In the eighties, landing free movie tickets made me think I’d near won the lotto.
I remember back in 1983 scoring a pair to the premiere of a film called BRAINSTORM. The trailer below makes it appear half way interesting. But I recall thinking at the time the minutes ticked by slowly. Very slowly. I also remember it was Natalie Wood‘s last movie.
Natalie Wood died, aged 43, on November 29, 1981 from what the coroner at the time ruled was accidental drowning. She had been on a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island (near L.A.) Important to note is the fact she never learned to swim.
Also on board the motoryacht, named SPLENDOUR (after her 1961 movie SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS) were three other people – her husband at the time Robert Wagner, her BRAINSTORM co-star Christopher Walken and the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern.
Mystery has always surrounded Natalie Wood’s death. In 2013 the Coroner changed the official cause of death from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
Last year, Natalie Wood‘s sister Lana – who stood in for Natalie to finish remaining scenes on BRAINSTORM after her death – published her account of the life and death of her famous sibling. Throughout the book the death of her sister is referred to as a murder.
Her account kicks off with a story of her mother, who she describes as having been big into all things mystical, one day visiting a gypsy fortune-teller in China. She was told that one day she would give birth to a little girl who would become a famous movie star.
The gypsy’s other prediction, which Lana Wood says she and Natalie were told of when they were children, was that the life of that same extraordinary little girl would ultimately end in a tragic drowning in dark water.
Lana Wood writes that Natalie always believed every word that came out of their mother’s mouth and spent the rest of her life terrified of dark water, admitting to it in a number of interviews. Even pools frightened her.
In LITTLE SISTER, Lana Woods points the finger of suspicion for Natalie’s death at her husband at the time Robert Wagner. Audiences from more recent decades would know Mr Wagner from his role as ‘Number 2’ in all three AUSTIN POWERS movies.
According to Lana Wood’s investigations, which include speaking extensively to Dennis Davern, the captain on board the boat on the night of the ‘accident’, a violent argument broke out between Natalie Wood and Richard Wagner in their cabin.
Richard Wagner smashed a wine bottle and flew into a jealous rage over Natalie’s ‘closeness’ with her film co-star, Christopher Walken (also on board that night). If you take a look at even a few moments of the clip below, you can see the two play characters in BRAINSTORM – the movie they were near the end of filming at the time – who are very much in love with each other.
In his own autobiography, PIECES OF MY HEART, Wagner admits to arguing with Natalie on board the SPLENDOUR before she ‘went missing’, only to be found six hours later floating facedown in the Pacific Ocean.
Here is an excerpt from a 2018 interview with the SPLENDOUR’S captain Dennis Davern in which he tells what he thinks happened to Natalie Wood on that November night forty-one years ago –
And in more detail –
Lana Wood says that Robert Wagner’s account of events that night simply ‘do not add up’. Wagner has always maintained that Natalie arose in the middle of the night to retie the dinghy that was banging at the side of the boat and in the process of doing that slipped and fell into the water.
Lana Wood writes in LITTLE SISTER that for anyone who knew Natalie that version of events is laughable. Lana proposes her sister would never in a million years think of venturing out of her cabin in what was a bitterly cold night in her socks and dressing gown (she was found deceased wearing both) to go anywhere near her life-long terror, dark water.
On top of that, Lana Wood says her sister was the archetypical movie-star in that respect and would not have attempted such a menial labour task that she had employed the boats’ captain to look after.
Mention is also made of the official autopsy which showed injuries consistent with an attack, including more than 20 bruises covering Natalie Woods body. These injuries prompted Los Angeles detective Ralph Hernandez, who was interviewed for the 2020 Apple Podcast series THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF NATALIE WOOD to remark that Natalie Wood looked like she had been the victim of an assault prior to her death.
‘We have a lot of evidence that tends to point to a very suspicious death” said Hernandez, “and would certainly indicate the possibility of foul play.’