Who Was Natalie Wood? A Look at the Film Star's Long Career in Hollywood

- Deborah Hastings

By the time she 8 years old, Natalie Wood was already famous.

The child actress stole the show in Miracle on 34th Street, starring with Maureen O'Hara and becoming so popular Macy's invited her to appear in the store's Thanksgiving Day parade.

In all, she appeared in more than 20 films as a kid. She transitioned to ingenue at age 16, starring in Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean and Sal Mineo.

Her rise to stardom was in stark contrast to her family's roots. She was born Natalia Zakharenko in San Francisco to a Russian mother and Ukrainian father. Her immigrant parents moved to Los Angeles, where her mother pushed the child in acting at age 5.

Orson Welles once said Wood was born a professional actress and was "so good, she was terrifying."

She was nominated for an Oscar three times, for Rebel, Splendor in the Grass and Love with the Proper Stranger.

She also starred in the musicals West Side Story and Gypsy.

Wood first saw Robert Wagner on a studio lot when she was 10 and reportedly told her mother, "I'm going to marry him."

She ended up marrying him twice, the first time in 1957 and the second in 1972. Nine years later, she was dead at age 43.

Her drowning death has long been a mystery. She vanished from the couple's yacht after reportedly arguing with Wagner during a night of eating and drinking with actor Christopher Walken, her co-star in a movie they were making called Brainstorm.

The film was hoped to be a comeback of sorts for the actress, whose transformation from ingénue to an adult actress had not been as successful as her previous incarnations.

After her death, the film was finished with stand-ins and voice-overs.

Wood's death was initially listed as accidental. In 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened the cold case. Walken was deemed not a suspect. 

Then on Thursday, news broke that Det. Ralph Hernandez, in an upcoming episode of CBS' 48 Hours, named Wagner, now 87 a person of interest in the unsolved case.

"We have not been able to prove this was a homicide," Hernandez said. "And we haven't been able to prove that this was an accident, either. The ultimate problem is we don't know how she ended up in the water."

More than three decades after her last film role, the career of Natalie Wood is now being explained to a generation born after death.

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