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Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner: A love that didn't die with divorce but was broken by tragedy

Robert Wagner entered Natalie Wood's life in 1956. She confessed that she had had a crush on him since she was a child
Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner (Getty Images)
Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner (Getty Images)

Twinkling eyes and mystical beauty made Natalie Wood a natural charmer. A few weeks before her fifth birthday, Wood made her film debut in a 15-second scene in the film 'Happy Land' (1943). 

After starring in films like 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955), 'West Side Story' (1961), 'Gypsy' (1962), and 'Splendor in the Grass' (1961), she earned three Oscar nominations before turning 25. With her talent and dedication, she charted a path for herself and could have reached newer heights but she chose love before her career.

Did you know, Wood became romantically involved with Elvis Presley in 1956? However, it was a brief affair and soon after, Robert Wagner entered her life. She confessed that she had had a crush on him since she was a child. On her 18th birthday, she said yes to a studio-arranged date with the actor, who was 26 then. A year later, in 1957, the two got hitched despite protests from her mother.

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood (Getty Images)

But the marriage didn't work out. The two divorced in April 1962. Seven years later, in 1969, she got married to British producer Richard Gregson, with whom she had been in a relationship for two and a half years. Meanwhile, Wagner reconnected with an old actress-friend Marion Marshall in the spring of 1963 and married her that year, just a year after his divorce with Wood. After eight years of marriage, the two parted ways.

On the other hand, Wood also separated from Gregson in 1971 after she heard an inappropriate conversation between him and his secretary. Perhaps, fate had something else in store for both, Wood and Wagner. Their paths crossed again and the two got married once again in 1972, five months after reconciling. 

Natalie's sister Lana Wood was later quoted, "Her marriage was considered to be one of the best in Hollywood, and there is no question that she was a devoted, loving—even adoring—mother and stepmother." The two were happy for a long time until tragedy struck seven years later. 

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood (Getty Images)

On November 29, 1981, her body was mysteriously found floating in the waters off Santa Catalina Island. She was 43. The star was traveling on the family yacht Splendour and three other people were there with her, including her actor-husband, the ship's Captain Dennis Davern, and Natalie's friend, actor Christopher Walken. Even after multiple investigations, no one knows what happened and how she drowned. 

A lot of fingers were pointed at Wagner, with Lana saying, "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."

Whether there's any truth in the allegations or not, the tragic incident scarred both, Wood and Wagner's life forever. Wagner moved on after her death and married actress Jill St. John a year later. And perhaps, a bond was broken irrevocably.

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.