KIRK DOUGLAS & NATALIE WOOD: deconstructing the lie


The Slog conducts a reasoned demolition of what is (and should remain) almost certainly an ugly rumour about two celebrity lives….and wonders how long Twitter can avoid its critics

Once again this morning, the fanatical feminazis are hellzapoppin’ about the guilt of a much admired, ridiculed (and for several years accused) actor called Kirk Douglas. The general tone of an entire trend #NatalieWood is exemplified here:


The story is attributed to “testimony” from Robert Downey Jr during 2012. A couple of points for starters:

  • Downey is not someone I’d ever want to call as a ‘character’ witness. He’s the kind of witness who needs a protection programme to stop him trying to be a witness.
  • Downey has always vehemently denied being the ‘anonymous’ source known in Hollywood as ‘Himmm’.

But hey, this is minor stuff when we’re on the trail of a scumbagrapist man, right? Everybody in Hollywood knew he’d done it, apparently. So if they did, then 57 years is a long time for every last Hollywood wannabe to keep a secret.

Let’s allow the jury to look at a little more about what Natalie was up to in 1955. When the incident is alleged to have occurred, she was 17, not 16. At the time, was having an affair with 43 year old Nick Ray – director of her first big break Rebel Without A Cause.…and also Frank Sinatra, then nearly 40. The idea that she went to Douglas’s Hotel room about casting for a part without knowing the Hollywood score is thus, shall we say, a little open-minded? This was, lest we forget, 1955.

The rape was apparently so brutal there was “permanent damage” to her organs, and she left the hotel “black and blue with blood and semen pouring down her leg” even though she has been unconscious for some time after the attack. Douglas was obviously the original sperm whale.

Let’s get real: someone who does that kind of attack doesn’t do it once and then retire gracefully. That sort of Hollowood rape was very real for nearly seventy years, but it is a cast-iron serial condition. I know of no other similar accusation against Douglas.

So let’s examine Kirk in 1955, described by the conspiranoids as “ultra-powerful in Hollywood, and a one-man money machine at the box office”. This is patently untrue: Douglas hadn’t been nominated for anything since 1952, and had still to make the films Paths of Glory (1957), The Vikings (1958), Spartacus (1960), Lonely are the Brave (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964). It was thought by some at the time, in fact, that Douglas made the Disney potboiler 20,000 Leagues under the Sea in 1954 because he needed the money.

At this point, other elements of the rape accusation begin to look increasingly feeble. Kirk Douglas did indeed need money, because he was busy putting a production company called Bryna together, in order to make himself independent of studio control. Far from seeing him as the golden boy, at least two studios were pissed off with him walking away from their contracts. The idea that – at such a sensitive time – Douglas would risk all as a result of an isolated sexual brainstorm is pretty far-fetched.

Natalie, meanwhile, was already a 3-time Oscar nominee fully tied up making Rebel Without a Cause and then publicising the movie as Dean’s reputation grew during production. She was also already committed to a role in John Ford’s classic The Searchers. 

She had no reason, motive or need to go visit Kirk Douglas about a part for an indie production company that might fold at any time.

But there is far more to the Douglas’s lifetime desire for independence than just money: only the previous year, he had married his wife Anne, with whom he stayed for 65 years. While describing himself candidly as “a son of bitch and pretty damned aggressive”, the sexual attack ascribed to Douglas is completely out of character. He didn’t have a film to “cast” for in 1955, and he did not act in a casting role for Bryna: his only two motives were to make money and thus fund general quality control at all times.

Later in Natalie Woodland in September 1956 Wood had a brief relationship with Elvis Presley. went on a studio-arranged date with the 26-year-old actor Robert Wagner on her 18th birthday, and married him a year later on December 28, 1957. The marriage lasted four years. 

Around this time, she began to turn down roles because “she didn’t want to be separated from her analyst”. Elia Kazan wrote in his memoirs during that period:

 ‘….she told me she was being psychoanalyzed. That did it. Poor R.J.[Wagner], I said to myself. I liked Bob Wagner, I still do….’

On May 30, 1969, Wood married British producer Richard Gregson. In 1970, they had daughter Natasha. The marriage collapsed in August 1971. 

Eventually, she remarried Wagner. They were on a boat together one evening with actor Chris Walken in 1981, crewed by local sailor Dennis Davern, when – after consuming both pills and alcohol – Natalie allegedly began to flirt outrageously with Walken, and she had a “physical” argument with her husband. Her body was found next morning near to a dinghy, and the autopsy showed ‘abrasions to her wrists and arms’. The cause of death remains, like her life, the subject of continued gossip.

The narrative of the Man-Eaters insists that Natalie Wood never recovered from the attack by Kirk Douglas….that this alone explains her neuroses, dependence on psychiatrists and eventual druge misuse that blighted her adult life. But like their depiction of a one-off mad rapist, this idea of of a woman made like she was as the result of one trauma as a teenager shows little or no knowledge of psychiatry. It is also most emphatically not borne out by further investigation of her early life.

The key character here is, without any doubt, Natalie’s mother Maria Zakherenko.

In her 2001 book Natasha, Suzann Finstad has left us a nightmare vision of Maria, largely confirmed at the time by the biography’s reviews and the impressive number of interviews – over 400 – Finstad undertook. I remember the book well, because I read it at the time.

Natalie Woods was made by her mother, not Kirk Douglas.

Finstad describes Wood’s horrific childhood, anxiety-ridden stardom, and her ruthlessly controlling mother Maria with brilliant objectivity. Determined as soon as Natalie could walk to make her a star, the instant her daughter landed a tiny child role, Zakherenko moved the entire family to Hollywood.

She filled her daughter to the brim with phobias and demands, brainwashing her daughter with fantasies and fears, and pushing her at influential people in the manner of a depraved pimp. Finstad also confirmed that she ‘directed her daughter to offer sexual favours’ as if she were playing a role already – and that Wood began to believe that bedding men was the only way to please this woman – described to me over dinner during the early 1990s by a former Sinatra confidant as “like a stage mother out of 1920s dark German cinema, almost a Peter Lorre in drag”.

Again doing her mothers bidding – she was directed ‘line by line’ as to how to seduce the director – Wood did indeed use her affair with 43-year-old Nicholas Ray to get the starring role in Rebel Without A Cause.

“She was more fucked up than Monroe,” said my all too brief dining companion, “but you know the funny thing? She didn’t need to do any of it….she was actually a damned good actress”.

Despite her devastating looks, Natalie Wood had, by the age of fourteen, grown convinced that her worth could only ever be measured by throwing herself at men of influence. Wagner appears to have been the one exception….but even with him, she felt that screwing Chris Walken was the only way to keep Robert.

The actor himself has retained a silence about both their marriage and Wood’s death. The most intriguing thing about her end was that she had – allegedly – gone down the boatladder and unmoored the dinghy unaccompanied. Which is very odd, because one of her myriad phobias was a terror of approaching water close up.

There are times when Twitter disgusts me. In truth, what it does is provide a playground for people who should never be let anywhere near a school or any place where reality, facts, evidence, motive, access, history, science or common sense are valued above all – and there to socialise our children.

Put simply, the Mobentum in play here doesn’t think. They skipped the socialisation semester…..and it shows.

The people screaming their deranged, ill-informed and ideologically bloated accusations around #NatalieWood today really have no place in a civilised culture. They resemble, far more (it seems to me) the sort of blinkered, obsessive compulsion that drove the woman and mother Maria Zakherenko to destroy her beautiful daughter.


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