It was a love match anchored within the historical past of previous Hollywood. A baby star turned teen idol, Natalie Wood had grown up on movie screens in entrance of thousands and thousands of Americans, and at age 18 had made the transition to severe grownup actress. Robert Wagner, a 26-year-old square-jawed aspiring contract participant at 20th Century Fox, had appears to be like, charisma and his sights on big-screen stardom.
Their romance and subsequent marriages stored followers enthralled over the course of twenty years. But it could be Wood’s 1981 death by drowning and its surrounding circumstances – an obvious late-night fall over the aspect of the household yacht on which she was vacationing with husband Wagner and actor Christopher Walken off the coast of California’s Catalina Island – that might eclipse any skilled or romantic legacy the couple might ever have envisaged.
The studio initially arrange Wood and Wagner to garner publicity
Wood, who had first appeared on display screen shortly earlier than her fifth birthday in Happy Land (1943), first encountered Wagner a number of years after her debut. “I was 10 and he was 18 when I first saw him walking down the hall at 20 Century Fox,” Wood recalled to People in 1976. “I turned to my mother and said, ‘I’m going to marry him.’”
By the time of that first fateful assembly, the daughter of poor Russian immigrants was a identified and revered actress. Wood’s rise to fame had been fostered by her mom, as soon as an aspiring performer herself, and she or he was signed to a 20th Century Fox contract earlier than age 10. Her first car at Fox could be within the function of Susan in what would grow to be the enduring Christmas basic Miracle on 34 Street (1947).
Wagner, identified to family and friends as R.J., had dreamed from a younger age of life as a working actor and had grow to be a good-looking fixture round Hollywood by the mid-1950s. Though he would seem in additional than 40 movies, big-screen stardom would elude him because the studio system was dismantled and the leisure business started embracing the burgeoning tv market.
The studio system performed a hand of their first date, an organized assembly in 1956 set as much as garner publicity for the admired actress (she had appeared the earlier 12 months alongside James Dean within the hit Rebel Without a Cause) and the on-the-cusp supporting participant. The attraction was actual they usually had been married a 12 months later after Wagner proposed by putting a pearl-and-diamond ring in Wood’s champagne glass.
The couple spent a lot of their honeymoon on a yacht, navigating the Florida Keys. Being on the water was a ardour they each shared, although Wood typically spoke of her worry of “deep water.”
The pair divorced after 4 years of marriage, doubtlessly as a consequence of infidelity
Wildly in love, the newlyweds started their life collectively underneath the fixed glare of publicity, one thing Wood had been coping with since her years as a baby star. “We drove a Corvette across the country,” Wood recalled of the time. “Radio stations would announce we had just passed through, and people would wait for us in every little town.”
The media scrutiny continued as Wood’s star rose to even better heights within the following years as a consequence of starring roles in Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Splendor within the Grass (1960), because the doomed Maria in West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962). But off-screen, her marriage to Wagner was on shaky floor. “We knew each other better than we knew ourselves,” she recalled. “I always knew he was okay. It was myself I didn’t know about.”
The couple separated in 1961 and divorced the next 12 months with Wood remaining silent on rumors the wedding had ended instantly as a result of she had had an affair along with her Splendor within the Grass costar Warren Beatty. Another story relating to the explanation behind the breakup entails Wood discovering Wagner in flagrante with one other man, in line with Wood’s youthful sister Lana and different sources, as reported by Vanity Fair.
Wagner and Wood remarried different individuals after which one another
Following the cut up, Wood plunged into remedy, typically attending periods 5 instances per week. Both events started courting once more and would go on to marry different individuals, however they “never stopped loving each other,” in line with Wood.
Wagner remarried in 1963 to actress Marion Marshall, with whom he had a daughter, Katie, born in 1964. The couple divorced in 1971. In 1969 Wood married movie producer Richard Gregson. They too had a daughter, Natasha, born in 1970, however separated a 12 months later after Wood overheard an inappropriate dialog between Gregson and his secretary, in line with Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood by Suzanne Finstad. Wood maintained the cut up was amicable.
Wood remarried Wagner in 1972, inside three months of her second divorce. “Friends told me to put on the breaks,” Wood recalled of her determination to reunite along with her ex-husband after she accepted an invite to his home in Palm Springs. “We were both in shock,” Wood mentioned to People. “We talked about what had happened to our marriages. He had become a man instead of a boy.” Wood believed that the time aside in the course of the intervening years was important to their reconnection. They selected the 1972 Academy Awards ceremony as their first public outing as a newly reformed couple.
In distinction to the primary time they mentioned, “I do,” Wagner’s profession was the one ascending however on the small display screen. Premiering in 1968, ABC’s It Takes a Thief was successful and Wagner was commanding about $10,000 per episode. The function of a debonair ex-con would pave the best way to his greatest success, Hart to Hart, which aired from 1979 to 1984 on ABC.
Wood had settled into semi-retirement by the point she remarried Wagner. “Work doesn’t play the same role in my life it used to,” she mentioned of her determination to deal with her marriage and kids. Wagner and Wood’s solely baby collectively, Courtney, was born in 1974. Along with their two earlier youngsters from earlier marriages, they shaped a Hollywood household unit admired by followers new and previous.
Wood mysteriously died whereas on a ship journey in 1981
Their completely happy reunion would final solely 9 years. Wagner, Wood and her then-costar Walken took a visit on the couple’s boat, Splendour, to Catalina Island throughout Thanksgiving weekend 1981. After a day of ingesting, tempers reportedly flared within the night with Wagner breaking a bottle, supposedly over Wood’s obvious closeness to Walken. The couple allegedly argued earlier than Wood returned to her cabin.
Later that night time, Wagner couldn’t find his spouse on the Splendour. Wood’s physique was not found till the next morning, November 29, floating within the water off Catalina close to a dinghy belonging to their boat. Ruled an unintended drowning, experts theorized Wood fell into the water whereas making an attempt to safe the dinghy.
“I lived a charmed life, and then I lost a beautiful woman I loved with all my heart,” Wagner mentioned of her loss of life. “I don’t know what happened,” Walken mentioned of the incident to People in 1986. “She slipped and fell in the water. I was in bed then. It was a terrible thing.”
“R.J. was the love of her life,” Mia Farrow recalls in Natasha Gregson-Wagner’s 2020 documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind. “It was like two parts of the same whole.” Yet the story of Wagner and Wood’s lengthy relationship would take a backseat to ongoing lurid headlines regarding Wood’s drowning.
Wagner is taken into account a ‘particular person of curiosity’ in Wood’s loss of life
Wood’s sister, Lana, and Dennis Davern, the captain of the Splendour in 1981, have spoken publicly in regards to the incident, alleging Wagner performed a better function in Wood’s loss of life than was initially revealed. In 2011 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the investigation into Wood’s loss of life as a consequence of new info changing into out there. The reason behind loss of life was modified from “accident” to “undetermined” in 2012.
Wagner finally discovered love once more with actress Jill St. John, whom he married in 1990. But Wood’s loss of life continues to make information nearly 4 a long time after her stunning drowning: In 2018, L.A. County investigators named Wagner as a “person of interest” they had been in search of to talk with in connection of the continued investigation.
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