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Summary

New York Times best seller • The definitive biography of a vulnerable and talented actress, now with shocking new chapters including the reopened investigation into her mysterious drowning. 

An ID Book Club Selection • “Impressive, disturbing, and revelatory.” (Variety)

Natalie Wood has been hailed alongside Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor as one of the top three female movie stars in film history. We watched her mature on the movie screen before our eyes in classics such as Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, and West Side Story. But the story of what she endured, of what her life was like when the doors of the soundstages closed, had long been obscured.

Based on years of astonishing research, Natalie Wood (previously published as Natasha) raises the curtain on Wood’s turbulent life. Award-winning author Suzanne Finstad conducted nearly 400 interviews with Natalie Wood’s family, close friends, legendary costars, lovers, film crews, and virtually everyone connected to her death. Through these firsthand accounts, Finstad reconstructs a life of emotional abuse and exploitation, of unimaginable fame, great loneliness, and loss. She reveals painful truths in Wood’s complex relationships with James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Warren Beatty, and, of course, Robert Wagner.

Thirty years after Natalie Wood’s death, the LA Sheriff’s Department reopened the investigation into her drowning using Finstad’s groundbreaking research and chilling, hour-by-hour timeline of that tumultuous weekend as evidence. Within a year, the LA Coroner changed Natalie Wood’s death certificate from "Accidental Drowning" to "Drowning and Other Undetermined Factors." In 2018, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department officially named Wagner a "Person of Interest" in Wood’s death.

In this updated edition, Finstad will share her explosive findings from the last two decades. With her unprecedented access to the LASD’s "Murder Book", ignored by the original investigators, and new witnesses who have never spoken publicly, Finstad uncovers what really happened to Natalie Wood on that fateful boating trip in 1981 with Wagner and Christopher Walken. She expands on intimate details from Wood’s unpublished memoir, which affirms her fear of drowning and the betrayal by Wagner that shattered their first marriage.

Finstad tells this heartbreaking story with sensitivity and grace, revealing a complex and conflicting mix of fragility and strength in a woman who was swept along by forces few could have resisted.

©2020 Suzanne Finstad (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

“Gripping . . . a sad, penetrating portrait that juxtaposes the storybook myth that made Wood a popular movie actress and the real story of what happened once the cameras stopped rolling.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“A spectacularly comprehensive, moving, shocking, and riveting book. It has put together many pieces of the puzzled life Natalie and I led, and helped me understand what I had not been able to see for myself.” (Lana Wood, Natalie Wood’s sister) 

“A poignant, intensely sympathetic portrait of the vulnerable, sensitive little girl who grew up to be the quintessential Hollywood star.” (Los Angeles Times)

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What listeners say about Natalie Wood

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Wow.

This book was so interesting and so detailed, I am glad I chose to listen.
Rose McGowan as a narrator was the perfect choice and the emotion you hear in her voice at times is so moving. I really hope she goes on to do more audiobooks.

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Fascinating

So happy to read/ listen to a well researched book that brings the subject to life.
Fascinating and deeply disturbing- but ultimately a celebration of a woman who overcame so much and was a true star .

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McGowan obsessed.

I quite enjoyed the reading of this book until the last chapters,the truth is,no one .knows what happened on the night that Natalie Wood died,S the last chapters went on l got more and more irritated with Susanne Finstad everyone on that boat was parasitic,no one probably remembered exactly what happened,they were all alcoholics how mu h did she say Natalie had drunk,Wagner and Natalie rowed ,well I should be surprised if they had,not If i were Wagner I would take Finstad to court and have it out in the open.l also wonder what the Sinatra family think about their father being a pedafile.Robert Wagner is how old now..84-5-6...or more,They had a row,Wagner did the wrong thi ng and kept drinking g and did not know his arse from his elbow,nobody knows what happened to the lovely Natalie Wood,she would be 82 now.R.I.P.Natalie.

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Ruined by Poor Narration

The detailed research and potentially fascinating subject matter is ruined by appalling narration. Rose McGowan speaks in a harsh, nasal monotone, which grates and irritates to the extent that I eventually gave up. I am now considering buying the book so at least I can read it for myself. How she could have been chosen is beyond me, as there are so many much more worthy narrators out there. Ironic when you also consider what a beautiful, soft voice the late Natalie had.

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unlistenable

never got a chance to listen to the story.
the robotic voice doing the narrative is just something i couldn't listen to.
waste of money buying this book.....play the sample before you buy,i wish i had.

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Love it!

Really enjoyed listening to this telling of Natalie Woods rise to fame, great details and lots of famous faces!

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Fascinating

I found this book such a fascinating account of Natalie Wood’s life. Heartbreaking in so many ways. There was a huge amount of detail. I listened any spare moment I could. The narrator was excellent.

What a tragedy that Natalie died so young and her two daughters left behind.

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Fascinating, heartbreaking ❤

A wonderful, eye-opening book, incredible detail. Thoroughly enjoyed it and would most definitely recommend. Hollywood let her down badly.

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  • Joselo
  • 19-04-20

Natasha: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

This is a very well written investigative biography of Natasha Zakharenko, the person who became actress Natalie Wood at the tender age of 6. Born in California to Russian immigrant parents, she was thrust into acting by a ruthlessly ambitious mother, obsessed with making her a star. Much of the book focuses on the split between the glamorous, fantasy persona that Natasha was forced to embrace early on and her more intimate self, who struggled in her search for independence and meaning, sometimes through rebellious behavior. I knew little about her before running into this audiobook, but was drawn to those dark, magnetic eyes, and was surprised to find a beautiful, but tragic story that reads like a haunting novel.

There are many interviews with people that knew her well, including her sister, Lana Wood, who plays a major role in helping decipher the actress. We learn of Natalie Wood's relationships with personalities such as Dennis Hopper, James Dean, Robert Redford or Warren Beatty, some of whom became important friends or lovers. Several figures emerge as villains, in particular her abusive and controlling mother, Maria, and Natalie's two-time husband, Robert Wagner, whom author Suzanne Finstad accuses of murder. The actress drowned to death under mysterious circumstances at the age of 43 and from the start, this book gears up to explain how this came to happen. Also present on the boat where the actress was last seen were actor Christopher Walken and Dennis Davern, the yacht's captain, both of whom are accused here of hiding the truth. (Davern, in particular, is an unreliable sort, who has already changed his account of the events of that night several times.) Others, like Frank Sinatra or director Nicolas Ray, are said to have been sexually involved with Natalie (who was well over 20 years their junior) when she was only 15 or 16. She remained friends with them afterwards, despite what would have legally been statutory rape. It's a complex story and the author has made it her mission to point her finger at people that she believes did Natalie wrong.

To be fair, this is a thorough biography and it didn't only focus on the negative. I felt moved by Natasha / Natalie Wood, who is presented as a very intelligent, hard-working perfectionist, who charmed personal acquaintances and audiences alike. She became one of the most sought-after actresses and was nominated to three Academy Awards for Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963). Her work in Miracle on 34th Street and West Side Story, among other films, was also celebrated. Yet, one has to wonder to what extent she wasn't perhaps a prisoner of her mother's superstitions and aspirations to become part of Hollywood's royalty, or a pawn in a world dominated by social networking and influence. Most of the audiobook feels like a character drama, as it's dedicated to describing the kind of person that Natasha / Natalie was and the challenges that she faced, particularly in finding her true self in a celebrity world of glitter and make-believe. This take on the actress's life is laid out eloquently by the author and apparently backed by Lana Wood. While listening, I often asked myself whether Natalie would have agreed with their perspective. The last four hours of the audiobook are focused on the events that led to her dreadful end. The genre in this last part is true crime, but it feels like noir. It is impossible to assert whether Finstad is correct in her allegations against Wagner, but they certainly raise a lot of unanswered questions. To accuse a mourning widower of having killed his beloved wife is an extremely delicate matter. On the other hand, this doesn't mean that a strange case such as this one shouldn't be investigated, as Finstad has done. It all boils down to whether Wagner really did it or not and only a proper trial could potentially decide that.

Rose McGowan's narration is quite acceptable, but feels somewhat uneven and mechanical. Still, her pronunciation is very clear and it didn't pose a major problem for me. The author also reads some chapters and one can sense in her voice her determination to bring this case to justice. I found it a very compelling listen.

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  • Joey Rubino
  • 11-04-20

Great Audiobook

Loved listening and found myself so captivated that I finished it in 2 days.

Had me excited about the HBO documentary coming out in May2020

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  • Donna W.
  • 15-02-21

Shocked & Dismayed!

Even days after I have finished this book, I am still haunted by what this little girl, young lady, woman endured throughout her lifetime. Yes, the story was entertaining, only to learn of someone's life that I have always admired but to come away aghast learning of all that Natasha/Natalie had endured & to find that there was absolutely no one to help her along her road. It was sad to learn that so many people wronged her, especially the ones who were supposed to have loved her. I just wish the one responsible for her murder would be held accountable before he dies, I don't care who he is or what his stature is in life, HE MURDERED SOMEONE. Justice NEEDS to be found for this amazing lady!

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  • Terry L Smith
  • 19-05-20

As Advertized... A Complete Biography

This biography offers all the facts with very little sparkle or intimacy. Worth listening, but nothing special.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Dr. Bill- Northern NJ-USA
  • 28-05-20

Too much Alcohol

Everyone consumed way too much alcohol- mixed with pills its effects were intensified
We will never know what really transpired- there are many suppositions and theories
The recent update of the book does not appear that believable

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  • jewelrylover
  • 24-04-21

BOGGED DOWN WITH REPETITIVE DETAIL

IN THIS LENGTHY TREATISE, THE AUTHOR SUCCEEDS BRILLIANTLY IN BEATING A DEAD HORSE OVER 20 HOURS. BORING THE READER THROUGH REPETITIVE AND IRRELEVANT HEARSAY ABOUT THE TALENTED AND BEAUTIFUL NATALIE WOOD, THE BOOK WAS EASILY 2 OR 3 TIMES AS LONG AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. THE AUTHOR ALSO ATTEMPTS TO BLAME NATALIE'S TRAGIC DEATH ON HER HUSBAND ROBERT WAGNER.

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  • aporch
  • 06-03-21

Fascinating tragedy

The author poured her heart into this project and researched it extensively - no details were left untold. I got to "know" Natalie through this book and the grief built up as it got closer to the end, because she wasn't finished here, she should still be here. She was failed by many people, too many times in her life and there are seemingly endless that-should-not-have-happened moments.

There are two reasons I didn't give it 5 stars. There were a few areas with details that didn't seem relevant and I had a hard time staying focused, and the beginning of the book gets confusing with Natalie's mom and the many names she used.

I think Rose was a great narrator. Her voice is somewhat soothing and also adds a touch of emotion that (to me) is necessary for the story.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.

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  • John
  • 28-12-20

Dark Waters

And you thought Mama Rose was pushy! Natalie Wood's mother, according to Finstad in this compelling examination of the life of a star, molded her daughter Natasha pretty much from birth into Natalie Wood, and then proceeded to live her life with her, embracing more the star than the child. It's a story that seems to have been told in Hollywood a number of times, but here Natalie, the creation of Wood's mother, never truly escapes her grasp, ending up inheriting, it appears, a curse imposed upon the mother that she would one day die in "dark water." It's not surprising that Robert Wagner did not cooperate with Finstad as she compiled the stories of Natalie's life. Nobody has satisfactorily owned up to what happened on that boat on the last night of the actress' life. And, it would seem, that a detailed response from him to Finstad's very precise charges would be warranted.

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  • Brad
  • 20-11-20

needed a different reader

rose McGowan made the book sound sappy. would have been better if the author would have read it.

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  • Kristopher's Korner
  • 12-11-20

The truth finally comes out.

I remember the day that Natalie Wood was murdered this at the time we were told it was an accident.

I have always been a huge fan of hers and I actually started to cry. I always knew things were not as they were told, That gut reaction of “this isn’t adding up.”

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what the real story was/is. This book finally says what must’ve been the real story and how Natasha wasn’t the victim of an accident but a victim of murder by her husband’s own hands, Robert Wagner.

I only hope that the ongoing investigation will someday come to a close with the arrest of Robert Wagner so that Natalie spirit can truly rest in peace, if that’s possible at all.

This book has so much information about Natalie‘s childhood and family that’s a must read for any fan of hers. I wish there were a little more details in the book about the making of some of the movies that she did, but I’m sure that could be found another books.

The important thing is the author of this book has done an amazing amount of research and brought to light all the dirty little secrets that contributed to Natalie‘s murder.