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Why We Call Natalie Wood “Tiger”?

The first time I met Natalie Wood, we didn’t like each other one little bit. That was a year and a half ago, and we were both working on Rebel Without A Cause. Naturally, I knew who Natalie was, but I was just a stand-in, and she’d never seen me before. Then, all of a sudden, she was seeing a lot of me, because I had known some of the kids who had real parts in the picture for a couple of years, and I spent most of my time hanging around with them. Well, Natalie didn’t know I knew them, of course, and she had me pegged as a pushy kid trying to show off by hanging around (and annoying) her friends. So when someone finally got around to introducing us, she gave me the chilly shoulder supreme. And of course I figured her for a snob, and star or no star, I didn’t think much of Miss Wood.

I suppose things would have stayed like that for the rest of the picture—except for Natalie. As far as I was concerned, if I didn’t like her, that was that. Finished. Only Natalie is a funny kid. She doesn’t like disliking people without a darn good reason—and she has a real instinct for nosing out a reason for not disliking them after all if she can. So one Saturday night when we were working late there was a break while the camera crew set up for the next shot, and all of a sudden Natalie marched over to me, determined to find her reason, one way or the other. She started gabbing. I was puzzled, but I had nothing better to do so I answered her, and we kidded around for a while. Then she asked me if I wanted to go to a show the next afternoon, and I was so startled I said yes before I knew it. Well, that started our friendship, and it’s been rocketing along ever since. We’ve found a lot of things we have in common—including a fit of the giggles every time we tell each other what we thought of the other one at first.

By this time I suppose you’re saying, “That’s all very well,” but why do you call Natalie Wood ‘tiger’?” Well, possess your soul in patience—I’m not going to tell you yet. If you have to know right now, you’ll just have to turn to the end and find out. hope you don’t. By the time you get to it, maybe you’ll have figured it out for yourself, which would be nicer. I think. And besides, I have a lot of other things to tell you first.

First of all I want to say that as a friend, Natalie is like something out of those old books on chivalry and honor. If you’re her friend—well, you’ve got a watchdog. No one—but no one—is going to insult you when she’s around, if she can help it. I remember once when a bunch of us were sitting around, and someone lit into Nick Adams. Behind his back, that is—Nick wasn’t there to defend himself. Well, this person, whom I won’t name, started out by saying that Nick’s sense of humor got on his nerves. It wasn’t a nice thing to say but we didn’t say anything. Nick does kid around a lot, and people have a right not to like it, I suppose, if they have no funnybone. But he went on and on. First he listed all the things Nick had done or said that he didn’t think were funny and then he told us why, in detail. We all glanced at each other, very embarrassed, but we didn’t say anything. Then he got sarcastic and then he got very personal—and that did it. All of a sudden Natalie jumped out of her seat and stood in front of the boy with her hands on her hips, looking like she was about to breathe fire. “Just how well do you know Nick Adams?” she demanded. The boy opened his mouth, but he was through talking for that day—Natalie didn’t even pause. “Well, obviously, you don’t know him as well as I do. It must be terrible to be so insecure yourself that you have to criticize someone who isn’t even here to defend himself. Nick is one of the nicest guys I know. He’s loyal and kind and I just hope that sometime in your life you’re lucky enough to know someone as fine as Nick Adams is!’ And she turned and stalked out.

Acting and boys in order

Besides that, she’s exciting to know because she’s so enthusiastic. Acting is her biggest interest, I’d say, with boys a very close second. She likes to shop, and we go together pretty often—but only when we know exactly what we want. No window shopping, no dawdling at the scarf counter when we came for skirts. Every time I stop, Natalie grabs my arm and says, “Now, look, Faye, I have a rehearsal at 3 and an interview at 7—” and I sigh and head for the skirts. But where it comes to acting—that she’s got time for. Any afternoon she’s not working she can Manage to squeeze in a movie, and then two more hours for us to go back to her house and hash over it. And we spend whole days reading plays (her favorite is A Streetcar Named Desire) and books aloud together in my room, without her once having to hurry away. Evenings when neither of us has a date—which does happen—I usually sleep over and we talk. About acting and books and even philosophy—but mostly, till about 5 A.M.—about boys. Lately she’s concentrated mostly on Scott Marlowe in those wee-hour gab-fests. Either one of us can begin it and ramble on for hours, but it always ends in the same way. Along about 4 or 5 I say something like, “So I think that means he likes me, don’t you, Natalie? . . . Natalie? . . . Nat? . . .” But Miss Wood is fast asleep, and in about thirty seconds I am, too.

When it comes to acting—well, I don’t have to tell you Natalie’s good. That you can see for yourself. But what most people don’t know is how “much she cares. For instance, a friend of ours told me the story of how she got the part of Judy in Rebel Without A Cause. The studio sent her the script and as soon as she read it she was dying to play it. She said there was actually a little voice buzzing in her head saying, “This is your part. You are Judy!” All she could think about was getting it. One day it got so bad that she walked into her house, took one look at her mother, and threw herself down on the sofa, sobbing “If I don’t get this part, I’ll just die. I know my heart will shatter right inside of me!” And wept for hours. The day of the interview she was in just as bad shape. She walked into Nick Ray’s office with her knees shaking and her hands damp, and as soon as he started asking her questions, her voice gave out. Her agent sat there and looked at her in horror. Finally she couldn’t bear it any longer and she jumped up and started pounding on Mr. Ray’s desk! “I am Judy! I really am!!” she cried. “You can’t give this part to anyone else! No one knows Judy like I know her. You must let me do a test!” It’s a wonder to me they didn’t send her to the insane asylum instead of the testing stage, but they let her try out for Judy. And of course she got it. Not that that improved her condition any. For the first two weeks after she found out the part was hers, she couldn’t eat a thing or sleep a minute. And that’s how Academy Award nominations are gotten.

Natalie meets a favorite actress

But I’ve known her to get just as excited, in a different way, about somebody else’s acting. The day she met Jo Van Fleet, for instance. Natalie had burst into Pal Greenway’s room, ready for him to make her up for a part—and all of a sudden she stopped short and looked as if she’d been turned to stone. All because Jo Van Fleet, whom she admired just tremendously (she went to see East Of Eden six times just to watch her act) was sitting there. Natalie’s usually pretty poised—but when Al stepped into that dead silence to introduce the girls to each other, Natalie couldn’t say a word. Not a word. She just stood there staring at Jo. “For heaven’s sake,” she said afterwards, “how could I say hello to her? I was so thrilled I couldn’t even say hello to Al!”

But it isn’t all work and worry, you know. And Natalie isn’t always taking herself dead seriously. I’ve seen her come shuffling out of a corner reciting Marlon Brando’s lines from On The Waterfront, walking like him, sounding like him and even managing to make you think she looked like him! That’s talent. But the time she really broke us up was the day she floated up to David Butler, the director, who is fortyish and weighs about 250 pounds, I would say, crooning “Young man. Young, young, young man. Did anyone ever tell you that you looked like a young prince out of the Arabian Nights?” That’s from Streetcar, of course—and I’ll never be able to see that play again and keep a straight face!

To an outsider—someone who doesn’t know her—I guess Natalie looks pretty crazy. Moody and unpredictable, maybe. I suppose that’s natural. As I said, the first time I met her, I thought she was a snob. And then, a lot of people meet her already prepared to dislike her. They want her to be a spoiled brat so they can tell their friends they weren’t impressed by meeting a movie star. Most of them, I think, come away from the meeting with their minds changed, because when my friend Natalie wants to be charming—and she usually does, unless you get her goat—she’s just irresistible. Mostly, I guess, because she’s interested in the people she meets; she really wants to know about them.

But I really ought to tell you her interest isn’t entirely unselfish. In one corner of her mind, she’s storing up a picture of you as soon as she meets you, taking notes on your mannerisms, and your voice, and the way you walk. Most good actresses do that—it’s a sort of fund of raw material for them to build a character out of some day. So if you meet Natalie, and a year later you see her in a role and she’s got just your trick of twisting your hands or shifting your weight—well, it’s probably no coincidence.

A scatter-brained Natalie?

But still and all, the people who suspect and scatter-brained have a point. Boy, I remember one evening when she was getting dressed to go to the premiére of The King And I. We had spent the day together at the studio, and at around 6 o’clock she suddenly remembered she had to borrow a petticoat and some gloves from the wardrobe department. She went dashing over and found the wardrobe woman just in the act of closing up for the night. Well, Natalie can sweet-talk anyone into anything, so the lady unlocked the place and Natalie got her things. It had been a hard day and we were both bushed. Before she left, I said, “I’m going right home for a nap and if I were you, I’d do the same. Lie down for a while before you leave or you’ll sleep right through the movie.” “I will,” Natalie said, and we said good night and left.

The next day she phoned me. “You and your advice!” she said. “Some nap!” It seems that she “just lay down for a minute,” and the next thing she knew it was quarter to eight and her mother was shaking her and saying, “For goodness’ sake, Natalie, you’ve got fifteen minutes before Scott gets here!” Natalie jumped out of bed and started tearing around the room. First she couldn’t find her comb—which was in its usual place on the dressing table. Then she couldn’t find her left shoe, which turned up under a pile of clothes in the corner of her room (and what was a pile of clothes doing there, hmmm?). Then she had to ask everyone in the house, from her father on down, if they had seen her tickets to the premiére, which of course they hadn’t. So she tore through the whole house—and when I say ‘tore’ I mean there wasn’t a whole dress or record or book or piece of furniture left when she was through—till she found them—in her purse. And then came the final blow. No sooner did she calm down and get her make up on and slip her dress over her head than she found out the zipper didn’t work! By this time, Scott was pacing the floor in the living room, muttering about females who had all day to get ready and didn’t. So she completely lost her head, and instead of waiting for someone to sew her in, (a la Monroe) she grabbed her satin duster, threw it on over her dress, and ran down to meet him. Of course they arrived late, and Natalie spent the whole rest of the evening desperately clutching her dress and wearing her coat and praying that whole thing wasn’t going to fall onto the ground. And it was all my fault!

“Natalie,” I said calmly, when she slowed down, “just tell me—did you set your alarm?”

There was a long silence on the end. “Uh—well—” said Natalie at last, “I guess I didn’t.”

But the times I love Natalie best are when I see her with her little sister. You see, Natalie has a gentle understanding of children; that’s the side of her that the fewest people see. Her sister Lana Lisa, who played Natalie as a child in The Searchers, gets a great deal of love and understanding from her big sister. A while ago, Lana had an appointment for a reading at one of the local Little Theatres. The part was a small one, but very important, and Lana wanted Natalie to help her with her lines. Natalie had a heavy date with Scott, but she called him and asked if they could make it an hour later so she could help Lana. Then she took Lana to the theatre and waited for her to see the director. I was with them, and believe me, Natalie was more nervous for Lana than she ever got about any part for herself—with the exception of Rebel. The director came out and told Natalie he felt Lana had the perfect quality and sensitivity for the part, and rehearsals would start the following day. The next morning at rehearsal Natalie couldn’t sit still. She kept commenting to me about all the little things Lana was doing that really made the scene exciting to watch. After that first rehearsal Natalie helped Lana every day, and gave her encouragement. 

But it isn’t just a matter of Lana’s career that makes them so close. I’ve never seen so much love between sisters.

Where Tiger comes in

Well, have you figured out by now why we call Natalie “Tiger?” You should have. A lot of people think it’s because one day director Nick Ray gave her three darling stuffed toy tigers. And I don’t deny that that was the day it started. Other people think it has some secret significance—some deep, dark, hidden something from her past. But it hasn’t. And some—incredible as it seems to me—are sure it means that at heart Natalie is a beast of the jungle!!!

But the truth of the matter is perfectly simple. There’s Natalie—my-best-girlfriend, and Natalie-the-actress, and Natalie who-goes-out-like-crazy, and Natalie-the-scatter-brained, and Natalie-the-big-sister—and Natalie-the-Tiger! Because she’s got as many sides as a tiger has stripes, every one different from every other one—but all of them still Natalie. That’s why we call her “Tiger’!”

I don’t even know if she knows that’s the reason, but I do know she likes the name. She never budges without her first three tigers, and anywhere she goes, she buys more. At the moment, she has thirteen. Or rather, I should say, she had thirteen when I sat down to write this story a couple of hours ago. By this time she may have wandered past a toy store, and heaven only knows how many tigers she has now!


Natalie Wood can currently be seen in Warner Bros’ A Cry In The Night, The Burning Hills and will soon be seen in The Girl He Left Behind.



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