Natalie Wood movies: From going crazy over Warren Beatty to stripping like Gypsy Rose Lee
Three-time Academy Award nominee Natalie Wood, one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the 1960s, is Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” performer today, Aug. 18. TCM is currently showing Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (1961), a romantic drama written for the screen by playwright William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop). Wood is fine as a young woman who loses her emotional balance after she’s seduced and abandoned by the son (Warren Beatty) of a wealthy family in Kansas shortly before the Great Depression. For her efforts, she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. (Sophia Loren was that year’s winner, for the Italian-made Two Women.) (Check out TCM’s Natalie Wood movie schedule further below.)
Next in line is Richard Quine’s feeble attempt at screwball comedy, Sex and the Single Girl (1964), a movie that promises much more than it delivers, whether in terms of laughs, wit, or sex. Natalie Wood looks awful pretty as a sexpert psychologist, but her comedy timing is way off in this one. Equally unfunny are Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, and Mel Ferrer.
Blake Edwards’ The Great Race (1965) was a big hit in the mid-’60s, and though not nearly as funny as one would have hoped, the film does have its charms. Chief among those is Natalie Wood as an emancipated woman taking part in a New York-Paris auto race at the turn of the 20th century. Tony Curtis is once again Wood’s leading man, while Jack Lemmon – Curtis’ co-star in Billy Wilder’s more artistically fortuitous Some Like It Hot – is used as comic relief (with very poor results).
Natalie Wood as stripper Gypsy Rose Lee
Another major box office hit starring Natalie Wood was Gypsy (1962), an appallingly old-fashioned show-biz musical, with the star as Louise Hovick a.k.a. stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Wood strips and pouts well enough, but Gypsy truly belongs to Rosalind Russell, doing an impersonation of Ethel Merman’s Broadway impersonation of Gypsy Rose Lee’s Mama Rose. Mervyn LeRoy directed Gypsy for Warner Bros., but with none of the zest found in his work for that studio back in the early ’30s, e.g. Gold Diggers of 1933, Three on a Match, Five Star Final, Little Caesar.
In fact, as far as I’m concerned the most interesting thing about Gypsy is that it was released by the same studio and in the same year as another – radically different – movie inspired by the Gypsy Rose Lee / June Havoc story: Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
More Natalie Wood movies
Like Sex and the Single Girl, both Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) and Robert Mulligan’s Inside Daisy Clover (1965) deliver less than promised by their respective premises (no bad rhyme intended). The former is about the concept of “free love”; the latter is supposed to offer a glimpse into the life of a young Hollywood star in the ’30s.
But even though the goods are delivered only superficially (and half-heartedly), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and Inside Daisy Clover are definitely worth a look. Mazursky’s film is particularly interesting, thanks to a good cast – Natalie Wood and Dyan Cannon are both excellent as two prospective swinging wives – and its offbeat ’60s look that was totally groovy back then but that now has a wistful nostalgic feel to it.
Inside Daisy Clover, for its part, has an Oscar-nominated Ruth Gordon as Wood’s mother, a young Christopher Plummer as a Hollywood producer, and an even younger Robert Redford as a gay matinee idol. The screenplay is by Gavin Lambert, from his own novel. Nearly four decades later, Lambert would pen a biography of his Inside Daisy Clover star, simply titled Natalie Wood.
Natalie Wood’s movie career abruptly comes to a halt
Unfortunately, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice turned out to be Natalie Wood’s last movie during her period as a top Hollywood star. Apart from an appearance in David Helpern’s Nicholas Ray documentary I’m a Stranger Here Myself (1975), a cameo in Robert Redford’s The Candidate (1972), and reportedly another one in Paul Mazursky’s Willie & Phil* (1980), Wood would be seen on the big screen only four times after 1969, and without much success: Peter Hyams’ good-looking but uninvolving Peeper (1975), with Michael Caine; Ronald Neame’s ridiculous disaster movie Meteor (1979), with Sean Connery; Gilbert Cates’ poorly received comedy The Last Married Couple in America (1980), with George Segal; and Douglas Trumbull’s mind-boggling sci-fier Brainstorm (1983), co-starring Christopher Walken, and released in truncated form two years after her death under still controversial circumstances at age 43. (See also: “Natalie Wood Death: Sensational Rumors Continue” and “Natalie Wood: ‘Accidental Drowning’ Ruling Changed.”)
Natalie Wood was twice married to Robert Wagner: 1957-1962 and 1972-her death. In between her marriages to Wagner, Wood was married to agent-turned-TV writer-producer Richard Gregson (1969-1972).
* Natalie Wood is briefly spotted in Willie & Phil. However, the way her cameo is shot makes it impossible to actually see her face. Or even to know for sure that that’s indeed her.
3:00 AM THE STAR (1952). Dir.: Stuart Heisler. Cast: Bette Davis, Sterling Hayden, Natalie Wood, Warner Anderson, Minor Watson, June Travis, Paul Frees, Robert Warrick, Barbara Lawrence, Fay Baker, Herb Vigran, Marie Blake, Sam Harris, Marcia Mae Jones. Black and white. 90 min.
4:30 AM A CRY IN THE NIGHT (1956). Dir.: Frank Tuttle. Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Brian Donlevy, Natalie Wood. Black and white. 75 min.
6:00 AM WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Dir.: Robert Wise. Cast: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass, William Bramley, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, David Winters, Eliot Feld, John Bert Michaels, David Bean, Robert Banas, Anthony ‘Scooter’ Teague, Harvey Evans a.k.a. Harvey Hohnecker, Tommy Abbott, Susan Oakes, Gina Trikonis, Carole D’Andrea, Jose De Vega, Jay Norman, Gus Trikonis, Eddie Verso, John Astin. Color. 153 mins. Letterbox Format.
12:45 PM SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961). Dir.: Elia Kazan. Cast: Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle, Audrey Christie, Barbara Loden, Zohra Lampert, Fred Stewart, Joanna Roos, John McGovern, Jan Norris, Martine Bartlett, Gary Lockwood, Sandy Dennis, Crystal Field, Marla Adams, Lynn Loring, Phyllis Diller, Sean Garrison, William Inge, Eugene Roche, Mark Slade. Color. 124 mins. Letterbox Format.
3:00 PM SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL (1964). Dir.: Richard Quine. Cast: Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Mel Ferrer. Color. 114 mins. Letterbox Format.
5:00 PM THE GREAT RACE (1965). Dir.: Blake Edwards. Cast: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, Arthur O’Connell, Vivian Vance, Dorothy Provine, Larry Storch, Ross Martin, George Macready, Marvin Kaplan, Hal Smith, Denver Pyle, William Bryant, Ken Wales, Robert Carson, Francis McDonald, J. Edward McKinley, Paul Smith. Color. 160 mins. Letterbox Format.
8:00 PM GYPSY (1962). Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Paul Wallace, Betty Bruce, Parley Baer, Harry Shannon, Morgan Brittany a.k.a. Suzanne Cupito, Ann Jillian, Diane Pace, Faith Dane, Roxanne Arlen, Jean Willes, George Petrie, Ben Lessy, Guy Raymond, Louis Quinn, Jack Benny, Mike Cody, William Fawcett, Dick Foster, Jim Hubbard, Harvey Korman, Bert Michaels, Jule Styne, . Color. 143 mins. Letterbox Format.
10:30 PM BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (1969). Dir.: Paul Mazursky. Cast: Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon. Color. 105 mins. Letterbox Format.
12:30 AM INSIDE DAISY CLOVER (1965). Dir.: Robert Mulligan. Cast: Natalie Wood, Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford, Ruth Gordon, Roddy McDowall, Katharine Bard, Peter Helm, Betty Harford, John Hale, Harold Gould, Ottola Nesmith, Edna Holland, George N. Neise, Jeffrey Sayre. Color. 129 mins. Letterbox Format.
Natalie Wood movie schedule via the TCM website.