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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Natalie Wood 'raped as a teenager'
Natalie Wood
Mysterious circumstances surround the death of Natalie Wood
A new biography of late actress Natalie Wood says the star was raped as a teenager by an unnamed movie actor.

Suzanne Finstad's book, Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood, based around more than 400 interviews, says the star was temporarily separated from actor husband Robert Wagner, and suffered a difficult childhood.

I'm not sure any one explanation really answers all the questions about that night.

Suzanne Finstad
Wood, born Natasha Zacharenko, appeared in many films including Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story.

The book controversially reveals Wood's "rape" at the age of 16 by a man who Finstad will only identify as a "powerful, married movie star".

Accidental drowning

"I chose not to name him because I wanted people to focus on the horror and trauma to Natalie," Finstad said.

She added: "I'm sure it was always in her psyche. When you've been raped it never really disappears, particularly when it's someone you've idolized and when your mother conspires to keep it a secret."

Despite Finstad's painstaking research, she is unable to explain Wood's accidental drowning at the age of 43 in 1981.

Wood was found dead during a boat trip to Catalina island in California with actors Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken.

Wood may have fallen into the water while trying to step into a rubber dinghy tied to the yacht. According to the book, more than an hour may have elapsed before the authorities were alerted.


Finstad's book offers a detailed account of the events leading up to Wood's drowning, but cannot supply any concrete conclusions as to why Wood was trying to leave the yacht in her night clothes.

The other three people on the boat - Wagner, Walken and the boat captain Dennis Davern - refused to speak to Finstad.

Robert Wagner's lawyers, Larry Stein and Ann Loeb, dispute Finstad's account of the night that Wood drowned.

"The book did not accurately depict what occurred on that evening and there were many inaccuracies in the book," Mr Stein said. "We're upset that these inaccuracies have been published."

Warren Beatty (l) and Natalie Wood (r)
Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass
But Finstad said in an interview: "I'm not sure any one explanation really answers all the questions about that night."

"I just find it to be a very disturbing scenario and I think in the end it has to be considered an alcohol-related accident," Finstad added.

Obsessed mother

According to the book, Wood's mother Maria Gurdin obsessively pushed her daughter to become an actress, pulling the wings off a butterfly to make her cry on cue, and causing her serious injury.

During the filming of The Green Promise, a 10-year-old Wood broke her wrist in a collapsing bridge stunt. Gurdin concealed the injury in order that Wood could continue filming.

Wood's broken left wrist was never treated, resulting in a deformity which had to be covered with a bracelet for the rest of her life.

The book also touches on Wood's breakup with Robert Wagner. Hollywood gossip magazines at the time believed she was having an affair with Splendor in the Grass co-star Warren Beatty.

See also:

11 Mar 00 | Tom Brook
Geffen biography stirs Tinseltown
12 Apr 01 | Showbiz
Morton to write Madonna biography
16 Apr 01 | Showbiz
Sir Alec Guinness 'was bisexual'
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