America watched Natalie Wood grow up on the silver screen. You can still see her childhood in Miracle on 34th Street and her adolescence in Rebel Without a Cause. Her coming of age? Still playing in Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story and countless other timeless movies. From the moment Natalie Wood made her cinematic debut in 1946 in Tomorrow Is Forever to her shocking, untimely death in 1981, the decades of her life are punctuated by movies that even today, reside in the hearts and imagination of the American people.
Acclaimed novelist, biographer, critic, and screenwriter Gavin Lambert, whose twenty-year friendship with Natalie Wood began when she starred in the movie adaptation of his novel Inside Daisy Clover, recounts her extraordinary story. He relays to us details about her personal life, from her love affairs to her suicide attempt at twenty-six, the birth of her children to her friendships, her struggles as an actress to her tragic and mysterious death at the age of forty-three. For the first time, everyone who was close to Natalie Wood speaks freely—including her husbands, Robert Wagner and Richard Gregson, famously private people like Warren Beatty, intimate friends such as playwright Mart Crowley, directors Robert Mulligan and Paul Mazursky, and Leslie Caron, each of whom told the author stories about this remarkable woman who was so full of life but always on the brink of despair.
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Unlike the sexually explicit Natasha, by Suzanne Finstad, or Lana Wood's Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister, Lambert's take on the luminous star of Gypsy and West Side Story is a relatively discreet, affectionate examination of Wood's short, turbulent life.... Lambert reveals deep sensitivity and understanding of her development as an actress, and he's one of the few authors to capture the depth and beauty of her relationship with Robert Wagner.... Lambert eloquently clarifies the self-destructive reasons behind Wood's addictions and insecurities, and in the end, readers will feel they truly know the subject more than they do in most biographies.~Publishers Weekly
Terrific... Lambert has written the kind of book that only an intelligent friend could have written: sensitive without being maudlin, unforgiving without being harsh, intimate without being trashy.... Unlike traditional biographers, Lambert, who is really a novelist by trade, has written a swift piece of intimate storytelling. It's a book that respects the obligations of biography, without being beholden to some of its more tedious customs.~Lary Wallace, PopMatters
In writing about Natalie Wood, Lambert has chosen a careful position: one that must contrast with that of the scandalmongers and self-proclaimed intimates who came forward after her mysterious death.... Movie bios often fall into one of three broad categories: the autobiography (ghost-written or otherwise) of the star; the memoir of the star's assistant/butler/lover/child, in which agendas come out of hiding; the workmanlike overview with little critical insight. Lambert, however, is exceptional.... In all of his non-fiction he brings a critic's eye to materials to which only an insider 4would be granted access: letters, diaries, the testimony of close relatives and friends. Lambert has equal respect for history and human beings; this biography is stunning not merely because he reveals new facts but because of his ongoing relationship to facts: he is sceptical, elegant, generous, exact.... Lambert can embrace multiple stories, and he knows that truths can be told by biases and nostalgia and love.~The Guardian
An elegiac, mournful book, and not just because its author, Gavin Lambert, had been friends with Natalie Wood for the last 16 years of her often troubled life.... Wood's story would be hard to mess up, and if Natalie Wood: A Life were simply solid and readable (and it's both), that would be enough. But this biography has a wistful, elegant, humane quality that feels out of place in the American cultural landscape. This isn't just the story of one beloved, bedeviled actress: Lambert's book also represents a lost mode of thinking about movie stars.... Lambert writes about Wood, unapologetically, as both a movie star and a human being.... Lambert is adept at analyzing all the slippery subtleties that go into the making of a movie or a performance. Although he diplomatically plays down some of her lesser performances, he works valiantly to capture how moving Wood, with her aura of quivering dewy eroticism, could be.... The consideration Lambert accords Wood isn't just good taste or cautious discretion on his part; it's a case of his having a brain, a critical sensibility, and using it. Natalie Wood: A Life could be a model for a new way of looking at and thinking about today's movie stars.~Stephanie Zacharek, The New York Times
The estimable Gavin Lambert has written an authorized biography of a woman who managed to become a major star without ever earning the bona fides of a major actress.... Gavin Lambert's most valuable quality as a biographer—aside from an unforced but erudite style—is empathy. He was Wood's friend as well as a co-worker, but he doesn't engage in special pleading. He has a lovely dry wit (I especially like the way he continually calls Jack Warner "Producer"—which is how the studio was referred to in contractual boilerplate).... Mr. Lambert's book leaves a residue of sadness-not just for the way Natalie Wood died, but for the frustrated, apparently unfulfilled way she lived. In art as in life, choices matter and timing is everything.~Scott Eyman, Observer
Full of informed and intelligent observations regarding both Wood's mindset and the politics of Hollywood.~Kirkus Reviews
Star quality in a performer, it's been said, is 'that little something extra.' Bette Davis called it 'a direct line to the collective heart.' However it's defined, Natalie Wood had it, writes Gavin Lambert in his informed and engrossing biography of that late actress.... The English-born, Los Angeles-dwelling Lambert unobtrusively brings a friend's insight to his admirably researched work. He's especially good at describing the nuances of Natalie Wood's best performances: the ones (including Splendor in the Grass) where her real and imagined selves meshed in remarkable ways.~Tom Nolan, San Francisco Gate