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Are Natalie Wood and Her Mother Fighting Over Warren Beatty?

It happened almost twenty years ago. Natalie Wood (then Natasha Gurdin) looked up at her mother and demanded the family move from Santa Clara, California, to Hollywood so she could continue her movie career—so she could be a big star. At the time, Natalie was all of five. And violently determined.

When her parents seemed to ignore her demands, Natalie threatened: If she wasn’t able to go to Hollywood, she’d just sit and die—and she’d never speak to her parents. For the next three days Natalie uttered not a single word to them. Finally, Mrs. Gurdin took her tiny girl in her arms and lovingly said, “Natasha, you are only a little girl . . . you’re too young for a career. Once in a while you can make a movie for fun—but for your life, I don’t think it is best. Come, my baby, be a little girl . . . be a little girl for me!”

“No,” the child answered. “I don’t want to be a little girl, Mother. I want to be an actress. I want it! I want it, Mother!”

The Gurdin family moved to Hollywood, and for the next fifteen years Nicholas and Maria Gurdin did their best to help and please their daughter. She was their flesh and blood—even though her stubborn drive over-powered their will. Many times in those years they hoped the hard work and disappointments would dissipate their daughter’s drive—but their hopes were in vain. With each setback Natalie’s determination became stronger; and, strangely, with each setback her confidence seemed to grow, too—a deep, unshakable confidence.

Not even the thrill of a party or a brand new party dress could take her from the course she’d charted for herself. This was painfully evident when a script arrived at the house on the same day Natalie was to attend a party in a frilly dress she’d dreamed for weeks of wearing. When Mrs. Gurdin went to her daughter’s room to help her finish dressing, she found her curled up in a chair reading the script.

“Darling,” she exclaimed, “you must hurry or you’ll be terribly late for the party.”

“I’m not going, Mother,” Natalie calmly replied. “I have to read this script.” Mrs. Gurdin knew her daughter well. She took the dress from the bed, hung it in the closet, sat down next to Natalie and simply cried.

Yes, Natalie made sacrifices for her career, but her mother had to make sacrifices, too. Natalie was not her only daughter. She had an older girl, Teddy, and a younger one, Lana. Her days were filled with the usual important and time-consuming chores of a woman who had a husband and three girls to take care of—yet, every chance she got, she helped Natalie with her career. When her daughter’s popularity was on the wane, Mrs. Gurdin would hand out autographed photos of Natalie to Lana’s school pals and their parents. So whether or not Mrs. Gurdin agreed with the hard life her daughter had chosen for herself, she helped her—with much love and a sweet willingness.

And then when she was thirteen, Natalie discovered something. She discovered that love—an emotion she had played with only in the movies—was something she didn’t know anything about. And, unlike other girls, Natalie was not content to simply ask questions—she wanted to find the answers through firsthand experience. For a while Mrs. Gurdin let her daughter’s search for romantic adventure pass without discussion. But one evening she walked into the parlor and found Natalie kissing a boy friend. Struggling to keep her composure, Mrs. Gurdin decided the time for discussion was right then. She lectured the boy and Natalie. Natalie listened dutifully and promised her mother her behavior would improve.

But her continual association with boys who were really men. the frank discussions of sex she heard on the set, and the defiance of morals she saw among other actresses and actors were things this bright, intelligent, innocent girl could not ignore. It is not to be implied that Natalie’s behavior was wrong, it wasn’t. She said to her mother, “I want to know what older people do alone together. I understand knowing about it doesn’t give me the right to try to get away with it. But, Mother, I can’t make believe sex doesn’t exist, and not knowing makes me feel stupid.”

Again, Mrs. Gurdin had a down-to-earth discussion with her daughter. Natalie’s reaction was honest and mature. She announced that from then on she was not going to go steady with any boy because “the physical temptations are too great.”

So instead, she went out with a variety of men. Some of them would give a mother cause to worry, but if Mrs. Gurdin worried, she didn’t do it publicly.

Rules aren’t for her

When she was fifteen, Nat planned to go to Tijuana, Mexico, for the weekend with actor Scott Marlow. When her mother objected, Natalie couldn’t understand why. In Natalie’s mind it was just something she wanted to do. The idea of propriety or what other people would think never occurred to her. If it had, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Says a friend, “That’s what’s so marvelous about Nat. She’s honest about everything. She never plays a game—because games mean rules and she says to hell with rules—they’re for the people who wouldn’t know what to do without them.”

But underneath Natalie’s fascination for the world of love and men, lay the dominant, dynamic drive to the top that only Mrs. Gurdin knew boiled so turbulently in her daughter’s heart. Natalie’s highly publicized romance with Nick Hilton, for example, as well as some of the very “forbidden” men she dated, were not much more than deviltry conceived by that artful mischief-maker, Natalie. Mrs. Gurdin knew this—for she was her daughter’s mother—as well as her confidante. She knew what Natalie was after, and she helped her get it. As Natalie herself said, “My mother should never ever be accused of forcing me to become an actress. She didn’t have to.”

But Natalie’s dates with a young actor named Robert J. Wagner were more than just publicity. It was the beginning of love. And Mrs. Gurdin seemed to approve. “He is a fine, mature and intelligent young man,” she said. “He is the balance and the caution my daughter needs.”

But in her wisdom, she also knew that her daughter’s tremendous drive was committed to success as a movie star—and that this goal was firmly entrenched in her character and personality. Love, as most girls knew it, was second-place with Nat. It was a delightful novelty. Now with Bob, Natalie’s heart tried to look in two directions at once. Toward success and toward love. But Natalie’s desire for success had a fifteen-year head start on her desire for love. Mrs. Gurdin knew this, but when Natalie married Bob—on December 28, 1957—Mrs. Gurdin was delighted. She liked Bob immensely.

Shortly after Natalie’s third year of married life, the drive that she had tried desperately to suppress in favor of love, erupted. In a few months the impending and inevitable end of the marriage was looming enormous and ominous.

The “surprise” separation didn’t surprise Mrs. Gurdin. but the rumored reason—another man—Warren Beatty—hurt.

Could Natalie’s separation from Wagner have been avoided? Those in favor of saving a marriage at all costs will say yes. Those who know Natalie say no. Because at that time—as today—Natalie was so committed to glamour, fame and glory that it would have taken a miracle man to dissuade her. Bob Wagner is a wonderful person, but he is no miracle man.

And what about Warren Beatty? Is he a miracle man?

In many respects, Warren is very much like Natalie. Today, he is committed to the glory and fame of Warren Beatty. He is every bit as dedicated to himself as Natalie is dedicated to her career. For Warren, as with Natalie, personal achievement is the most important thing in life. Love for Warren, as for Natalie, would seem to be more of an emotional convenience than anything.

If Mrs. Gurdin felt that Natalie, hurt by the unkind talk of her love for Warren, would change—Mrs. Gurdin was wrong for the first time in many, many years. Natalie pointed out that only her art, not her private life, was public domain. But she’s a prominent star and her personal behavior influences others. It would seem that Natalie, who has no use for rules, expects others to obey hers. And life doesn’t work out that way.

“A public figure,” a prominent jurist once said, “holds a public trust. A judge can make the wisest decisions of justice on the bench, but if in private life he’s chasing girls, leaving his wife at home, he’d damn well better expect public censure.”

A broken heart

Should Mrs. Gurdin have taken more drastic measures to prevent her daughter from becoming an actress?

“Perhaps,” says Mrs. Gurdin, “but I loved my daughter. How could I, in conscience, deliberately stand in her way? She worked for her dream. She made sacrifices that broke my heart.”

And what about the sacrifices Mrs. Gurdin made? Are all the years she spent helping Natalie get what she wanted to be tossed aside because of a young man named Warren Beatty?

Are Natalie and her mother fighting over Warren?

It must hurt Mrs. Gurdin deeply, as it would any mother, to know that Natalie, whom she loves and respects, is involved with Warren while still legally married to Bob Wagner. (Her California divorce will not be final until April, 1963.)

In all fairness, Mrs. Gurdin has never uttered a derogatory word about Warren. (It might be added, however, that she’s consistently heaped praise on Bob Wagner.) It is not necessarily Warren that Mrs. Gurdin deplores as much as it is the kind of relationship that has been publicized about Natalie and Warren.

Like Natalie, Mrs. Gurdin is not bothered by “what the neighbors think,” but she is concerned. What worries her is the one rumor that Natalie ignores—the rumor that Warren has told friends in private that he has “no intention of getting married to anyone.”

“I can bear Natalie’s getting hurt as an actress,” Mrs. Gurdin has said, “because when it comes to her profession she has strength in her little body that would amaze you. She will survive critics and the others who find fault with her dramatic abilities. No, that is not what I fear.

“It is the hurt a selfish man might inflict on Natalie’s heart that worries me. She is so sure, so confident, but only because she has never before been hurt by love. The unhappiness and disappointment over marriage to Robert, fortunately, has only made her wiser. But still, as a woman, she is much too sensitive not to suffer terribly if she fails at love again. This is a torment and misery I know will consume her heart and I pray that it will not happen.”

All Hollywood hopes, too, that it won’t happen. But more than that, they hope nothing will happen to the relationship of Natalie and her mother.



Natalie stars in UA’s “West Side Story.” Her next film is “Gypsy” for Warners.



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