In spite of such novel guesses as Errol Flynn, John Travolta and Tony Curtis, our latest Mystery Guest was, indeed, decidedly female: Miss Natalie Wood! The wig in question was worn by Natalie in the all-star potboiler, All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960). Besides Nat, the jaw-dropping cast also included her then-hubby, Robert Wagner; Susan Kohner, fresh off of her brilliant performance as the tragic mulatto passing for "white, white, WHITE!!!!" in Imitation of Life (1959); rising young smoothie George Hamilton; and Pearl Bailey (!).
This foray into the "love hungry world of the sophisticated young moderns" was another tentative step towards full-fledged adult stardom for Natalie, who had grown up in front of the camera. As a child star, she appeared in such classics as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Miracle on 34th Street (both 1947); as a budding teen starlet, she scored with Rebel without a Cause (1955) and The Searchers (1956). But as a bona fide leading lady, Wood had yet to make an impression; her first attempt, Marjorie Morningstar (1958), was considered something of a misfire, and a lesser credit for her established co-star, Gene Kelly.
In spite of its glamorous cast, plush trappings, and melodramatic plot, Cannibals fared even worse with the critics, and it seemed that adult stardom was going to elude Natalie's grasp. However, within a year, she surprised everyone with the hat trick of West Side Story and Splendor in the Grass (both 1961) and Gypsy (1962). Suddenly, Natalie was not only a star, but a superstar -- a box office draw and an Oscar-nominated actress. Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) continued her critical and commercial streak, culminating in another Oscar nod; but then it became all too easy to knock on Wood again as Natalie found herself alternating between glossy, inconsquential sex comedies like Sex and the Single Girl (1964) and Penelope (1966); and glossy, improbable melodramas like Inside Daisy Clover (1965) and This Property is Condemned (1966).
Apart from the all-star Blake Edwards comedy, The Great Race (1965), all of Natalie's 1964-66 output was met with lukewarm critical response, and some outright reviling. She was off the screen for nearly three years, battling emotional issues (and turning down Bonnie and Clyde in the process) before making a comeback in the now-dated, but then-sensational Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). Although the film was one of the Top 10 box office hits of the year, Natalie decided to concentrate on raising her family rather than take advantage of her newly-restored popularity. She did periodically make celebrated television appearances, most notably in the telefilms Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976) and The Cracker Factory (1979), and the mini-series From Here to Eternity (1978). Her movie ventures were less carefully considered; Meteor (1979) was a disaster film in every sense of the word, and The Last Married Couple in America (1980) was middling entertainment, at best. Still, the lingering stardust of Natalie's storied history as one of the last links to the Golden Age of Hollywood was enough to give her legendary status -- at least according to Blackglama, who tapped her for their campaign in 1981.
The "What Becomes a Legend Most" ad featuring Natalie was running worldwide when the shocking news of her death at age 43 made headlines. Having harbored a lifelong fear of water, Natalie died in a drowning accident when she fell overboard from the yacht she shared with Robert Wagner, whom she had remarried in 1972. Strangely, Natalie's mysterious, early death has somehow failed to make her as mythic as, say, James Dean, her former co-star and friend. We hope that occasional tributes like these contribute in some small way to keeping her flame alive; she may not have been the greatest of actresses, but Natalie Wood was, indeed, a genuine movie star -- one of the last created by the greatest myth of all, Classic Hollywood.