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5 Facts About Natalie Wood: Fears, Old Flames & Why Size Mattered

Natalie Wood would have turned 76 on July 20. Learn five facts about the Hollywood star whose legend still shines brightly even after her untimely death.

Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood, circa 1966. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

She wasn’t fond of her stage name.

Natalie Wood was born Natasha Nikolaevna Zacharenko on July 20, 1938 in San Francisco, California. The family adopted her mother’s surname, Gurdin. A studio executive named her after his friend Sam Wood, a film director. “I didn’t mind Natalie,” she later recalled, “but I hated ‘Wood.’ It didn’t suggest a nice image to me.”

Speaking of image…

Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood, circa 1965. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

At 5’3”, she was self-conscious about her diminutive height and preferred shoes with 6” stiletto heels. She also favored low-cut dresses, heavy make-up, and flashy jewelry. Once on her way to lobby for a role as a virginal small-town girl, a companion suggested she tone down her makeup and wear a less revealing outfit. “I’m Natalie Wood,” she said in response, “and this is how I look when I go out.” For a time, she was a fixture on “Hollywood’s Worst Dressed Women” list.

No Thank You Academy Speech But…

Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood in a scene from the film ‘This Property Is Condemned’, 1966. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Rebel Without a Cause and twice for Best Actress for Splendor in the Grass and Love with the Proper Stranger, Natalie Wood never won. She did however, win “Miss Stratosphere of 1957” for her work in Bombers B-52. Additionally, in 1966 she made a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts to accept her “Worst Actress” award in person, much to the surprise of the Harvard Lampoon.

TMZ Would Have Loved Natalie

Beatty's Babes: Natalie Wood enjoyed a forbidden romance onscreen with Beatty in the  1961 classic Splendor in the Grass. They also  carried on off-screen after Wood's first marriage to Robert Wagner  ended. The actress later denied that the romance was the cause of her  marital problems. Clearly their onscreen chemistry worked, since Wood  took home an Oscar for her performance.

Beatty’s Babes: Natalie Wood enjoyed a forbidden romance onscreen with Beatty in the 1961 classic “Splendor in the Grass.” Clearly their onscreen chemistry worked, since Wood took home an Oscar for her performance. But they also carried on off-screen after Wood’s first marriage to Robert Wagner ended. The actress later denied that the romance was the cause of her marital problems. 

As far as publicity goes, Wood received coverage for more than her acting roles. She had numerous affairs with celebrity hotties of the time including Dennis Hopper and hotel magnate Conrad Hilton’s son Nicky. She was once romantically linked to Elvis early in his career. The King was so taken with her he invited her to his Memphis home to meet his parents, but Wood cut the visit short. She met Robert Wagner when she was 17 and they married a year later. When they split, she hooked up with Warren Beatty. Their relationship ended in legendary style: while the couple was dining at a well-known Hollywood restaurant, Beatty left their table to make a phone call and never returned. The restaurant manager had to break the news to Wood that Beatty had talked the hat-check girl into quitting her job and leaving with him. She married British writer and producer Richard Gregson in 1969, but their marriage ended in 1972, the same year Wood re-married Wagner.

She Suffered from Aquaphobia

Wood had a fear of deep water and would not swim in the ocean. Director Elia Kazan had to trick her into doing the reservoir scene in Splendor in the Grass. In November 1981, she and her husband Wagner along with friend Christopher Walken took to the sea aboard the couple’s boat. Wood was found lifeless in the water in the wee hours of morning of November 29, 1981. The circumstances surrounding her death have become the topic of numerous books and television programs. As recently as 2012, the mystery was furthered fueled when the official cause of death was changed from accident drowning to “undetermined.”