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The Bride Who Said “No”—Natalie Wood

Have you wondered where Natalie has been lately? Have you wondered why it has been about fifteen months (when Marjorie Morningstar played at your local theater) since you’ve seen Natalie? One of the most sought-after and popular stars in the motion picture industry has not made a film since her marriage!

For those who have known Natalie since her childhood, this fact is strange, very strange. For Natalie Wood has been working day in and day out as an actress since she was five years old. This is a girl with acting in her blood, a girl to whom constant work has been as natural (and essential) as constant breathing.

At first, no one believed that the young bride was in seclusion. Her friends, her studio, felt sure she could be tempted back to work with the right roles. This past summer, therefore, she was offered one of the great plums of this or any other season: a female lead opposite Sir Laurence Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in The Devil’s Disciple. Here at last, they felt, was the irresistible part; what young actress in her right mind would give up a chance to play opposite three of the most powerful actors of our time, in a movie that could become an all-time classic?

Why turn that down?

When Natalie said no to the offer, Hollywood was shocked. Her friends argued with her, her studio suspended her, magazines (including ours) having no new developments to report, began to ignore her. Others, with no more to say, printed meaningless chatter about Nat and Bob. Meanwhile, young stars like Sandra Dee, Millie Perkins and Tuesday Weld were moving into the spotlight. Natalie was risking all that she’d worked a lifetime to achieve; and she knew it! Why did she give up a great part, in a great picture? There was only one hitch. The picture was to be made in Europe and when she married Bob, she made a secret, binding vow not usually included in the marriage rituals. Never, she promised herself and her husband, will I allow anything to separate us for more than a few hours.

To Natalie, the bride, no career, no monetary compensation, could substitute for the happiness she had in her marriage. Nor would she allow it to cast a shadow over the life she hoped to make for herself and R.J.

If R.J. had been free, Natalie would have accepted in a minute. But R.J. was about to begin work in In Love and War.

Natalie said no. Simply, quietly and firmly. No.

The next script submitted to her by the studio may have been in the way of a retaliation. The role was more suitable for a starlet, new to the studio, than to its brightest, most popular young actress.

Natalie read the script and suddenly that old, bad feeling returned. It’s a feeling almost impossible to put into words but almost everyone who has ever been forced to do something that was not right, that violated a principle they strongly believed in, has experienced it. That awful churning in the pit of the stomach, a listlessness, a desire to remain in bed all the day, rather than facing the compromise.

Natalie remembers when she first had that bad feeling. It happened several years ago when she was submitted for a picture that she felt was terribly, terribly wrong for her. But she accepted the role, anyway. She accepted it because her dad was ill and needed an operation, and the money she was to earn would help the family through a difficult and crucial time. I can’t think about myself or anyone else now, she told herself. The main thing is that Dad get well—without the worries of medical and hospital bills that might put him into debt.

She did the picture, hating every moment of it. But when she woke in the morning, reluctant to face the day ahead, she reminded herself: “This is for Dad This is important. This is a compromise that has to be made.”

Such was not the case a year and a half ago.

First she discussed her problem with Bob. He was very understanding but he would not exert any influence over her.

“Nat, dear,” he told her. “I promised never to try to interfere in your career. They’re two separate entities, our career and our marriage. This is your decision and I have enough faith in you to know that whatever you decide will be right.

Natalie met with her advisors. For hours they remained closeted in deep discussion. Then later that afternoon when she walked out into the bright sunlight of Beverly Hills, the bad feeling was gone. . . .

She had agreed to take a suspension; to go on strike until such time as the things she wanted, both as an individual and as an actress, would be taken into consideration.

She knew there would be criticism. She knew that many people would interpret her actions merely as a demand for more money, or as being rebellious just for the sake of being rebellious. But she couldn’t worry about what ‘they’ would think.

In her heart she knew what her reasons were. And she knew they were good ones.

There was, for one thing, the obligation to herself as an actress, which could be fulfilled only if she were allowed to select roles that would permit her innate creativity to flourish. But there was more too. There was an obligation to all her fans, who for the last four years had set her up as a shining example of what they would like to be. Nat didn’t want to do anything that would let them down either.

She knew she was taking a gamble. It was possible, she figured, she could have everything settled in a month, at the longest six months.

As it turned out, fifteen months went by before her strike was ended.

Fifteen months is a long time in Hollywood. Kids who were unheard of then are teen-age favorites now. Others who were big names, are now all but forgotten.

The letters poured in from fans reassuring her, asking what they could do. Should they write to Mr. Warner, should they write to the newspapers? Those who understood the situation from reading about it congratulated her for her stand.

Whether Natalie would have been able to take her stand and stick to it if she hadn’t been newly married, if Bob hadn’t been there to provide her with emotional sustenance, is something even she is unable to answer. But Bob was there. And it is impossible for Natalie to think of her life—working or not—without Bob.

And throughout the first year of the marriage, her freedom from working gave her the opportunity to do the things that were so important to her as a wife.

Each morning at 6:00 she would awake with Bob and they’d breakfast together.

Then they would be off to his set, sharing his day and his work, piling up a hundred different memories.

The week ends, they would spend on his boat. The evenings, at home together or maybe with a couple of their closest friends.

There was the time for growing, for reading, for learning a great deal about life and the living of it.

And there was a time for planning and dreaming: Planning for the trip they hope to take by freighter to New York and Miami and Bermuda, planning for the new home they just bought in Beverly Hills—the first real home that they will own since their marriage. A home that belonged neither to Bob first or to Natalie first, but to the two of them together. . . .

A few days ago Natalie Wood returned to Warner Brothers. Professionally she had won her fight. And personally she knew that her marriage had grown in strength, as she herself had. With her head high, she drove through the massive gate leading to the Warner Brothers studio lot.

George, the gateman, greeted her with his widest grin.

“Good to see you back,” he called.

“Good to be back,” Nat answered gaily.

And to this we add, MODERN SCREEN is glad you’re back too, Natalie.




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