What Natalie Wood’s Sister Says About Warren And Bob?
They looked exactly like young lovers are supposed to look. His face, almost shocking in its masculine intensity, was turned toward hers. She gazed up at him, her enormous brown eyes overflowing with ardor. They were Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood dancing at a very posh private party after the premiere of “Flower Drum Song.” All around them on the floor, famous people were frantically doing The Twist, but Nat and Warren were in their own little world, in their own little corner of the dance floor. They weren’t twisting, but were gently swaying to the beat of the music, barely moving at all.
They were like a calm in the middle of a whirling storm, and before the evening was over everyone in the room had noticed them—and commented on them. There was no doubt about it—here was true love. And in most communities (Hollywood, too) true love means marriage. But if you ask Natalie when she is going to marry Warren, she gets very hurt. She says, her gentle voice shaking.
‘I’m still upset by some of the things that happened in Hollywood after all my years in pictures. Like all the gossip. . . .
“I’m trying to do the right thing and lead my own life—but it isn’t easy under these circumstances. I’ve even read that I’m supposed to get married in Mexico very soon. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I have no plans whatever for being married again.”
Marriage plans or not, Natalie and Warren are together at previews and parties on the East and West Coasts. On weekends they swim and sunbathe together around Beatty’s swimming pool. And they are never, never seen with anyone else.
While all of Hollywood and the world are talking about Natalie, I thought it would be interesting to see what two people who are really in the know have to say about this red-hot romance. Those two people are Natalie’s lovely mother, Mrs. Gurdin, and her fifteen-year-old sister Lana. Lana, a lively child, has taken the stage name Lana Wood, and makes her film debut in “Five Finger Exercise.” It was refreshing to talk to a Hollywood mother and daughter and find them in complete rapport with one another. In this day and age of children who feel they know more than parents, the Gurdins were a delight. When mother spoke. Lana sat, listening intently, nodding her head in agreement. It was obvious that what mother said went for Lana. Too.
(Let me say here and now that there are three daughters in the Gurdin family. Teddy, who is eight years older than Natalie; Natalie, who is twenty-three, and Lana. I mention this because it has a bearing on this story, as you will see.)
“Warren’s not like Bob . . .”
Mrs. Gurdin smiled and said. “I doubt that Natalie is in love with Warren Beatty. She’s lonesome right now and he’s free— and, well, they like each other.” Then she sighed and said, “We loved Bob Wagner very much. Our whole family loved his whole family.”
“Oh, Warren is nice,” said Lana. “He’s lots of fun to be with. He’s been to New York and he’s sort of different. But he’s not like Bob!”
This made two members of Natalie’s family who seemed to still be rooting for Bob. And was I wrong in detecting a strong note of wishing that Natalie and Bob would reconcile? Let’s see.
“Natalie and Bob have not filed for a divorce yet,” her mother went on, “and maybe time will take care of it. I hope so. You have to expect things to change in every marriage. One night last summer when Natalie had us over for dinner—I mean her father, Lana and I—I noticed that it was not as it had been with Bob and Natalie the year before. Then they had been together constantly. Now it seemed that they were having small misunderstandings.
“Natalie is very sensitive. She never shows it except in her acting. This is why people who do not know her well say that she is cold at heart.
“That is not true. She would not be the actress she is if she did not feel deeply and could not he deeply hurt. And she is very hurt now. She told me, ‘Some people grow up when they get married, Mother. I am growing up when I am divorcing.’ She wants to find herself. But I hope she does not have to find herself through divorce. I like Bob so very, very much.”
I did not discuss this with Natalie’s family, but there seems to be an odd parallel between Elizabeth Taylor’s life and Natalie’s. There was a time in Liz’ life when her parents regretted that they had let her become an actress, and they discussed her giving it all up. Liz was about fifteen at the time. As you probably I remember, Liz began her professional career when she was eight.
Natalie began acting at four. When she was about fourteen her father discussed her giving it up. She reacted just as Liz did: She cried. Like Liz, Natalie loved her work. It’s strange, isn’t it, that now with her performances in “Splendor in the Grass” and “West Side Story,” she’s the most important young actress—next to Elizabeth.
But Natalie’s romance record is entirely different. She has had one marriage to Liz’ four. But Liz, with the exception of Monty Clift, has married every man with whom her name was ever seriously linked. Natalie has been wildly enamored of many fellows. She nearly married Nick Adams when she was barely sixteen, but got cold feet, by her own confession, when she was almost at the altar. In 1956, she said of Scott Marlow, “He is the great love of my life.” She knocked the press for a loop when she raced to Memphis to be Elvis Presley’s houseguest, and then returned home alone. She had a crush on Dennis Hopper. She thought she was in love with Raymond Burr. And Frank Sinatra. And Lance Reventlow. And Nicky Hilton. And John Ireland. And in the photographs taken of her with each and every one of these men she looked as wildly in love as she looks in photos today with Warren Beatty.
Bob Wagner is an actor. Warren Beatty is five times the actor Bob Wagner is. Which could mean that Warren can enter into the illusion of love five times more intensely than Bob can. But will Warren be the husband that Bob was? This is what Natalie’s mother and sister wonder.
“I think Bob was Natalie’s first real love.” Mrs. Gurdin says. “She was always popular, as Lana is now, but I remember she came home from her first date with Bob and she told me. ‘Mother, I’m going to marry him.’ She had never done that before. She was just eighteen. She never went out with another boy after that first date with Bob. She was nineteen when they married and very much in love in every way. Bob was the only thing in her life. She was trying to please him in every way.
“It was Bob who did not want them to have publicity, as man and wife, so she agreed. I do not think this was good for her career, but I did not say so. She had been on fifty magazine covers the year before she became Mrs. Wagner. After marriage, she wasn’t on any.
“She tried very hard to turn herself into a housewife and a hostess.”
Lana interrupted her mother. Lana’s voice is exactly like Natalie’s. She looks very like Natalie, too, except that she is taller and wears her dark hair “streaked.” Her mother doesn’t entirely approve of this fad. and says she hopes Lana gets over it, just as Natalie got over her teenage fancy for dangling earrings. “Until she got married, Nat couldn’t even turn on the gas stove, let alone cook!” Lana giggled. “But then I can’t cook either.”
“I wish Natalie and Bob had not had so much bad luck while they were married,” her mother said. “The first year of their marriage Natalie had her contract fight with Warners, so she had a lot of time on her hands. Then just as she got going again, Bob went for a year and a half without a picture, and Natalie was working too hard and too long. They had said they would never play together, but they made ‘All the Fine Young Cannibals.’ It was a flop. Natalie had to go to New York to make ‘Splendor in the Grass’ and Bob went with her, sitting on the set every day. That isn’t really good for a man.”
Also, as the whole world knows now, Natalie and Bob had begun to remodel a Beverly Hills house at the beginning of 1960. They had started their married life in a tiny house in Laurel Canyon, which is distinctly unfashionable. Then they got a place in the hills with marble bathtubs sent over from Italy, a private salt water swimming pool, imported crystal chandeliers and built-in poker tables.
But everything went wrong with their building. They had three different contractors on the job. Their ornate staircase wobbled as they tried to climb it. Natalie’s marble bathtub slipped and made the downstairs ceiling fail.
“With Bob and Natalie in New York,” her mother said, “some of the workmen took advantage of their absence and did nothing. Natalie was very disgusted when they returned home. She was tired and worn out, too, and went too quickly into dance rehearsals for ‘West Side Story.’ She has always been frail and subject to small illnesses, and when she does not have a real illness, she imagines one. This time, she had a tonsil operation and nearly died.
“By then, the house was Corning along beautifully, with only the living room and the dining room waiting to be done—but they separated. They had put such a fortune into that house. They put it on the market for $155,000—but they had much more money than that in it.”
After the separation, Natalie didn’t move back to Laurel Canyon, you may be sure. She has climbed too high for that. She moved into swank Bel-Air. Bob Wagner went to France to be in “The Longest Day.”
Then Warren Beatty came out to Hollywood from New York. The gossip about him and Natalie rose as high as a Thor missile.
“Exactly why Bob and Natalie separated, I don’t know,” says her mother. “I can only hope this isn’t permanent. I know Bob has cabled her from Europe. She has not told me if she replied and I have not asked her. I would like her to be back with him. You see, her father and I have been very happy. My oldest daughter, Teddy, has had a very happy marriage. It’s what I want for Lana, too, of course. But for Natalie it is most important, just because she is so sensitive.”
What Mrs. Gurdin doesn’t say is what Hollywood feels: Warren Beatty is a very sharp young man. He is a very ambitious one, too. Natalie is fiercely ambitious and has been since she discovered acting at the age of four. People may have forgotten that until she was in junior high school she dressed like a child. This was quite deliberate, since child roles were what she was in demand for—until she grew up on screen in “Rebel Without a Cause.” She was seventeen then, and that was when she took up smoking. The reason she took up smoking was because she thought it would help her characterization.
Natalie is an actress. She is simply superb in “Splendor in the Grass” and “West Side Story.” And like all good actresses, she uses everything to further her art. This is nothing against her.
She has seen her older sister’s sedate marriage and she knows that isn’t the life for her. She is delighted that Lana, who once didn’t want to act. is now following in her career footsteps. She and Warren are vitally interested in Lana’s career, and when she had to read for a part on a recent try-out. they rehearsed her for more than a week. “She’s an independent little person and I’m terribly proud of her,” says Natalie warmly of her little sister.
Warren has openly admitted that he loves publicity—and what actor doesn’t. He gives that appealing smile of his and says, “I love to talk about myself.”
And there is nothing quite so good for publicity as a fine romance. But remember this, there is nothing less good for an ambitious young actor’s career than a wife.
Yes, Natalie and Warren seem to be madly, wonderfully—and publicly—in love. But marriage? Judging from what Natalie’s mom and sister have to say, it’s not imminent. They want Natalie to be happy. If Warren can make her happy, then he’ll get their cheers. But from my viewpoint, it looks as if Warren will have a hard time winning them away from the Wagner camp.
Natalie is in “Splendor in the Grass,” Warners, and U.A.’s “West Side Story.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1962