Vul­tures cir­cle around Hol­ly­wood skele­ton as po­lice re-open in­quiries

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE - TONY EARN­SHAW

HOL­LY­WOOD has many skele­tons in its closet. One that has come tum­bling out is that of Natalie Wood, one of Tin­sel­town’s big­gest stars in the 1970s and who died, in mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances, al­most ex­actly 30 years ago.

Wood was just 43 when she drowned af­ter what is al­leged to have been a night of drunk­en­ness, flirt­ing and ar­gu­ment aboard the Splen­dour, the yacht she owned with hus­band Robert Wag­ner.

The of­fi­cial ver­dict was drown­ing. Po­lice who ques­tioned those on board the boat that night – Wag­ner, Christo­pher Walken, Wood’s co-star in her come­back movie Brain­storm, and cap­tain Dennis Dav­ern – came to the con­clu­sion that she some­how man­aged to climb into a dinghy with the in­ten­tion of row­ing to shore af­ter a spat with Wag­ner. Sev­eral al­ter­na­tive ver­sions of Wood’s demise have floated around since, but the end re­sult was the same: she some­how ended up in the water. Her body was re­cov­ered sev­eral hours later.

The de­ci­sion by the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment to re-open the case has set the vul­tures cir­cling once more. One of the key play­ers be­hind calls for a fresh in­ves­ti­ga­tion is Wood’s younger sis­ter, Lana, who has never been sat­is­fied with the po­lice’s ef­forts. Is this what the TV shows call a cold case? The Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment claims me­dia in­ter­est in the case on the three-decade an­niver­sary led to new wit­nesses com­ing for­ward. A mem­oir by Dav­ern is not, they say, the tip­ping point. Sud­denly a long-dead star is back in the spot­light. Res­ur­rect­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter 30 years rep­re­sents a big leap. What do the po­lice and cam­paign­ers such as Lana Wood hope to achieve? Did an in­tox­i­cated Natalie Wood, who had a deep-seated fear of water, some­how leave the Splen­dour and climb into a dinghy wear­ing her night­gown? Did she fall over­board and cling des­per­ately to the dinghy, hop­ing for res­cue? Was she pushed?

Four peo­ple were aboard the boat that chilly Novem­ber night in 1981. One is dead. One was asleep and has main­tained com­plete si­lence over what might have oc­curred. One has writ­ten about his sus­pi­cions. One is the jeal­ous hus­band, grief-stricken wid­ower and maybe the only per­son who can shed any light on what is one of Hol­ly­wood’s most en­dur­ing tragedies.

But since his wife’s death Robert Wag­ner, now 81, has al­ways said he does not know how it hap­pened. Dav­ern has his own the­o­ries. Wit­nesses who heard a wo­man scream­ing that night (“Help me, some­one please help me, I’m drown­ing”) will be re-in­ter­viewed. Was Natalie Wood mur­dered? Will the new in­quiry find her killer? Or was it all just a ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent that has been fed for 30 years by the Hol­ly­wood ru­mour mill? Is it merely an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity?

Maybe, just maybe, af­ter all these years, the world will fi­nally find out the truth be­hind the botched case of the dead su­per­star.

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