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A place to update and discuss facts surrounding the controversial, tragic death of legendary Hollywood film actress, wife and mother, Natalie Wood who drowned mysteriously Nov. 29, 1981 off Catalina Island. Thank you for visiting.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Scott Eyman's 2004 Review of Gavin Lambert's Natalie Wood Biography

Following is Scott Eyman's 2004 review of Lambert's book, "Natalie: A Life." Eyman also wrote "Lion of Hollywood: The Life of Louis B. Mayer" published in 2005, Simon and Schuster. Eyman is who Robert Wagner chose to write his book, "Pieces of My Heart."

I feel Eyman really missed the mark on the essence of Natalie Wood in this book review of his. Of course, the review is based on a book about Natalie (Lambert's) that, in my opinion, REALLY missed the mark. 

Link to review:
Equipped for Stardom, Alas- Natalie Wood's Unhappy Career | The New York Observer

Review of: "Natalie Wood: A Life" by Gavin Lambert. Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

By Scott Eyman, January 25, 2004

A lot of writers will tell you that the last star created by the studio system was Elizabeth Taylor, but a lot of writers are wrong. Years after Elizabeth Taylor, there was Natalie Wood.

MGM gave Elizabeth Taylor Lassie Come Home , National Velvet and Father of the Bride , and had the good sense to loan her to George Stevens for A Place in the Sun . Four films of that quality before you're 20 years old will go a long way toward creating a legend.

But by the time Natalie Wood landed at Warner Bros., after a middling career as a sober little changeling of a child actress, Jack Warner was more interested in shafting his brother Harry out of the studio than he was in nurturing a young actress. He gave her a good part in a very good film ( Rebel Without a Cause ), followed by a bad part in a great film ( The Searchers ), and then she had to make do with hopeless cases like Marjorie Morningstar , The Burning Hills and Bombers B-52 . That segued into a brief musical-blockbuster phase ( West Side Story , Gypsy ), followed by irredeemable disasters like Penelope and Sex and the Single Girl .

Natalie Wood survived a lot of bad movies and retained her appeal-no small achievement. But ever since her drowning death off Catalina Island in 1981, she's been slowly easing into that limbo populated by stars who don't transcend their period.

Which is probably why the estimable Gavin Lambert has written an authorized biography of a woman who managed to become a major star without ever earning the bona fides of a major actress.

She would have been a star in any era, especially the silents-her best features were her luminous eyes and luscious figure. Those glowing eyes were always knowing and bright, but her line readings were often flat and gauche. One very wise friend of mine passed up the chance to meet her at a party because he knew that he would go weak in the knees if he tried to form a coherent sentence in her presence-the same sort of reaction people of an earlier generation had to Lana Turner, a personality pull that supersedes considerations of talent. On a certain level of stardom, with someone who can make people happy just by showing up-Julia Roberts, anyone?-who cares if they can act?

On the evidence of Mr. Lambert's book, Natalie Wood had a life that might gently be termed "uneasy." Born Natasha Gurdin, the fruit of an extramarital affair, she was pushed into show business by her mother, a real-life Mama Rose. Natasha was very Russian, very emotional: She lost her virginity to the bisexual, addictive personality who went by the name of Nicholas Ray and served as another notch on Warren Beatty's bedpost, which seems to have induced a mysterious suicide attempt.

Wood had rotten luck, some of it self-induced. While she was filming the hideous Penelope , Mr. Beatty offered her the role of Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde , but she turned it down because she didn't want to be separated from her psychiatrist by a long location shoot. She turned down William Wyler's The Collector in order to do Gavin Lambert's own adaptation of his novel, Inside Daisy Clover . Both films were downbeat hothouse flowers, but Wyler wasn't about to be manhandled by the studio, while Inside Daisy Clover was bound to be. For too much of her limited time, Wood was stuck churning out gilded turds like The Great Race .

She knew it, and so put a lot of emotional energy into her relationships. She was a spectacular friend, warm and supportive to her circle, which included Guy McElwaine, Mart Crowley, Howard Jeffrey, Asa Maynor and the late Norma Crane. What Natalie wanted in a friend was humor, intelligence and emotional directness; to qualify, one had to pass what Norma Crane called "the kindness test."

It's all very odd: In life, she was sharp and funny ("What killed your father?" she was asked. "My mother, I think," she replied), but you couldn't say she was a natural screen comedienne. It's almost as if acting was some sort of violation of her essential nature, even as it fed her need for drama, for notice.

Physically, Wood was the quintessential star-emotionally, too. She was nervous and prone to short-term liaisons with inappropriate men: Dennis Hopper, Henry Jaglom, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra and, most ridiculous of them all, Ladislow Blatnik, known as "The Shoe King of Venezuela." Then there was Jerry Brown, at the time California's secretary of state, whose equipment Wood described as being "like a wand."

She had a perceptible lack of foundation. Tom Mankiewicz (the wisest of Wood's friends) says that "studio life from an early age had cut Natalie off from so much, and she was eager to make up for it, but I often had the impression that she never knew exactly how to live her life."

Unhappy about her career, Wood took time off to focus on her family. She didn't make a picture for four years. Then the itch hit her and she wanted to go back to work, but suddenly the parts weren't there. "After being put on a pedestal when she was young," said Sydney Pollack, "she became a victim of changing times, when the new stars were 'people like ourselves' rather than iconic." After Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice , she came back to … Peeper , The Last Married Couple in America and Meteor -movies to make you pine for Marjorie Morningstar .

The last time Mr. Lambert saw her, she asked him if she looked her age. She was thinking of Barbara Stanwyck, who had seemed bitter and lonely when Wood had dinner at her house. "To stay on an even keel," Mr. Mankiewicz said, "Natalie needed all her cards, and she was very afraid of losing her beauty card."

Reduced to nothing parts in theatrical movies and ostensibly meaty parts in déclassé TV movies, Wood began planning a comeback on stage as Anastasia.

When Christopher Walken sparked to her on the set of Brainstorm -yet another lousy movie-it seemed like a chance for creative rebirth. He was from New York, handsome, serious about acting, "edgy." He was also younger. The woman who told friends that she had never cheated on Robert Wagner was smitten; Mr. Lambert believes there was an affair. Certainly, she was drinking during working hours and behaving in a less-than-professional manner.

The psychodrama continued on board Wagner and Wood's yacht. Everybody was drinking; Mr. Wagner isn't entirely clear about exactly when Wood left the cabin, or what a woman who had always been terrified of the water was doing trying to get into a dinghy. The last notation in Wood's daybook reads: "This loneliness won't leave me alone." Song lyric or ruthless self-appraisal?

Wood's vivid personality and turbulent life compel a certain amount of attention, but the career is punctuated by dreary failure. She helps render West Side Story unwatchable on those too-frequent occasions when Jerome Robbins' dancers aren't snapping their fingers. And if you're looking for proof that Jack Warner was way over the hill, there's the otherwise inexplicable fact that he didn't shut down Gypsy after the first week of shooting, recast every part and fire Mervyn LeRoy.

Thanks to the ridiculously furtive Robert Redford-it's as if he were embarrassed to be seen acting-Wood is the best thing in Inside Daisy Clover . And yes, she's very moving in Splendor in the Grass , but Elia Kazan could have drawn good work out of Lash La Rue. (Mr. Lambert reveals that Kazan's first choice for Deanie was the doomed Diane Varsi-not sexy enough; his second choice was Jane Fonda-too sexy.)

For me, the best performance Wood gave was Love with the Proper Stranger , directed by the underrated Robert Mulligan. It's a part-nice Italian girl gets knocked up-that requires being, not acting. Freed up from the big emotional arias that tended to reveal her structural flaws as an actress, Wood's natural likeability and charm came through.

Gavin Lambert's most valuable quality as a biographer-aside from an unforced but erudite style-is empathy. He was Wood's friend as well as a co-worker, but he doesn't engage in special pleading. He has a lovely dry wit (I especially like the way he continually calls Jack Warner "Producer"-which is how the studio was referred to in contractual boilerplate).

Mr. Lambert's book leaves a residue of sadness-not just for the way Natalie Wood died, but for the frustrated, apparently unfulfilled way she lived. In art as in life, choices matter and timing is everything.



  1. Obviously, Scott didn't appreciate Natalie as an actress. He also thinks the amazing Oscar winning Julia Roberts is a fluke too. I wonder what he thinks of Robert Wagner's acting?

  2. This is a dirty little review isn't it? Talking about Natalie's beauty as if it was her only redeeming quality, making her seem dazed and confused like Lambert did, a giggly little schoolgirl in the then hardly known Walken's presence? I can see why Wagner chose Eyeman. He fit the bill perfectly as an accomplice to help Wagner protect his image and keep it polished. This review is obviously about someone Eyman read about, not of someone he knew or studied. Natalie was legendary the day Miracle on 34th hit the theaters. That's why we all knew her since we were children, and why so many young people today are still stunned by her screen presence. Yes, Natalie had a few box office disappointments, but she also left us with films people will see and repeat for all of time. That's what true legends are made of.

  3. and if there ever was an actor who got by on his looks, it was Wagner. If he was not impressed with Natalie's career and her abilities as an actress, I wonder how he might access Wagner's career and his abilities an an actor. LMAO! He was a Hollywood charm boy who married a legend who had a career he would have sold his first born for.

  4. Lambert's book may have appealed to Eyman but most of Natalie's fans hated it. It was a huge disappointment, so obviously written for Wagner, to dust him off after Finstad's Natasha. Wagner has said that he authorized Lambert to right a bio about Natalie. Add that to list of lies old RJ has told over the years. The truth is Wagner ASKED Lambert to write the book at about the same time that Finstad was writing her book. Wagner did not deal with Finstad because he knew he could not control her, so he asked Lambert to write a Natalie bio and gave permission to all of their friends to cooperate. Finstad was given the cold shoulder by the same people who cooperated with Lambert. And then Wagner wrote his book and in it he contradicted much of what he told Lambert. Anyone see a pattern here? Lies, lies and more lies from this "gentleman".

  5. This review is very revealing. I find it amazing that Eyman gives no credit to Natalie for her acting ability. He says that Kazan could have gotten a good performance out of any actress, in "Splendour", and he says that Natalie's best role was "Proper Stranger"--even though it only required "being not acting." This is a review from a Hollywood historian?
    Funny how he forgot to mention that the Academy thought much more of Natalie's talent--they nominated her three times in 10 years. So much for the scholarly historian.
    He even takes away credit from Natalie for "This Property is Condemned." He infers that Redford would make anyone look good. This review is loaded with someone's agenda.
    Natalie makes "West Side Story" unwatchable? The character, Maria, is supposed to be an innocent, virginal young woman who is experiencing her first love. The character is completely opposite of Anita and the other girls--Natalie played her perfectly. Also, Natalie has given the best "Gypsy" performance of any actress that has played that role on stage or on screen. That is not just my opinion.
    As for Natalie turning down "Bonnie and Clyde," the list of actors that have turned down roles that went on to become iconic movies is endless. That is just the business--nothing more.
    I'm not saying Natalie was the greatest actress that ever lived, but she had a definite talent and to say otherwise sounds foolhardy. Natalie brought a depth to the character of Deanie in "Splendour" that was all her own. No other actress could have rendered such a poignant performance.
    If I didn't know the truth about Wagner's involvment in the death of Natalie Wood I would find it very disturbing that he would pick this author to write his autobiography. However, now that I understand exactly how Ms Wood's life ended, it makes perfect sense that Wagner would chose this man to write his story. If this isn't more proof of what a low-life Robert Wagner is, than I don't know what would be.
    Maybe Scott Eyman--by writing this review--was auditioning for Wagner?

  6. LOL! At first I started to get mad while reading this,but then it turned into a "chit smile" because you can see not only lie's but the truth, it has "small potatoes" written all over it. And I may be wrong but all the bashing he does about Natalie's work and her life, these people involved are gone and only the one's still alive are prised. And what is this about: The last notation in Wood's daybook reads: "This loneliness won't leave me alone" IF this is something that is true (and I would daunt it)I would think she was talking about Wagner and his behavior that weekend.
    I found her statement about her father and Mother funny, and humorous on her part, in lite she telling the guy " It's non of your business".

    What it all come's down to he was kissing Wagner's behind and he must be the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who didn't like Natalie or her movies. As far as Natalie Wood's acting it speaks for itself with all that she won or didn't win for that matter, She is the "STAR".
    Thanks all. Pam

    Marti, I keep forgetting to say Thanks for writing on my facebook page on the petition.
    I have started writing each of my friends in messages with the link, I started with the L's and each day I will do another, so this way they are getting it in their message box and just not being posted to my page.

  7. I grew up on musicals and Gypsy was always one of my favorites. Even Gypsy Rose Lee was brought to tears when she saw Natalie's performance. It was very heartfelt and vulnerable. Although she seems an odd choice for West Side Story, she totally pulls it off. She brings much sweetness and innocence to the role. In Miracle on 34th street she is amazingly natural. You see none of that "Shirley Temple" child acting that was prevalent in most movies. It's easy to take statements people have made and put your own twist on them. Especially when they're not here to put it in context. She was definitely a complex woman, but I think many of the ugly twists that have been put on her words were compliments of the waspish coterie of men that Wagner seemed to have around him. Whenever you see Natalie, I think her spirit and light shine through and no amount of ugly words or pseudo-psychology will ever dim that light for those who see her on the screen.

  8. Anonymous 2:55-
    beautifully put and so true.

  9. All of your comments here are my sentiments exactly. I was young, but I loved Natalie in Gypsy and in Inside Daisy Clover. She was the highlight of West Side Story for me, and I can't see any other actress who could've pulled it off like Natalie did. I loved her in "The Last Married COuple in America" and thought her comedic timing impeccable. She could be cute, sexy, gorgeous, beautiful, serious, fluffy...anything asked of her. She was not a star just because she "showed up"

    Kevin, you wrote a near identical review of this review as I did in 2007 when finishing up GNGS. I had those same thoughts written IN the book, but an editor pulled it because there wasn't room to go into detail about agendas behind reviews of other books. I thought it was an important point to make, because I simply thought it the strangest thing in the world that this would be the type of writer Wagner would've chosen. Some readers don't go deep enough into a subject to "see" all these things, but these things EXIST and they all mean something. This is my personal opinion, but I think Wagner always wanted what Natalie had established by such a tender age and he always harbored jealousy over her career and talent. Rage was involved with Natalie's death, and I'm not sure what hour into the four hour wait while she was floating at sea that the rage started to subside, but apparently, when Roger Smith arrived on the scene and heard Wagner say he didn't call for help because his wife was probably off screwing around, I can imagine that the rage never really left, even through "Pieces of My Heart" -- the bottom line is that this is a dark, dark story, darker than many will ever realize.

  10. Yes, this is a much darker story than most people realize. I don't think Natalie knew exactly who she was married to. She wouldn't be the first spouse that has happened to and she won't be the last.
    There was no accident the night of Nov 29th, 1981...Natalie didn't fall in the water by chance. Wagner was enraged and he put Natalie in the water. It was the one thing she feared most in the world--being in dark ocean water--and he wanted her to experience that fear. He wanted her to suffer and he wanted her to die. There is just no other explanation.
    I believe Wagner felt relieved after he did this to Natalie. His rage was quelled.
    As disturbing as this sounds, I feel his opening of the bottle of scotch was an act of celebration.

  11. Creepy image, Kevin, but I can't say you're wrong. He was definitely jealous of Natalie and her achievements, I have said that many times before. He has alluded to it in interviews. It is his unspoken belief that Natalie deserved what happened to her that allows him to speak so disrespectfully of her through his own words and those of his cohorts. Like all psychopaths he believes himself to be the victim.

  12. "Like all psychopaths he believes himself to be the victim." That is so true and his book reeks of it. "Poor me" in relation to anything involving Natalie.

    He was jealous of the fact that Natalie was successful in films. She was a movie star. He was an ex-teen idol who could not make the transition into a leading man so he turned to TV. Anyone who believes that Wagner wanted to do TV work as opposed to being a film leading man is delusional. Natalie made the transition from child to ingenue to adult actress and did so rather smoothly. Wagner resented her success, he resented her career. He wanted her to stay home with the kids not because of his concern for his kids but because of his jealousy and resentment of her career, He tried to instill guilt in Natalie for wanting to go back to work. I recall an interview with Brainstorm designer DonFled in which he told of how unhappy she was on the Brainstorm set because she was away from her kids, how she missed them, how much she loved them. This was many years before DonFeld talked to Lambert for his book. Donfeld did not mention any of that to Lambert but I guess it did not fit into Lambert and Wagner's obvious agenda.

  13. Even 29 years after her death, he owes his current job to his association with her. The only reason they were offered the Charlie's Angels deal is because the budget for "The Affair" could not afford Natalie's salary. To compensate for not being able to pay her what she was accustomed to, Spelling and Goldberg offered her a percentage deal of another project which turned out to be "Charlie's Angels". If they had not remarried, he would not be associated with "Charlie's Angels in any way. Any money he has made from that association is due to Natalie.
    His fans like to think it was a big business deal that RJ finagled, that it was his brilliant business mind that came up with that deal but that's not the case, not even close. The Charlie's Angels deal was due to Natalie's earning capacity, her success.

  14. Kevin, that never struck me about why Wagner opened the bottle of scotch. I always assumed it was to get Dennis even more drunk. He needed Dennis stupified by alcohol, but Dennis was quickly sobered up when that bottle of wine was smashed in the main salon...everyone was startled. Dennis had drank at dinner but that was wearing off by the time Natalie was off the boat and Wagner noticed it. I shudder to think about WHY Wagner wanted Dennis so drunk...and the thought went through Dennis's mind, too. Was it so Dennis wouldn't remember specific details, or was it worse?

  15. Marti, I think the stress that Wagner was feeling disappeared once he felt he took care of Natalie; like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. I think that is what he might have been experiencing. That is how he was able to sit there for hours drinking--it was cocktail hour for him. He could have been keeping Dennis quiet at the same time.
    There was something between Natalie and Wagner that we probably will never understand. I think whatever it was it was there since their first marriage.
    Wagner pursued Natalie after their divorce. I don't think Natalie would have gotten back together with him if he didn't make the first move. I think Natalie was coming to the end of her rope with Wagner's behavior. I don't think she could handle it anymore. I guess that was a volatile mixtue of emotions and Natalie ended up losing her life.

  16. I was astonished at how Lambert used Wagner's trying to jump from a hotel window or balcony, whatever it was, as an example of how the two could have crazy nights and then go on happily the next morning, as if comparing the hotel episode is proof that the crazy night aboard Splendour contains no further implications. Then Wagner's gun story is another lame atttempt to prove whatever...

    Dennis saw the two as a happy couple, thus was more shocked than anyone when this crazy night aboard Splendour came to pass. He really had to process all of it... but in retrospect, he does see that Wagner was rather overbearing when it came to Natalie...the Polo Lounge episode when he punched a guy for looking at her (come on!), comments made, etc. Dennis also noticed that Natalie was not AT ALL a clingy wife. She went about her own life in spite of Wagner's obsessive behavior.

  17. I never imagined Natalie to be the "clingy" type...she was too independent (and too intelligent) a woman to be that way.
    I always thought that Wagner was a very "needy" man emotionally.
    I think that might be one of the reasons Natalie went back to Wagner. He appealed to that part of her that wanted to take care of someone--like the stray animals she was always caring for as a child.
    By the time Nov 29th rolled around, I think Natalie felt she was being suffocated by Wagner. It was out of character for her to be so public with her marital problems.

  18. More likely she had an idealized version of Wagner from when she was a little girl. I'm sure she expected the perfect Hollywood ending. He gave it to her for awhile with his phony Prince Charming routine. Trouble is, it's hard to suppress who you really are 24 hours a day for years. I think as he got older and drank more, Natalie probably got more glimpses into the Mr. Hyde part of his personality. As she got older, I'm sure she got wiser and realized all was not well in her personal fairy tale. Their marriage was definitely on a collision course. Would Natalie have stayed? Thanks to "Prince Charming" will never know.

  19. The first marriage I think she definitely had that "fairy tale" in mind. I don't know if that was the way she was feeling by the second marriage to Wagner? By 1972, she was 34 and had a child.

  20. True, but hope springs eternal and she had been consistently let down by love and her choices in men. Perhaps sentimentality plus her vulnerability at the point of her 2nd husband cheating reignited the fantasy about her and Wagner. Even a 34 year-old woman can revert to an idealistic 18 year-old given the right catalysts. Who knows? I'm just spitballing here but I am looking for a reason for someone of Natalie's intellect to willingly go backwards.

  21. The biggest let down was Wagner. I'm sure he charmed her into believing that he had changed, that he was no longer the same man. She obviously loved him very much. She helped him out financially when they got back together. He was in deep financial trouble, IRS, back child support, alimony payments, he was not working, she paid his legal bills. She made it all better for him. If they had not gotten back, who knows what would have happened to him. He may not have been able to get back on his feet. Years later he allowed her to die the death she feared her entire life. I would say he let her down, bigtime.

  22. Anon. 9:55AM What you wrote is all true. Natalie did so much to help Wagner, and in all fairness Wagner gave something to Natalie that gave her happiness during those first years back together.
    But Wagner was not a man who liked going it alone, and he had enjoyed some very fine years thanks to Natalie.
    While they were fighting on the back of the Splendour, I think Natalie may have, in the heat of the argument, let it be known that she wanted a divorce. That might have been the thing that made Wagner lose it--and Natalie lose her life.

  23. Marti, Did you notice that Eyman wrote this as if it were true: " Born Natasha Gurdin, the fruit of an extramarital affair."

    Did Lana Wood ever comment on the story about Natalie's paternity?

  24. Kevin, Yes, I noticed. It is rubbish and I've talked directly with Lana about it. It would be easy for the woman claiming to be Natalie's half-sister to take a simple DNA test.... but she hasn't because that would most likely take away her pleasure in claiming to be Natalie's half-sister. Lambert's book ended with Natalie having a "new father" -- as if it would matter even if she did, but she doesn't. Lana and Natalie have the SAME father. More bull that Wagner let be thrown out there to deflect what the real issue at hand is and always will be... why didn't he do anything to try to save his drowning wife? The answer to THAT is the answer to HOW she got into the water.

    Okay, I'm perturbed today with some blog action going on here (certainly NOT with you Kevin) but today this blog cleans up. Thank you for asking a factual, important question, Kevin, as you always do, because that's all I'm going to tolerate at the blog anymore. Thank all of you on stay on task.

  25. I'm pretty sure that I read this in the comments on Gavin Lambert's book. It was Lana's daughter Evan calling out this "half sister". The woman had once again made a comment about being Natalie's half-sister and Evan really let her have it.

  26. The fact that Wagner chose Eyman to co-write his autobio just shows how little respect for Natalie that he has. I despised Lambert's book because it was an obvious attempt to glorify Wagner, to refute "Natasha", insult Lana and worst of all, disrespect Natalie's memory. Now that Lambert is dead, RJ can say what he wants about him and "Natalie Wood: A Life" - I wonder if Lambert knew that he himself was being manipulated? I saw Evan's comment as well on Amazon toward Natasha Lofft's pathetic claims of being Natalie's half-sister. And I applaud Evan calling that woman out.

  27. I just wanted to add, every film of Natalie's I've seen her performance has touched me. How else would I have become a fan of her when she was before my time? She really seemed to give her all to every project and she was more than a competent actress. She was nominated for three Oscars, and won other awards. Where's Wagner's list of Oscar noms and awards? Exactly. His "acting" pales in comparison to Natalie. "A Kiss Before Dying" was his best onscreen work, and that's probably because it wasn't acting. I think that film showed his true dark side.

  28. Scott Eyman's claim to fame is ghost writing and collaborating. By that, I mean he latches on to a has been such as Wagner who is about to set his bull crap life to paper but does not know how to do it. Eyman plays secretary and putsit in order . Eyman is a miserable self loathing, frustrated bastard. Exactly the type of putz Wagner would want to gloify his putrid memoir.
    Typical Wagner move don't you all think?

  29. Eyman and Wagner must have gooten along wonderfully. Two crude, drunken bastards making every attempt to discredit a great star because both of them are worthless pieces of crap who aren't fit to clean the great Natalie's toilets.
    I only hope they both rot in hell together.