 1981, her body was mysteriously found floating in the waters off Santa Catalina Island. She was 43.
Her younger sister, Lana Wood, has now revealed shocking details from her catastrophic life and tragic death in a tell-all Fox interview. Not one to zip her lips, Lana claimed that a "powerful Hollywood figure" assaulted Natalie when she was 16 at California's Chateau Marmot Hotel and it went on "for hours".
"That’s something I had known for many years," Lana said. "I was actually in the car with my mother waiting for her to come out from this so-called interview. So I’ve known that for many, many years."
The former Bond girl said the sisters never spoke about the incident but the ride home "was not a happy one" as both Natalie and their mother spoke "heatedly in undertones".
Not just that, according to a BBC report, the incident was a part of Suzanne Finstad's book, 'Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood'. Based on more than 400 interviews, it highlighted how the star was temporarily separated from actor husband Robert Wagner and suffered a difficult childhood.
The book touched upon the "rape" by a man called a "powerful, married movie star". Explaining why she didn't name him, Finstad said, "I chose not to name him because I wanted people to focus on the horror and trauma to Natalie."
In her book, Finstad summarized: "Though her five close friends' memories of some details or timing differ after forty-five years, the essence of what each recalls Natalie confiding to them is the same: that the same married film star lured or tricked Natalie, raped her so brutally she was physically injured, and she was too frightened or intimidated to report it to the police."
"Natalie 'hated' her former screen idol afterward, 'shuddering' if she heard his name. She would keep the horrible secret, and behave as if nothing happened whenever their paths intersected, too schooled by Mud [her mother] in the politics of Hollywood to cross a powerful movie star."
Expressing how Natalie might have felt, she said, "I'm sure it was always in her psyche. When you've been raped it never really disappears, particularly when it's someone you've idolized and when your mother conspires to keep it a secret."
The book also touches upon the stubbornness of her mother, Maria Gurdin, towards her film career. According to a few excerpts, she was obsessed about her daughter's career and pushed her to become an actress.
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. Natalie's death has been shrouded in mystery. While it was called an accident after a two-week investigation, the case was reopened in 2011.
The star was traveling on the family yacht Splendour and three other people were there with her. Her actor-husband Robert Wagner, the ship's Captain Dennis Davern and Natalie's friend, actor Christopher Walken.
Several podcasts pointed a finger at Wagner but there isn't any concrete proof. Lana later said, "I don't think there's a mystery," adding, "I think it was very sloppy work on the coroner's part, on the investigation. Things were dismissed too rapidly. I don't to this day understand why [Wagner] didn't go to his wife's side when her body was found floating in the water. She was identified by Dennis Davern, who was the skipper on the boat."
Wagner's memory was started as “unreliable”. Lana, however, does not believe it. "That's always troubled me, absolutely," she explained. "I don’t know why, to do nothing but clear his name if he feels he's being wrongfully accused by someone. Why not clear your name by speaking to the police? It just makes sense."
She publicly confronted Wager in 2016 during a tense showdown. In the interview, while she didn't directly call him the criminal, she said, "Well, if there are only two people on the bow of the boat and then suddenly there's only one, I think that's a bit suspicious," and added, "I think that one of them knows exactly what happened."
Revealing what she thinks could have happened, Lana said, "I think they had a terrible fight, which was told to me by Dennis… they became physical."
She added, "The police have spent many times visiting my house. They’d come out to the house several times and given me the new coroner’s report. The bruising, the extensive bruising, is not that follows bumping against anything… The detective said it's typical abuse. So there are just things that don't fit in.”
The investigation may still be going on but Lana feels her sister will never get justice. "First of all, I don’t really believe there is closure per se," she said.
"I think that is something that is carried with you for the rest of your life. But do I think I’ll ever get an answer? I don’t know that either. I know that [investigators] have two new witnesses that they are not willing to name."
Putting the missing pieces of her life back together, a new docuseries, 'Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind: Season 1' premieres on HBO on May 5 at 9 pm ET.