The most beautiful woman in America

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Natalie Wood appeared in her first movie at age 6 and became a star at age 9 as a result of her portrayal of Susan Walker in “Miracle on 34th Street.” She really came into her own at 17 in the role of Judy, the female teenage counterpart to James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause.” A pure product of the intellectual currents of mid-50’s America, the movie still strikes a powerful chord after all these years. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the role of Judy.
Among the several film highights that followed were “Splendor in the Grass” (with Warren Beatty, directed by Elia Kazan) and “West Side Story” (Maria!), both in 1961. Although her last notable movie role was that of Carol in Paul Mazursky’s “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” in 1969, she had an unforgettable (to me, at any rate) return to form in the 1979 television miniseries of “From Here to Eternity.”
Until the time she died at age 43 in 1981, she was, in my view, simply the most beautiful woman in America. She led the standard-issue, shockingly turbulent Hollywood private life and seems now to have found the sympathetic biographer her life deserves. The biographer — Gavin Lambert — is the author of the Hollywood novel Inside Daisy Clover. Wood starred in the 1965 film version of the novel. Stephanie Zacharek’s review of Lambert’s biography of Wood runs in tomorrow’s Sunday New York Times Book Review: “‘Natalie Wood’: A star is born.” I should add that the brutal Amazon reviewers of Lambert’s book instead recommend Suzanne Finstad’s 2001 biography Natasha.

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