September 2 - 12, 1999

American Cinematheque presents...

An American Girl: The Sad-Eyed Splendor of NATALIE WOOD



Our special thanks to Heidi Kuebler and Leslie Fenady at Warner Bros. for their enormous cooperation with this series.

Series Compiled by Dennis Bartok.

Program Research by Patrick Salvant.

Additional Thanks To: Bill Rush and Leith Adams/WARNER BROS.; Sydney Pollack; Diana McKinney/PARAMOUNT PICTURES; Charles Hopkins/UCLA FILM & TELEVISION ARCHIVE; John Kirk/MGM-UA; Michael Schlesinger/COLUMBIA PICTURES REPERTORY; Linda Evans-Smith/WARNER BROS. CLASSICS.


Archive Index






"She worked like she was saving her life." -- Elia Kazan, on SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

"I don’t know if I wanted to be a star. I just wanted to be great." -- Natalie Wood

She was born in San Francisco, but raised in Hollywood -- discovered at age 5 by director Irving Pichel for HAPPY LAND, and relentlessly groomed by her stage mother Maria for child stardom. Natalie Wood became one of the few young stars to mature into an even greater talent as an adult -- her brilliant, unguarded performance in in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE not only made her famous, but changed her on-screen acting style: "When you’re a kid they really don’t want you to know what the hell you’re thinking, as long as you know your lines," recalled Wood. "It was wonderful to realize [on REBEL] that there was a whole other way to approach work."

Wood’s hard-earned work as an actress was long (and often cruelly) underrated by critics who mistook her natural, almost effortless beauty and yearning grace for inexperience. Her colleagues felt differently: WEST SIDE STORY choreographer/director Jerome Robbins marveled that "she has an enormously sensitive face -- everything reflects in it immediately," while former co-star Orson Welles said, "She was so good, she was terrifying."

Her death in 1981 robbed American cinema of one of its brightest and most individual talents.

This series is the first major retrospective of Natalie Wood’s career organized in the U.S.


Thursday, September 2 - 8:00 PM

SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, 1961, Warner Bros., 124 min. Wood gives her greatest performance as an anguished teenager in love with high-school beau Warren Beatty, in director Elia Kazan’s heartwrenching portrait of 1920’s America. Wood’s tormented cries of "I’m a good girl, mama" come from some haunted place few actresses ever reach -- her work here won Wood her second (of three) Oscar nominations as Best Actress. Natalie Wood's sister, Actress Lana Wood will appear in-person following the screening!


Friday, September 3 - 7:00 PM

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, 1955, Warner Bros., 111 min. Wood and co-stars James Dean and Sal Mineo became instant icons, in director Nicholas Ray’s awesome, mythic story of teen disobedience in 50’s America. "I had a big crush on James Dean ... I remember going with my schoolgirl friends to see EAST OF EDEN like 15 times!" -- Natalie Wood.


Friday, September 3 - 9:45 PM

Ultra-Rare 35 mm. Print!

LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER, 1963, Paramount, 100 min. Dir. Robert Mulligan. Tender black-and-white drama of working class Wood and musician boyfriend Steve McQueen coming to grips with her unexpected pregnancy -- and their own hesitant first steps towards love and understanding. Wonderfully written by Arnold Schulman and photographed by d.p. Milton Krasner -- both Oscar-nominated (along with Wood) for their work.


Saturday, September 4 - 3:00 PM

A CRY IN THE NIGHT, 1956, Warner Bros., 75 min. THIS GUN FOR HIRE director Frank Tuttle helmed this rarely-seen (and surprisingly shocking) little noir: Wood stars as a budding young teen, whose disagreements with policeman father Edmond O’Brien are interrupted when she’s kidnapped by sex-fiend Raymond Burr.

 Saturday, September 4 - 5:00 PM

THE GREAT RACE, 1965, Warner Bros., 150 min. Dir. Blake Edwards. Glorious Technicolor frolics, with villainous Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) trying to stop white-suited Tony Curtis and feisty reporter Wood from winning a Paris-to-New York car race in 1908. Charming, lighthearted score by Henry Mancini.


Saturday, September 4 - 8:30 PM

GYPSY, 1962, Warner Bros., 149 min. Dir. Mervyn Le Roy. Wood literally lights up the screen as stripper Gypsy Rose Lee in this splendid Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical. The showstopping Rosalind Russell stars as Wood’s domineering stage mother, with Karl Malden as Russell’s long-suffering boyfriend.




Sunday, September 5 - 4:00 PM

Special Double-Feature!!

ALL THE FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS, 1960, MGM (Warner Classics), 112 min. Dir. Michael Anderson. Small-town beauty Wood finds herself pregnant by preacher ’s son Robert Wagner -- so she runs off with cool, cruel rich-boy George Hamilton, while Wagner makes a name for himself as (you guessed it) a jazz trumpeter in New York! This over-the-top, thoroughly entertaining melodrama was the only feature film Wood and then-husband Robert Wagner made together -- the story was supposedly based on the life of jazz great Chet Baker. Co-starring Susan Kohner and Pearl Bailey.

Brand-New 35 mm. Print!!

KINGS GO FORTH, 1958, MGM/UA, 109 min. Rarely-screened drama of racial tensions in WWII Europe, with half-black, all-French Wood torn between American soldiers Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis. Expertly directed by Western-expert Delmer Daves (3:10 TO YUMA), in a rare change of pace.


Friday, September 10 - 8:00 PM

WEST SIDE STORY, 1961, MGM/UA, 151 min. Ultra-classic Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins musical, with Wood as the lovely Maria surrounded by swirling, switchblade-carrying gangs led by Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and more. A very capable singer, Wood insisted on doing her own numbers -- when she found out she was being overdubbed by THE KING & I’s Marni Nixon, she walked off set. George Chakiris & Russ Tamblyn will appear for discussion following the screening.


Saturday, September 11 - 6:00 PM

SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, 1964, Warner Bros., 114 min. Hilariously oversexed, Playboy magazine/Pop Art silliness: smiling sleazoid Tony Curtis is determined to get the dirt on successful author (and professional virgin) Natalie Wood -- so he poses as henpecked father Henry Fonda-! Cheerful, non-stop vulgarity in the best GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN meets Frank Tashlin style -- with music by the ultra-swinging Neil Hefti.


Saturday, September 11 - 9:00 PM

Author Gavin Lambert In-Person!!

INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, 1965, Warner Bros., 128 min. Dir. Robert Mulligan. Much-underrated, hugely-satisfying portrait of 1930’s Hollywood, with Wood starring as the almost-autobiographical "Daisy Clover," child star/sexpot negotiating the twisted lies and broken hearts of showbiz. Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford, Ruth Gordon and Roddy McDowall co-star, but it’s Wood’s radiant, rebellious, thoroughly winning performance that propels DAISY CLOVER. Discussion following with novelist/screenwriter Gavin Lambert.


Sunday, September 12 - 3:00 PM

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, 1947, 20th Century Fox/Criterion, 96 min. 9-year old Wood stars in her most famous role as a child: the unbelieving little girl who refuses to accept that department store Santa Edmund Gwenn is the real article. Co-starring Maureen O’Hara and John Payne.


Sunday, September 12 - 5:00 PM

Special Double-Feature!!

THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, 1966, Paramount, 110 min. Wood gives one of her finest performances as a hopelessly vulnerable Southern girl, seduced by stranger Robert Redford, in this brooding, Gothic drama directed by Sydney Pollack, based on a short story by Tennessee Williams. Beautiful, atmospheric camerawork by legendary d.p. James Wong Howe; look closely and you’ll see a young Francis Ford Coppola credited as co-screenwriter!

BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, 1969, Columbia, 104 min. "We came here for an orgy, didn’t we?" says repressed housewife Dyan Cannon -- just before she joins Wood and husbands Eliott Gould and Robert Culp in some classic late 60’s wife-swapping, hot-tubbing action. Groundbreaking, hilarious and still-pointed satire of Sexual Hang-Ups in America, courtesy of director Paul Mazursky.