The Death Of Natalie Wood

Reposting this from another site (as I will be deleting that old thing) – in light of my conflicted desires about seeing the new Natalie Wood documentary – which, sadly, was in the press at the same time as coverage of Kirk Douglas’ death, and the rape that Robert Downey Jr. is supposed to have outed (tho it wasn’t really a secret).

Natalie Wood NewsIt takes me a while to get around to reading all the magazines laying around our house. Not just the vintage ones, but the new ones that keep arriving. Normally I wouldn’t be so keen to mention the belated reading of a story that’s already made the rounds on the Internet at the end of last year, but this one struck me.

In the December 26, 2011/January 2, 2012 issue of Newsweek, Nancy Collins covers the mysterious death of Natalie Wood. The story is “newsworthy” because the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has decided to reopen the case of Natalie’s drowning death based on new testimony from several witnesses, including that of the actress’ boat’s captain, Dennis Davern who published a book about Wood’s death, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour (2009).

I remember being in high school when Natalie’s body was found on November 29, 1981. I knew little of Natalie then. I had only recently discovered her in a TV viewing of Westside Story, and, like most everyone, had fallen in love with her as Maria. In my state of youth, however, I did not quite consider her “old” at the age of 43 — perhaps because she was still the vivacious Maria in my mind. Even then I was not a celeb-hound and did not read the myriad of publications making money off her death, and so I was not bombarded with other images of an older Natalie Wood.

All of this makes me slightly odd, I’m sure.

But I do remember being not only sad at her death, but feeling a certain mistrust, a certain suspicion of an accidental drowning.

It was rather a haunting feeling. Something that’s stuck with me all these years and had me reading the article in Newsweek. But never enough to prompt me to turn detective or anything; plus, my detective skills fall into the research category and as the death was ruled accidental, my skills wouldn’t turn up anything new really…

So, reading this article was rather like hearing about Natalie Wood’s death for the first time. This time, having seen more of her films than Westside Story, I knew more about the woman, the actress. But the details in this article were news to me.

For example, I never knew that Christopher Walken had been on that boat that fateful night. Not that I knew who Walken was back then. (I’ve never said I was cool — either as a child or now.) And it was sort of odd to imagine them, Wood and Walken, as contemporaries.

It was also odd to imagine Robert Wagner as he’s depicted in this article… He was one of the Harts in Hart To Hart, and he and Stefanie Powers both had seemed tragic for their losses. A more mature me realizes that all these things can be true, can be motive; but they need not be either.

I really have no ideas on the accident Vs. murder angle. Either is just as plausible.

And I agree intellectually with the points of tragedy and age brought up by Nancy Collins in her recent article.

But what strikes me most of all about all of this is the fact that celebrity and death continue to equal profit in publishing.

This means that Collins, the writer, and I, the paying consumer who reads (and continues to write herself), are perpetuating the tragedies involved, aren’t we?

What is it about beauty, glamour, talent, death, and tragedy that captures humans so? When they are combined, they create some sort of alchemy that’s nearly impossible to deny.

The lives, loves, and losses of these famous people are exaggerated versions of things in our own lives, and the drama does more than intrigue — it creates a shared sense of nostalgia in which we can each experience our own sorrows and joys in a more distant way which may be disconnected from our own pain but also connects us to one another.

For these reasons, stories are powerful, popular and even positive. But when one takes them too far, when one forgets that Natalie was a real person and so her death was real to her and all who love(d) her, and pursues the subject with a fascination which removes the dignity from the souls involved, we are perverse. And this includes the media which banks on such attentions.

So no, I won’t seek to consume all media coverage of the newly re-opened Natalie Wood case; I won’t set any newsfeeds or searches, scan tabloids at the grocery store, etc. But when these stories appear in the publications and news shows I am already reading and watching, I likely will continue to watch… With a sense of respectful guilt to monitor my level of fascination.

We Had Joy, We Had Fun, We had Seasons In The Sun…

I’ve been listening a lot to the cable music stations — most recently to the 70’s station. Tonight, Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks came on and I found myself singing along as I had in my childhood:

We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun
‘Til the cops came along and shot us in our buns.

At this point hubby (10 years my junior, remember, and so perhaps not even born at the time I was singing along to the AM radio), turns around and calls me an affectionate slur for a mental handicap.

“Come on,” I laugh, “I was like 10 years old when this song came out.”

And I continue to sing along with the song — growing happier and louder with each opportunity to sing my childhood recollections of the verse. I was seriously clapping with glee by the end of the song. Perverse? Maybe. But it was thrilling to relive my 10 year actions and enthusiasm.

Blaming my age might seem like a weak defense, but honestly, little kid weirdness can often be attributed to very real — and very grown-up — things.

Streaking was a big thing then (at least pop culture reference wise; I never knew anyone then who had done so) and as kids, uncomfortable with the notion of naked adults, we made jokes about it. Continually.

And the song, Seasons In The Sun, was terribly depressing; it reeked of death. Another thing kids would be terribly uncomfortable with.

So we dealt with our anxieties via the mutilation (further mutilation?) of the song.

Come to think of it, so many 70’s songs were about death…

There was Wildfire and Brandy, of course (the latter of which may not have explicitly about death, but certainly there was loss). Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby used to scare the crap out of me (that swirling noise made me dizzy and is somehow mythologically tied to my experience with the floor dropping in Disney’s Haunted Mansion) — second only to Eleanor Rigby, which, with the popularity of Wings, was played far too often as far as I was concerned. (Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door?! I’m old enough to understand the lyrics better now, but that only creeps me out more.)

However, in terms of raw exploitation and manipulation of emotion, there were even worse offenders.

Like Rocky (“Rocky I’ve never had a baby before, don’t know if I can do it…”) by Austin Roberts. In my mind, Rocky was from the made for TV movie, Sunshine, which was based on the real life story of Jacquelyn Marie “Lyn” Helton, a young woman who while dying journaled for her young daughter so that she’d remember her (unbearably more than ironic if this post is to be believed).

I recently discovered that Rocky was not from that film when we found the record at a thrift shoppe (and yes, I snatched it up). I don’t think I ever saw the Sunshine movie, or the television series which followed…

But maybe I did. In my mind, it was all twisted up with my Sunshine Family dolls. Dolls who suffered greatly, despite their cheerful happy hippy faces. One parent often died… Of course, it could have been worse for the children after I read Flowers In The Attic (the baby boy obviously would have been named Cory).

All of this is so depressing.

The only way to really cleanse from this is to sing along with Seasons In The Sun — my way. Go ahead and try it, you’ll understand why we sang it this way as kids.

We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun
‘Til the cops came along and shot us in our buns.