Natalie Wood: “Let’s Get My Romances Straight!”
There was the story that she had eloped with Raymond Burr. Then another story that Tab Hunter had talked her into running off with him, closely followed (the story, that is) by a report that she had taken the fatal plunge with Nick Adams.
None of these were true, of course. Actually, Natalie Wood has never even been engaged—although this doesn’t mean too much because she has said that she never will be engaged to anyone. Exact quote: “Engagements slow me down. I won’t get married that way. If a boy I love and I are sitting somewhere, and we suddenly decide to get married, we’ll up and go. That’s how it will happen.”
But the truth is that it is not apt to happen in the near future, not even with the most favored candidate for her heart, Scott Marlowe, young actor from the Actors Studio group in New York, who is just getting his start in Hollywood.
Of course, Scott, Raymond, Tab and Nick are not the only “He” interests in Natalie’s life; other names which fall from her lips these days when she talks boys include Sal Mineo (“He’s just a doll!”), Martin Millner, Dennis Hopper, Bob Vaughn, Perry Lopez and James Stroman. One day, while lunching with her girl friend Jackie Eastes, Natalie wrote down the words “Let’s Get My Romances Straight” and then listed the names of the boys mentioned above, numbering them, apparently in order of preference.
At the top of the list was Scott. Second was Nick Adams, with whom she worked in Rebel Without A Cause. Then came Raymond, who was with her in Cry In The Night last year, followed by Martin Millner and Bob Vaughn. Tab Hunter didn’t show up until sixth. Sal was seventh and Dennis Hopper eighth.
The list was made at the time Natalie was being co-starred with Tab in Warner Brothers’ The Girl He Left Behind, and it is Tab whom she has known the longest in her life—ever since she was twelve (she was eighteen last July 20th). And she has been going out with him ever since. they first met, for that matter. But there is definitely no real romance between them.
“We never even think about ourselves that way,” she explained once.
“Why not?” she was asked.
“Oh, the chemistry is wrong or something, I guess,” she flipped back.
Strangley enough, Nick Adams, who has perhaps the greatest future of all of Hollywood’s younger male players, would himself have been Number 1 with Natalie, instead of Number 2, had he not introduced Scott to her. The first time Natalie ever had a good look at Scott, a chance to really study him, that is, was on television when he and Nick had the leads in an NBC Matinee Theatre play, The Bottom Of The River, in which they both were young New York hoodlums. A few days later Nick was to take Natalie to a preview of Bad Seed when he remembered that he had a friend who also wanted to see the picture, and he asked Natalie if she would mind having another boy come along.
She said no. Nick phoned his friend. And that’s when she met Scott. They took to each other instantly. Last June when Nick returned from location at Sedonia, Arizona, where he played the second male lead in The Last Wagon, starring Richard Widmark, he ruefully recalled introducing Scott to Natalie. “Gee, I get back to find that they are practically married,” he said.
This isn’t the case, of course. Natalie, just a few weeks ago, put it this way. “It’s true I go with Scott,” she said, “but if I had to tell whether it was serious or not I wouldn’t know. If serious means will I run off and get married, it isn’t that serious!”
Sal Mineo is probably on Natalie’s list because she sees a lot of him when he is in town; they are close to each other in their thinking about their work; but he is almost a year younger than she is and not actually a candidate for her hand.
The most aggressive of the boys on her list is probably Martin Millner, in his late twenties, who has had good roles in pictures like Mr. Roberts, Pete Kelly’s Blues and Screaming Eagles. When he was on location in Phoenix, Arizona, some months ago, he used to telephone Natalie every night—the first extended, long distance courting she had experienced. Another of the more “mature” men is Raymond Burr, who was signed not long ago to play Barbara Stanwyck’s heart interest in Love Story.
Bob Vaughn, who has been given a contract by the Hecht-Lancaster organization, and at this writing is being considered for the starring role in Cry Tough, bears watching as a figure in Natalie’s life. A special, fond quality comes into her voice when she talks about him. It isn’t sisterly, like when she talks about Sal, or bubbling with fun, as when she laughs about the gags she and Nick have pulled. It has a note of promise in it, as if Bob could mean a lot more than he does, if events threw them closer together.
Too young to marry
Yet the truth about Natalie, at this very moment, is that her career has gripped her imagination more strongly than the promise of marriage, or even motherhood, for that matter. Oh, she has talked about marriage and children. “When I do get married I am going to be the best mother,” she says. “I am not going to be possessive. I’d like to have a boy first, and then a girl. And that would be all.” She visits girl friends who are married, but they don’t report that she sits around their homes mooning over their married bliss, or that she tries to visualize herself in their place as a young bride.
As a matter of fact, Natalie thinks that most of her girl friends, who married the boys they went with in high school, should have waited; she thinks they settled down too young. And that’s why she is reported to have once said that she wouldn’t marry until she was thirty. Her fans, aghast, wrote her by the hundreds not to wait that long.
Natalie probably won’t. But one thing she is sure of, she will never give up acting. Up to now she has appeared in about twenty-five pictures. “I want to be in a hundred more,” she has said. “And I want to stay in movies until I can do only character roles. That will be all right with me.”
Well, few of Natalie’s friends agree that she will find contentment in just a career. They think she is far too feminine a girl, with too much all-out promise as a woman, not to realize eventually that she must not only live a woman’s normal life, but also that it would be wise to enter the major phases of such a life, bridehood, wifehood, and motherhood early enough to assure full returns emotionally.
She knows one young couple who are ideally happy. The girl, an old playmate of Natalie’s, is nineteen. The husband is twenty-one. Natalie comes to visit them, sits and watches them, studies their complete absorption with each other . . . but is not yet convinced that this is true—really true!—bliss.
Sometimes she talks to Scott Marlowe about them. But not often. Scott is a dedicated boy as far as acting is concerned. He does love to be with Natalie. And she knows this. And they have a fine time together because even if they aren’t really crazy about each other, they have so many mutual interests, especially acting, which makes the bond between them pretty solid.
To understand Natalie one must understand the feelings of a young actress. For instance, some of her girl friends asked her to meet a boy they knew in high school who had begged to be introduced to her.
“He’s a wonderful athlete, Natalie!” said one of the girls. “You ought to see him go over the high hurdles!”
“Yes, I know,” Natalie responded. “But can he act?”
Drives boys wild
It has always been a little like that—her devotion to her career providing just the right amount of balance to keep her from becoming completely boy crazy. And, just as might be expected, this seems to drive the boys she knows wild; at least some of them have gone to extremes in their efforts to win her interest.
She was hardly twelve when she got her first presents from a boy—a watch and a ring. She thought they were just trinkets for which he had saved up. But she was wrong. When next she heard from him, it was by way of a letter from the reformatory. He had robbed a jewelry store.
At fifteen she was going steady with another boy, until the time came when she decided it was taking up too much of her life. She broke it up. A few days later the parents of the boy telephoned and asked if she would go to see him, in the hospital. He had actually shot himself with a rifle, although fortunately he sustained just a flesh wound.
“Why did you do a thing like that?” Natalie asked when she reached his bedside.
“I didn’t want to live without you,” he replied, his tone desperate.
“It’s a darn good thing you missed!” she told him.
That boy is now married and they have both laughed about the incident since.
Natalie and James Dean
It is a pretty good bet that if Jimmy Dean were alive today the list Natalie made of the boys she likes would have read differently; there are some who think that his name would have led all the rest. Natalie has refused repeatedly to comment about herself and Jimmy. But she was heard once saying that the happiest day in her life came during the filming of the picture she made with him, Rebel Without A Cause.
“It was when we did our love scene in the deserted house,” she recalled. “It seemed to me that everything I had ever dreamed up for myself was taking place at that moment.”
From Jimmy, of course, Natalie not only received romantic companionship but also professional stimulation, actor to actor, that was highly rewarding. They loved to do impersonations of other actors; Natalie’s routine included take-offs on Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, Blanche Du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire,Jo Van Fleet in East Of Eden, and even one of Marlon Brando.
Today she gets this sort of double return, professional as well as social, from her dating with Scott. “When I marry it will be to a man in the business I’m in,” Natalie has said. “Someone who understands the requirements, the hours, the necessary separations. Someone who will understand the things I mean when I am talking acting.”
Well Scott is certainly highly qualified that way. He is not particularly eccentric about being a player, although appointments have actually been made for Scott to pose for magazine photographs, sometimes for Natalie and him together—and he has bluntly declined to do them.
He loves to go out with Natalie—but away from the bright spots where the columnists and gossip gatherers congregate to record the comings and goings of the stars. They do go to night clubs and smart dining spots occasionally, but only to see specific artists whom they know or in whose work they are interested and find inspiration. They went to the Interlude to see Frances Faye, for instance, to the Keyboard when Jerri Sothern was there, and they will go anywhere Harry Belafonte happens to be singing. But generally they are more apt to be found in a quiet little restaurant somewhere, or sitting together in the balcony of a movie, or maybe just window-shopping along the street on an evening, dressed very casually, and rarely recognized by anyone.
The little drama
But one night, while walking along Hollywood Boulevard, they got a little crazy and decided to present a little domestic drama right then and there, improvising as they went along, for the benefit of passers-by.
“I am tired of having you always going out with other men!” Scott cried out in ringing tones. “I want my wife to stay home!”
“And I’m tired of staying home while you go out with other women!” Natalie retorted.
And thus they kept it up while their audience, the people along the street, turned and stared at them with shocked faces.
Because Natalie is still so young, and because Scott hasn’t yet got a real footing in the movies, a lot of their friends believe that their preoccupation with their individual problems will cause their romance to blow sky high.
Natalie has heard this and has even reported it to Scott—at which time they both laughed about it. And then, lately, they have come up with a sort of answer. They are working on an idea of making a picture together.
After that? Well, not long ago Natalie had a conversation with one of her studio’s executives. She wanted to know if the studio was worried about her romances.
“Why should it be?” he came back. “The studio thinks romances are great.”
“What if I married?” she challenged.
“The studio wouldn’t care, Natalie,” he replied.
“No?” she said, a bit astonished. Then, after thinking about it a little while, she added, “Oh. Well, that’s different.”
Exactly what she meant by the answer, still remains to be seen.
—BY JAE LYLE
Natalie will soon appear in Warner Bros.’ The Burning Hills and A Crime A Night.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1956