29 09 2011

I have just finished reading Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood written by Suzanne Finstad and read by Natalie’s younger sister Lana. I have always loved Natalie Wood since the first time I saw the 1947 classic and my all time favorite film, “Miracle on 34th Street,” where she played Susan Walker the young girl who goes from rejecting all notions of fairy tales and fantasy to becoming the faithful believer in Kris Kringle. I have seen that movie more times than I can even count and I still cry real tears at the ending when Susan cries, “Stop Uncle Fred, Stop!” and gets out of the car to discover her dream house which proves to her once and for all that Mr. Kringle really is Santa Claus. I think I might need a tissue now just thinking about it!

Natalie Wood was one of the few actresses who was able to make the jump from being a successful child star to becoming a stunning adult icon! I loved Natalie in “Rebel Without A Cause” when she played a vulnerable teenage girl who really just wanted to be loved by her Daddy! And Natalie was innocence personified as the character Deanie in “Splendor In The Grass,” the screen debut of another Hollywood heartthrob named Warren Beatty. But I will forever remember her as the breathtaking and beautiful Maria in “West Side Story” which made me always want to play Tony on stage- a role that I still haven’t taken on and I am not getting any younger! Whoever heard of a 52 year old guy doing the kind of choreography that was demanded between the Jets and the Sharks?

Now what really disturbed me about Natasha’s story is the role that her mother had played in manipulating this sweet natured, good-hearted, jewel of a little girl with those pronounced big brown eyes to become a profoundly neurotic and troubled adult. Natalie’s mother was very definitely the Stage Mother from Hell! Natasha never wanted to be anything but a normal kid but she was never even given the option. From her birth, Natalie’s mother Maria had committed to making her daughter the most famous movie star this world had ever known. When Maria would take little Natasha to the movies quite regularly, Natalie was quoted as later saying, “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.” The only problem was that Maria was a manipulative, scheming, emotionally abusive woman. And that fact would be defined in her most devastating and scarring act that she pulled upon her then 6 year old Natalie.

Wood had made her film debut a few weeks before she had even turned five, in a fifteen-second scene in the film Happy Land (1943). Despite the brief part, she attracted the notice of the director, Irving Pichel, who her mother used to coerce Natalie to become a pen pal with writing weekly letters dictated by her mother. Pichel remained in touch with the family for two years until another role came up. Pichel really did not want Natasha to become a child actor and have her whole childhood lost! He had discouraged this obsession but it fell on deaf ears to Maria. When Natasha’s mother had heard about another Pichel movie about to begin casting, she lobbied Pichel to bring Natasha to Los Angeles for a screen test. Maria became so excited at the possibilities, she overreacted and packed the whole family off to Hollywood to live. Natalie’s father opposed the whole idea, but his wife’s overpowering ambition to make Natasha a star was not going to be thwarted.

So the 6 year old Natalie was screen tested to play a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in “Tomorrow is Forever.” When the juvenile Natalie was required to cry during a scene and found she was having trouble summoning the necessary tears, her mother pulled her off to the side, took a live butterfly out of a jar, and tore its wings off. Natasha became terrorized as her tender heart was ripped to pieces. In that chaotic state, her mother yelled out to the director, “Natalie’s ready now- let’s do it.” How any parent could put that kind of unreasonable pressure upon their child at the age of six is beyond me. It makes me both angry and sad that this precious girl was hemmed in by such a cage that she was never really given the ability to become the person that God had designed her to be!

Unfortunately, Natalie’s story is all too common in the lives of those individuals that we have come to emulate and love over the years. Things more often than not are not as they seem. Natalie Wood was a creation, a badge that Natasha was forced to wear and put on as she got up every morning. One can only wonder who this woman would have really been had she been encouraged to follow her own dreams and be the person that the Creator had designed her to be. Something tells me that her tale would not have ended in a mysterious drowning in the dark water that she was brainwashed to fear all of her days!

Overall, Natalie’s life seemed to be one of failed opportunities, thwarted ambitions, unfulfilled dreams, and resentful disappointment. Still, because of the essence of who she genuinely was that was buried under an avalanche of trappings, she remains likeable throughout, and if she did succeed at anything in life-besides raising her children- it was in maintaining her basic decency and integrity in the face of daunting odds like a dysfunctional mother, an alcoholic and emotionally absent father, a non-existent childhood, adult “demons” that she seemed unable to shake, and a lifestyle that seemed to encourage hedonism and decadence. Oh what might have been-If only she had been free to be!

I share this tragic tale because we human beings do have a responsibility to one another to not shape each other in our own molds or images or have them conform to our own manipulations or aspirations but to be discerning facilitators and godly instruments so that every person may be able to find their God given identity and then be given the freedom to pursue that calling without being sidetracked or sabotaged along the way!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: