Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind

Actor and filmmaker Natasha Gregson Wagner wants to correct an imbalance.

Ever since her mother Natalie Wood tragically died aged just 43 in 1981, controversy has surrounded her death.

“The day my mom died my entire world was shattered and our world has never been the same,” she explains.

“So much focus has overshadowed her life’s work.”

In the HBO documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind she honours her mother’s legacy: the films, the barriers she broke through and the family devotion she displayed.

Natasha was just 11 years old when her mother’s body was found in the water during a weekend boat trip to Catalina Island. Her birth father is UK agent Richard Gregson, but actor Robert Wagner raised the children as his own.

Her mother was just 4 when she was cast as a child actor in 1941 although her first credited role is 1946’s Tomorrow Is Forever. For the rest of her life she would feature in screen roles, growing up before the American public in films including Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause, All the Fine Young Cannibals, Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, Gypsy, The Great Race, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and her final film Brainstorm.

Wood became the family breadwinner, under pressure from her determined mother to perform. She fought to be paid the same as costars Tony Curtis & Jack Lemmon, and won the right to choose her own films after a fight with Jack Warner, who was so incensed he banned her from working for 18 months. She insisted on casting a young Broadway actor Robert Redford in Inside Daisy Clover. She would later take on TV roles in The Cracker Factory as an alcoholic housewife when it was unadvised for movie stars to perform on the small screen.

The doco includes a cavalcade of home movies and TV interviews with the likes of Dinah Shore and David Frost. There are new interviews with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Dyan Cannon, Elliott Gould, George Segal, Jill St John and close friends such as playwright Matt Crowley.

Both Richard Gregson and Robert Wagner are interviewed about their memories of life with Wood.

But there is no avoiding that night in 1981 and it was doubtless a key factor for HBO to present this doco.

On this front Natasha Gregson Wagner doesn’t represent an independent view. This is evident in reference to her views on outspoken aunt Lana Wood: “She’s literally accused my dad of killing my mom and that’s the farthest thing from the truth.” Neither of the other 2 passengers, Christopher Walken nor the boat’s captain (who has since written a book), are interviewed.

Robert Wagner, who has been named a ‘person of interest’ in the famed case, says “there’s always conjecture” about that fateful night.

But to focus on the positive, this valentine to Natalie Wood celebrates her beauty, her work ethic and her glorious screen career, and turning the spotlight onto this is long overdue.

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind 8:30pm Wednesday on FOX Showcase.

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