Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Robert Wagner on Natalie Wood: She Didn’t Live a Tragic Life


The public has a short memory. Natalie Wood case re-opened? And on the Today show, the captain of the boat she died on said Robert Wagner was “responsible” for Wood’s death. Like it’s news. But the captain Dennis Davern has tried this before. He and author Marti Rulli collaborated on a Vanity Fair story in 2000 that tried to blame Wagner.

In 2003, I spoke to Wagner about all this. He ultimately wrote about Wood’s death in a 2008 autobiography. Meanwhile, every so often Davern dredges up the same material for profit.

Here’s what Wagner told me in 2003:

“The thing is, you can’t do anything about these articles. This guy’s already said these things in other articles.” He clears his throat. “The situation is really minimal, what happened. He has to go home at night. But I didn’t really [read it]. I asked my children not to read it. And the thing is, it was so unnecessary. I don’t even know why he wrote it.”

Here’s the rest of that 2003 piece. What a shame that Davern and Rulli are able to smear Wagner once again just to make money off the same old same old.

“Wagner—who went on to raise three successful, beautiful daughters after Wood’s death– doesn’t talk about her much in public. But when she comes up in conversation, Wagner is diplomatic and gentlemanly. He is to be willing to be candid rather than make Wood’s life and death more mysterious. He is in the tricky position of maintaining Wood’s legacy while trying to live his life. “I’m very happy she’s an icon. Sometimes it happens. I thought Spencer Tracy would become like that, like Humphrey Bogart. But he hasn’t.”

It’s not easy. Hollywood icons like Monroe, Elvis, Dean etc, in whose pantheon Wood now resides, are often thought of as having had tragic lives, I offered.

“I don’t think she had a tragic life,” Wagner says. “She seemed to be…she worked very hard on herself and on pulling herself together. She had a tremendous career. I mean, she really had a run that was good.” His voice is full of admiration and pride. “She loved her children, she was happy. To try and go in and turn that all upside down is just—“ He sighs and shakes his head.

“You know with Natalie, I have handled her estate since she left us. I’ve done several things that have perpetuated her legacy. The estate is handled by Global Icons, and they police the world so her picture isn’t on a t shirt or coffee cup unless we approve of it. Right now I’m trying to do a fragrance called Natalie. She’s very, very much alive for us.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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