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Miracle on 34th street (1947)
Arguably the greatest yuletide movie of all time, (there’s a case to be made for ‘It’s a wonderful life’, although the latter tale deals with more adult themes), ‘Miracle’ is a feminist movie before the term was coined. Curiously, I was more familiar with the 1994 colour remake starring Richard Attenborough, due in no small part to my own children but now the time is ripe to familiarise my grand-daughter with both versions.
Benefiting from actual location shooting at Macy’s departmental store, the film rails against commercialism, promotes religious inclusivity (a pointer towards universal peace), and cocks a snook at empirical thought; Susan, as Kris Kringle’s biggest disbeliever, being eventually ‘won over’. If the greatest obstacle to a calm, rational, evidence-based understanding of human nature, is human nature itself, then this explains why pessimism comes uneasily to us; I should know, for I’ve been struggling my way towards it for years.
Nevertheless, for ninety minutes every Xmas, I am transported back to a more innocent time, and much of this joyful deja vu is encapsulated in Natalie Wood’s central performance. She might end up believing in Kringle, but the film is understandably devoid of CGI imagery – no Santa and sleigh high over Manhattan a la ‘Elf’ (2003), and the festive tale ends on a note of ambiguity. Whilst Susan now has the home of her dreams, Mr Gailey, who has just convinced the State of New York to declare his client the actual Santa Claus, is forced to admit that the cane resting against the fireplace might have been left there by the previous owners.
Take that leap of faith, if only once a year. If Santa can come through for Susan, he might just for you.
Rebel without a cause (1955)
Kings go forth (1958)
Splendour in the Grass (1961)
There’s a disturbing prescience to Kazan’s movie, a story of repressed love and sexual urges in 1920’s Kansas, which analyses the forces that drive lovers apart. In the film, Deanie (Wood), distraught over her breakup with Bud (Warren Beatty), throws herself into a reservoir. Before filming the key scene, Wood informed Eliza Kazan that a long held fear of water could impede the integrity of the her performance, yet the director remained unperturbed and shooting proceeded on schedule. The director’s conviction was rewarded when the actress, recognising the importance of her breakthrough film into adulthood, performed with an unrivalled intensity that conveyed every nuance of the harrowing hysteria her character was enduring, whilst picking up an academy award nomination in the process.
Despite the florid and overwrought quality to this dramatization, Beatty, in his first acting role, and Wood, accurately convey the hormonally induced confusion and angst endured by most teenagers, even though modern day audiences would naturally remain incredulous at her descent into temporary insanity.
For me personally, the film resounded deeply, an early realisation that impetuosity could lead to ruination. The look on Bud’s face at the end of the film, now firmly entrenched in a morass of domesticity and unfulfilled dreams, is a pitiful one that silently screams at us all.
West Side Story (1961)
Love with a proper stranger (1963)
Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
From here to eternity (Tv movie 1979)
Natalie Wood: A Life (Gavin Lambert) 2004
Categorising biographies is usually easy; there’s the ghost-written autobiography, the memoirs of someone close or not that close to the individual and finally the scissors and paste hackneyed and workmanlike overview with little critical insight.
As a genuine insider in Hollywood, Lambert brings an extra degree of authenticity to his writing, a welcome layer of critical finesse in part attributable to his trusted position amongst the stars and his unique access to letters, diaries and the testimony of close relatives and friends. With an equal respect for history and human beings; this stunning biography benefits from both a plethora of new facts and the writer’s relationship to them, his scepticism, elegance, generosity and exactitude.
Lambert and Wood were lifelong friends. A British-born screenwriter, novelist and biographer who lived for part of his life in Hollywood, his writings, both fiction and non-fiction, were focused on the film industry. Two years after its publication in 1963, Lambert adapted his own Hollywood insider novel ‘Inside Daisy Clover’ for the big screen, coaxing from Wood one of her most memorable performances in a leading role.
Hollywood has acquired a justifiable reputation as a hermetically sealed universe, in essence an all-consuming playpen of ambition and fear and Wood’s life was undoubtedly complicated. Worse still, as the story unfolds, the reader is headed inexorably towards a tragic watery end; it therefore speaks volumes for the writer’s narrative style that we still care about understanding this troubled woman and the demons that drove her on.
‘Natalie Wood : A Life’ was regrettably his penultimate published work, before his death in 2005 at the age of eighty.
Last Update : 29/3/13
Even as a child actress, Natalie Wood radiated a sense of seriousness and intelligence beyond her years in virtually every performance. In “Tomorrow is forever,” she played the role of a war torn orphan refugee opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert with an authentic german accent. Radiating warmth and grace in every scene, her soft brown eyes reflected every emotion she was conveying on screen, a riveting celluloid presence that belied her tender years, being as she was at the time, a mere eight years of age. Subsequently, she moved into adult roles, a successful transition in part attributable to her innate work ethic, but also the career management of her overbearing mother.
Sadly, she had a perceptible lack of foundation. The late Tom Mankiewicz, the American screenwriter whose credits included several James Bond films, was one of her closest friends. In his opinion, “studio life from an early age had cut Natalie off from so much, and she was eager to make up for it, but I often had the impression that she never knew exactly how to live her life.” By the time of her death, she was keen to avoid becoming bitter and lonely and in order to stay on an even keel, as Mankiewicz saw it; “Natalie needed all her cards, and she was very afraid of losing her beauty card.”
I always loved her piercing brown eyes, those limpid pools enticingly framed in a combination of lush lashes, heavy fringe and bold brows. Seeing her for the first time on the big screen as a young boy during a reissue of “West Side Story” in 1970, I was in awe of her smouldering eye makeup; at her worst she merely looked very pretty but at her best, breathtakingly beautiful.
By the time of her tragic early death, she was wrestling with the duality of maintaining domestic happiness and revitalising a long dormant film career, knee high in substandard ‘made for television’ dramas and big budget ‘turkeys’ like “Meteor.” What made the news of her demise even more shocking was the subsequent revelation of a lifelong, often unsettling relationship with water, including a childhood fear of drowning and its connection to many significant moments in her life. Prescience, such as this, goes to the very core of our deep seated neuroses.
The case of Wood’s mysterious drowning in 1981, while the actress was on a yacht with husband Robert Wagner and fellow actor Christopher Walken, has long been one shrouded in Hollywood mystery.
Aquaphobia is a persistent and abnormal fear of water. It is a specific phobia that involves a level of fear that is beyond the patient’s control or that may interfere with daily life. People suffer aquaphobia in many ways and may experience it even though they realize the water in an ocean, a river, or even a bathtub poses no imminent threat. They may avoid such activities as boating and swimming, or they may avoid swimming in the deep ocean despite having mastered basic swimming skills. This anxiety commonly extends to getting wet or splashed with water when it is unexpected, or being pushed or thrown into a body of water.
Natalie’s pathological fear of water can be traced back to the filming of “The Green Promise” in 1948. Her standout moment in the film is the climactic thunderstorm scene in which she races to rescue her pet lambs and is almost swept off a bridge into the raging waters below. The bridge scene, which was filmed the last week of production, didn’t proceed as expected. According to Suzanne Finstad’s biography ‘Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood,’ the dangerous stunt almost ended tragically. “When I was halfway across,” Natalie said later, “somebody pulled the lever prematurely and I was thrown into the water.” She managed to catch hold of the collapsing bridge, clinging to the edge as the current pulled her in the direction of the waterfall. “My mother leaped forward crying, my child!” Natalie later told a reporter, “and the director William Russell said, ‘Keep the cameras rolling! Keep the mother back!’ Natalie’s left wrist was broken and she nearly drowned. “I don’t even remember them fishing me out.” “It was so traumatic for her,” observed her later confidant, Marc Crowley. “She’d been lied to, for one thing. And then there she was, fearful of her life.” At the moment the accident occurred, the camera captured the expression of sheer terror on Natalie’s face and it is this shot that remains in the finished film. The incident was kept a secret from the press and her mother didn’t threaten the producers with a lawsuit because of her instinctual belief that legal action would result in her daughter being blacklisted from future work.
A succinct overview of her life and work can be located at :
The circumstances behind her tragic and premature death have been heavily scrutinised over the years. I, like millions of others, have no answers yet the circumstances leading to her demise and what it says about human nature, are subjects worth considering. But first, the salient facts:
Her lifeless body was found floating off the coast of the Catalina Islands almost a mile away from her yacht on November 29, 1981. Authorities concluded that the intoxicated former co-star of ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ and ‘West Side Story’ had slipped while attempting to access the yacht’s dingy and that her heavy wool coat pulled her down to her watery demise. Subsequent reports of Wood arguing with her husband Robert Wagner, and ‘flirting’ with their guest Christopher Walken, have clouded the investigation from the beginning. Wagner’s people deny any foul play and both Wagner and Walken have refused to talk about the incident to this day. However, questions remain. Did the actress slip or was she pushed? Why would a woman who was frightened of water and could not swim want to hop on a dinghy?
Inexplicably, other crucial witnesses were ignored by the authorities at the time, including a woman named Marilyn Wayne, whose boat was moored nearby and who claimed to hear Wood’s cries for help sometime after 11pm, accompanied by male voices saying they were coming to get her; and Coast Guard Roger Smith, who pulled Natalie’s corpse on to his rescue boat and became convinced that she had died not long before, suggesting that an earlier search would have saved her. It was confusing then, and remains difficult now, to even begin determining whether Wood’s death involved negligence, incompetence, manslaughter, a combination of those factors, or simply highlighted the difficulty of locating a drowning woman in dark waters.
The case was re-opened thirty years later in the fall of 2011 whereupon the coroner’s report suggested that some of the bruises found on Miss Wood’s body may have occurred before the actress drowned in the waters off Southern California. Wagner has always maintained that Wood, 43, accidentally slipped and drowned as she drunkenly tried to tie up a dinghy against the boat.
2011 depositions from Margaret Rulli, (author of “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour”), Dennis Davern, (skipper of the ‘Splendour’ yacht), Lana Wood (Natalie’s sister) and Marilyn Wayne can be located at:
The coroner’s verdict in 1981 was that her death was accidental yet the case was re-opened thirty years later after detectives began investigating the possibility of homicide after receiving what they termed ‘additional information’. The renewed investigation was prompted in no small part when the captain of the boat from which she disappeared, spoke on America’s most prominent morning TV show and said he’d lied to the authorities at the time. He claimed that the actress’s husband was responsible, and refused to reveal any more. In support of this theory, the revised coroner’s report suggested that some of the bruises found on Miss Wood’s body might have occurred before the actress drowned in the waters off Southern California.
The new findings led to officials changing her death certificate last year from “drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Apparently, officials were careful about their conclusions because they lacked several pieces of evidence for their review. Most tellingly, the coroner’s officials wrote that they could not definitely determine when the injuries occurred. These tell tale signs included bruises on the actress’s arms, a scratch on her neck and superficial abrasions to her face. Nevertheless, the findings have not altered a sheriff’s department investigation into Wood’s death, which remains ongoing.
Wood, 43, was on a yacht with her actor-husband Robert Wagner, co-star Christopher Walken and the boat captain on Thanksgiving weekend in 1981 before somehow ending up in the water. A dinghy that had been attached to the boat was found along the island’s shoreline, but investigators could not locate it in 2011 in order to review it. Investigators initially reported that there were scratches on its hull, but Wood’s fingernails were not preserved for analysis. There is no universal rule of thumb in matters like these, but I find it strange that a married couple would have invited a married man to spend the weekend with them onboard their yacht without his wife. The Walkens marriage, which has endured since 1969, is childless. Couples invariably feel more comfortable interacting with couples, a much larger party atmosphere perhaps a more appropriate setting for the presence of ‘single people’. I suspect Wood may well have wanted Walken to ‘sound out’ Wagner on her behalf about the provocative subject matter of a more focussed film career. It is a well known fact that the presence of a third party will often keep a marital partnership’s worst behavioural traits in check, that is, provided copious alcoholic consumption is avoided.
Back in 1981, the initial autopsy report had concluded that the bruising was mostly superficial and probably sustained at the time of drowning. In 2012, officials also concluded that although she wasn’t wearing a life jacket, she had no prior history of suicide attempts and hadn’t left a note. None of these revised findings however, would appear to have held much sway with the Police, the Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore announcing at the time, that the agency had known about the findings in the newly released autopsy report for several months and that it did not change the status of the investigation, which was to remain open. He said that Robert Wagner was not considered a suspect in Wood’s death and the agency hadn’t said they had any suspicions about Walken or the boat captain, Dennis Davern.
Any cursory research of internet resources will clearly indicate the degree of public sentiment about Wood’s death and her husband’s apparent complicity. In his 2009 autobiography, Robert Wagner recounted the final time he saw his wife and how he felt guilty he did nothing to save her.
‘Yes, I blamed myself,’ the actor wrote in ‘Pieces of My Heart.’ ‘If I’d been there, I could have done something. I wasn’t, but ultimately, a man is responsible for his loved one.’ The following link confirms, by his own admission, that a marital spat had taken place in the hours before his wife’s death but more importantly, hints at the destructive nature of his love for her.
Wagner was involved with the thrice married actress and former Bond girl Jill St John within two months of his wife’s death, their relationship was common knowledge after six, and they married in 1990. They are still together and one must presume, by Hollywood standards, that it is a contented relationship. Nevertheless with those sort of timescales and the fact that St. John was a friend of Natalie’s and had worked professionally with Wagner over the years, the beleagured actor has hardly helped his ‘defence’ over the years. Perhaps the marital row aboard the yacht was about an affair he was already engaged in with Miss St. John, or perhaps a dalliance Wood was enjoying with Christopher Walken? Unless any of these accusations have credence and we must presume the Police followed all lines of investigation, it’s pure speculation and essentially none of our business. If sources are to be believed, news of the reopening of the case have caused more than ripples in the Wagner household, particularly with St.John, and after more than thirty years I find that perfectly understandable. The case against Wagner is encapsulated in the following link:
The varying posts are evidently pro-Natalie and whilst one must respect individual feelings to a point, a site like this one is way too simplistic in its sentiments for me personally.
Where Wagner is concerned, here is a man whose married life to Natalie Wood amounted to but half the time he has spent living with or married to Jill St John. For obvious reasons, he needs to remain sensitive to his current wife’s feelings; being unlikely therefore, to go overboard in describing Miss Wood as the love of his life. Significantly, the women he dedicated his autobiography to included his three daughters and St. John – Wood wasn’t mentioned. To my mind, the overriding impression one gleams from all of this is bad love, the very worst kind of infatuation. Here is a man, who by his own admission, was driven to actually contemplate murder as a result of Wood’s affair with the actor Warren Beatty, a liason that destroyed his marriage and yet, a little more than a decade later, was remarried to the very same woman. Some would contest that the affair between Wood and Beatty was not an affair, but rather a ‘new’ relationship, begun only after the Wagner’s marriage had ended, yet raging jealousy does not necessarily terminate with a decree nisi.
By all accounts, when the couple re-married, he became ever more possessive and controlling and with the desire to establish firm family roots, Wood may well have been initially acquiescent, and indeed more than happy, to subordinate her professional career to her husband’s. Nevertheless, in time, children grow, become less dependent, and parents return to contemplating their own raison d’être.
By the time we reach the fall of 1981, Wood is immersed in a ‘relationship’ that, on a professional level alone, is causing ructions with the Wagner household. Aboard their yacht that fateful weekend, an argument breaks out between the two men that presumably mirrors conversations Walken has been having with Wood throughout the preceding weeks as they filmed together. As their drinking escalates, the Oscar winning actor begins talking about his ‘total pursuit of a career’, which he admits is more important to him than his personal life. He clearly thinks Natalie should live like that, too. According to Wagner, ‘I got angry. “Why don’t you stay out of her career?” I said. “She’s got enough people telling her what to do without you.”
“Anybody there saw the logistics — of the boat, the night, where we were, that it was raining — and would know exactly what happened,” Walken told Playboy Magazine in 1997. “You hear about things happening to people – they slip in the bathtub, fall down the stairs, step off the curb in London because they think that the cars come the other way – and they die. You feel you want to die making an effort at something; you don’t want to die in some unnecessary way. What happened that night only she knows, because she was alone,” he said. “She had gone to bed before us, and her room was at the back. A dinghy was bouncing against the side of the boat, and I think she went out to move it. There was a ski ramp that was partially in the water. It was slippery – I had walked on it myself. She had told me she couldn’t swim; in fact, they had to cut a swimming scene from “Brainstorm” (the film they had been working on). She was probably half asleep, and she was wearing a coat.”
Walken went onto suggest that Wood hit her head before falling into the water and floating away. Initially, he and Wood’s then-husband Robert Wagner assumed that the actress had left the boat to call her children, as she had the night before. The boat was just 50 feet away from shore off the coast of Catalina Island.
His supposition lacks credence, suggesting as it does, that the actress was knocked unconscious as she fell into the water. As previously mentioned, we have the testimony of Marilyn Wayne which refutes this version of events and for which, her life has allegedly been threatened.
In her statement she said that she received a note warning her: ‘If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.’ Wayne was on a nearby boat with a boyfriend on the night of November 28, 1981, when Wood drowned. In a sworn statement submitted to the LA Sheriff’s department, she went on to say: ‘I had a “client box” designed for clients to drop off their messages through a slot in the front. ‘Three days after Natalie died, I found a scribbled message on a torn piece of paper in my box that read, “If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.”’‘I immediately suspected it was related to Wood’s death because that’s all anyone had been talking about. I was disturbed and even told an attorney about the threat.’
Later, interviewed by a major Engish national newspaper, Wayne mentioned that she tried to report the star’s ‘last desperate cries for help’ but was ignored. She added in her statement: ‘My cabin window was open. A woman’s voice, crying for help, awakened both John and myself. “Help me, someone please help me, I’m drowning”, we heard repeatedly.’ Wayne reported that her boyfriend turned on their yacht’s beam light but they couldn’t see anything. Wayne claims she called the harbour patrol officer ‘but no one answered’ and the local sheriff’s office, who told her a helicopter would be sent. But it did not come.
She also claims to have heard a man’s slurred voice from the direction of the Splendour saying: ‘Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you.’
Later on, when Robert Wagner was questioned by a rescue boat captain in 1981 about why he didn’t call for help to find his missing wife, he allegedly said: ‘We thought she was off on another boat screwing around because that’s the kind of woman she is.’
Into the mix now comes a chippily sensitive Duane Rasure, a retired detective sergeant for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, who maintains that the actress was small, and therefore capable of drowning quickly.
‘It was an accidental drowning, she just happened to be a famous movie star’ he told 48 Hours for the program Vanity Fair: Hollywood Scandal. He also accused Mr Davern, the boat’s skipper, of cashing in from his part in the death. Davern has said he blames Wagner for his wife’s death. ‘Obviously he was trying to sell a book and make money off of it. And I think that’s the whole purpose behind his writing this book,’ Rasure said. ‘If I had ever had the slightest inkling that there was a murder, or something suspicious, I would have worked it,’ Rasure said. ‘I did not cover for anybody and I wouldn’t cover for anybody. I don’t care about their celebrity status. They were people.’
Rasure finished his interview by adding that,in his opinion, Natalie Wood, fresh from consuming seven or eight glasses of wine, had heard the boat’s dinghy banging against the boat and had slipped whilst trying to retie it. ‘Others have suggested she was trying to get away from the argument,’ he said. ‘But nobody really knows.’
It’s probably fair to say that none of us enjoy having our judgement questioned or our professionalism challenged. Rasure’s defensiveness and his views on what happened should, in my opinion, be sidestepped.
It was the ship’s captain, Dennis Davern, and not Wagner or fellow passenger Christopher Walken, who identified Wood’s lifeless body after it was retrieved from the water.
Davern and Wagner, had been waiting aboard the Wagners’ yacht, Splendour, for word from the search crews since 1:30 a.m. when the actor had announced over Splendour’s radio, “Someone is missing from our boat.”
The actor declined to view his wife’s body when a small group of officials boarded Splendour to inform him of the grim discovery. Wagner reportedly dropped his head, and with emotion and drama, cried out, “She’s gone, she’s gone, oh, God, she’s gone. Why?”
Dennis Davern embraced Robert Wagner, as if to keep him from falling over.
“Will you please identify her for me, Dennis? I can’t, I just can’t,” Wagner pleaded. The extraordinary request seemed to deepen everyone’s compassion for Wagner, but no one considered, even briefly, that the terrible task of identifying Natalie Wood’s body would haunt Dennis for the rest of his life.
Since his morning show appearance, Davern has denied he is making his revelations for money. Wagner’s rep has issued a statement welcoming any investigation that could provide further details on Wood’s untimely death.
So we end this lurid tale with an extremely inebriated woman possibly attempting to negotiate the mere fifty foot distance to shore in a dinghy to either avoid a rapidly escalating argument between her husband and guest or one between herself and Wagner or both. Wagner’s assertion that she had ‘jumped ship’to attend a party onboard a different boat doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny since her lifeless body was found dressed in a red down jacket, socks and a flannel nightgown. Alternatively, we may presume she was not attempting to vacate the ‘Splendour’ but merely seeking to retie the dinghy in order to avoid it disturbing her sleep. Yet we also have a Captain adamant that the dinghy was securely tied and that it was his responsibility to ensure this was so. We can therefore ask ourselves why she did not simply ask Davern to attend to the noise the dinghy was making. Furthermore, we have a Hollywood actor husband who has absolutely no pressing financial need to murder his wife, (unless we apply the old adage that one can never have enough money), yet fails to turn on the yacht’s search lights the minute all onboard realise that his wife has gone missing. The actress reportedly struggled in the water for twenty five minutes from 11.00 pm until 11.25 p.m. at which point Marilyn Wayne has stated that the cries for help ceased. Reportedly, the first call wasn’t made until 1:30 a.m., two-and-a-half hours between the time that Natalie is first heard screaming in the water.
Suzanne Finstad, author of “Natasha, the Biography of Natalie Wood,” says it it wasn’t until after 3 a.m. that someone called the Coast Guard. The local Baywatch rescue boat captain on duty, Roger Smith, says he wasn’t called until after five in the morning, six hours after Natalie went into the water. In Smith’s opinion, she was alive for three of those hours, hanging onto the skiff. He brought Natalie’s body to shore before rigor mortis had set in and believes the decision to wait so long before calling for help cost the actress her life. “With our equipment and everything…and our expertise we would’ve found her. And she would still be alive today.”
Natalie Wood was wearing a red down jacket when authorities discovered her body 30 years ago … and her wardrobe could prove she floated alive in dark water for hours while Robert Wagner allegedly stalled rescue efforts.
Marti Rulli, the author of the book that triggered the Police into re-opening the investigation into Wood’s death, has performed forensic tests on down coats similar to Natalie’s, that demonstrates their life preserving capabilities in water. Apparently, this type of coat doesn’t sink, but remains floating. Rulli’s findings completely contradict the opinion of the coroner in the case, who insisted the jacket would have sapped Natalie’s strength and weighed her down in the ocean.
In a matter of weeks following his wife’s death, Wagner is ‘being consoled’ by another women and during the interim period, remainscommitted to a ‘low key investigation’. According to Davern’s revised statement, Wagner was upset with having to entertain Walken that weekend and that tensions escalated during a boozy night aboard the ‘Splendour,’ with Wagner smashing a bottle of wine on the coffee table and screaming at Walken, “Do you want to fuck my wife? Is that what you want?!” Walken retreated to his cabin, and Wood stormed off to the master stateroom, with Wagner following her within minutes, according to Davern.
“Then a terrible argument proceeded,” Davern claims in his statement. “I knocked on their stateroom door from the main salon to try to calm the situation. Robert Wagner answered to tell me to go away and not to interfere. I went to the bridge, directly above the Wagner master stateroom. The loud arguing continued and I heard things (objects, possibly people) hitting the walls and things being thrown at the ceiling of the master stateroom, directly beneath me where I stood. Next, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood were on the open back deck arguing loudly.” Davern says he turned on the radio to muffle the fight._ “The only full sentence I could completely decipher during the entire argument was ‘Get off my fucking boat’ said by Robert Wagner,”_ Davern claims. “I was terribly concerned but waited about 15 minutes before going to the deck.?.?. Robert Wagner appeared sweaty, flushed, anxious, nervous, and disheveled. He told me ‘Natalie is missing’ and asked me to search the yacht.”
My problem with all this evidence is that everything hinges on the presumption that Wagner and/or Davern were fully aware of Natalie’s absence from approximately 11:05 p.m. but what if three highly inebriated men had crashed out, whilst a dimunitive woman was drowning, her screams barely audible to the very people who could have saved her? Davern has, after all, lied once, so why should we believe what he says now? Walken was probably asleep and Wagner himself, may well have passed out. There may have been no agitated conversation fifteen minutes later and Davern’s last thought before collapsing himself may well have been relief at the ensuing peaceful atmosphere. This would explain the seemingly inexplicable delay in placing ship to shore calls and the non activation of search lights. Wagner may well have seen his wife in the dinghy; content to “leave the bitch to stew awhile” secure in the belief that she would not seriously contemplate any journey in view of her fear of water. We can but surmise, his guilt ridden horror when he subsequently awoke to find that his wife had not returned; the potential PR implications as grave for him as any allegation that Ted Kennedy had never gone into the Chappaquiddick waters with Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969. With the sudden threat of being caught in flagrante delicto by a patroling police car, it has been alleged that the senator left the vehicle advising the young woman to drive herself home. In her inebriated state, her car went off the bridge into the water whereupon she drowned. Repeated attempts to save her life in the water made for better press fodder than a guilty husband safely tucked up in bed.
Anyone of us can speculate on the behavioural characteristics that were reopening emotional wounds within the Wagner’s marriage, but more importantly, a decade on from their reunion, the relationship would appear to have been in trouble again. In any worsening domestic situation, individuals invariably display symptoms of 1) a withdrawn/confrontational demeanour 2) extravagant and/or consistent spending and most damagingly of all, 3) regular reactive involvement with other partners. In view of the added temptations associated with Hollywood, Natalie’s reinvigorated interest in her career would have resounded in Wagner’s mind like the bells of doom; it is little coincidence therefore, that Jill St. John has had minimal involvement in film projects since her marriage to the beleaguered actor, and then invariably alongside him.