Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Natasha Gregson Wagner on How Mom, Natalie Wood Would Want to Be Remembered: “My mother was not a tragic, doomed person. She was vibrant”


“My mother no longer has a voice of her own, but I do, and this is what I know to be true. My mother was not a tragic, doomed person. She was vibrant. Her life was devoted to her art, her children, her husband, and her heart. This is how she would want to be remembered, not as someone who is defined by her death, but by her life.”

That’s how Natasha Gregson Wagner summarizes her mother, Natalie Wood, in her memoir, “More than Love.” This book will be a disappointment to the conspiracy theorists, backyard gossips, and supermarket tabloids — all whom have tried make Natalie’s 1981 death into a murder that came from a love triangle among Wood, husband Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken. Natasha sets it straight, logically, exonerating her stepfather — whom she alternately calls “RJ” and “Daddy Wagner.” I’ve always agreed with this, and it’s about time the lie is put to bed forever.

Natasha’s book is such an engaging memoir about her own life, growing up famous, her parents before Natalie’s death, and how she coped with it, you can’t put it down. But she has to address the drowning incident that killed Natalie, and how the gossip turned into white noise for the rest of her life.

One person Natasha cites from that night on the Splendour is Dennis Davern, the deckhand on the boat who’s gone on to cash in on his own “memories” decade after decade with the tabloids.

Natasha writes: “He says he was afraid of my dad after my mother died, and that my father was holding him hostage at our house. That’s why he didn’t tell the police at the time. I was living in that same house then and I think I would have noticed if Dennis was being held in my home against his will. More importantly, I would have noticed if my dad was the kind of man to hold another man against his will in the first place! I have known Robert Wagner since before I was two years old. Abusive men leave traces as they move through their lives. Where is the history of my dad’s abuse? There is none. Why would my dad suddenly become secretly abusive and threatening toward his wife and others in 1981, at age fifty-one?”

Well, he didn’t. I interviewed Robert Wagner around the year 2000. We had lunch together at the Plaza Athenee in New York. I didn’t hesitate to ask about the night Natalie Wood died, and he was as forthcoming as ever. Despite a long, happy marriage to Jill St. John (whom Natasha writes about lovingly in the book), Wagner keeps a torch for Natalie.

No one in my world questioned my dad’s love for my mom or his utter despair at her loss. Everyone in our lives wrapped their arms around him. R.J. had loved Natalie “more than love.” When it came time to choose the inscription on her gravestone, my dad made sure to add those three words, the same phrase my parents had always used to describe their love for each other. He asked if Courtney and I wanted it to say anything else. We told him we liked it just the way it was.”

So much great stuff here. We have to thank Natasha for sitting down and writing this book. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed!





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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