“In this true crime memoir, Lana Wood offers a no-holds-barred account of the life and death of her sister, Natalie Wood, including exclusive new information from people directly involved in the investigation. Clearing up the myths and misconceptions behind her sister’s death, the legendary Hollywood actress reveals the secrets she’s been holding onto for decades, and in doing so, sets the record straight on one of Hollywood’s most notorious celebrity deaths.”
My first Hollywood crush was Robert Wagner when he starred in Hart to Hart on TV in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was married to the glamorous film star Natalie Wood, who starred in blockbusters like Miracle on 34th Street and West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause. But when I was 8 years old, I remember the news stories of Natalie’s tragic death, an accidental drowning off the coast of L.A. near Catalina Island. Or was it an accident?
Rumors and speculation have swirled around Natalie’s death since 1981. I’ve read all the books, seen all the documentaries, and I still don’t know what happened. Natalie’s sister, Lana, recently wrote a book detailing the circumstantial evidence that has come up since Natalie’s case was reopened in 2011 by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Little Sister (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible) (AbeBooks) is a quick read or listen, but if you expect the whole book to be about Lana’s investigation into her sister’s death, you’d be wrong. It’s mostly a memoir of Lana’s life since Natalie’s death, and only at the end do we get to new information acquired by the LAPD. Lana has done no investigation, just had detectives explain police reports to her.
There is enough compelling information provided by other investigators and the fact that the police department named Robert Wagner a person of interest in 2018 based on new information that I fear my childhood crush was, even accidentally, responsible for the death of his wife. Wagner has been uncooperative with the new investigation, and is living quietly in Aspen, Colorado with his wife, Jill St. John. His story has changed over the years, which makes one question his retelling of events. He was barely interviewed at the start of the investigation, and subsequent interviews on TV and his own memoir tell different versions of that fateful night aboard the Splendour.
But Lana comes across as slightly unhinged, much like her and Natalie’s overdramatic mother, of whom stories are legendary. It’s clear she never like RJ for taking Natalie away from her, and her nieces say she pretty much ignored them when their mom was alive. She tried to have an acting career and was even a Bond girl in Diamonds are Forever, but she just didn’t have the talent that Natalie did and her career fizzled. She ended up working on the production end of movies and TV shows instead of in front of the screen.
Natalie willed her clothing to Lana, who promptly sold most of it, she says due to space constraints and that Natalie would have approved because she needed the money more than the clothes. It seems Lana was always hustling for ways to earn money to raise her daughter. A year after Natalie’s death, Lana and a ghostwriter wrote a book about their sisterly bond, and I remember reading the book and thinking it was more about Lana and less about Natalie. That’s how this book comes across, too. And Lana reveals she always charged people anytime she did an interview about her sister.
I don’t think we are ever going to really know what happened that November night in 1981, but as long as there’s a buck to be made, Lana will be there. As for Robert Wagner, I don’t know. I’ve always suspected that he lost his temper and hit Natalie and she fell in the water. He was so stinking drunk and angry, he wasn’t thinking straight. Once he sobered up, he realized what he did and went into survival mode, telling the boat captain what to say to police. I’m not sure about Christopher Walken, who was also on the boat that weekend, but he’s been pretty mute about what happened that night, too. I guess we’ll never know the truth.
For more on Natalie Wood, try the memoir by her lookalike daughter, More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood by Natasha Gregson Wagner
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Sounds like she’s just cashing on the fact that she’s Natalie Woods sister!
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That’s definitely the vibe I get, too.
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