It's one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries: what happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 29, 1981 that resulted in the drowning death of Natalie Wood?
Thirty-one years later, we're still not entirely sure. The actress was one of the most successful to ever make the jump from child-star, in films like Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and The Ghost of Mrs. Muir (1947), to angsty teenager in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and The Searchers (1956), to accomplished adult thespian in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and West Side Story (1961). Wood and her movie-star husband Robert Wagner were one of Hollywood's true power couples. Since she'd never been a subject for scandal-mongers, her death at the age of 43 came as a true shock.
The incredible thing is that the tragedy has been back in the news the past year and a half, ever since the captain of the yacht on which Wood and Wagner were vacationing announced that he had lied to investigators about what happened that night. He said Wagner was "responsible for her death" because he allegedly refused to look for Wood when she went missing following an argument. Just this week, on January 14, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office released 10 additional pages to its autopsy report on Wood's body that suggested she may have incurred bruises before she went into the water. There's no way to conclusively determine that that was the case, but it suggests an assault may have proceeded her death.
It's a lot to make sense of, so if you're scratching your head about the details we've taken it upon ourselves to round up what we do know...and what we still don't.
What was the original account of the events surrounding Wood's death?
Wood had just finished shooting Douglas Trumbull's science fiction film Brainstorm with Christopher Walken, so she, Wagner, and Walken rented a yacht, the Splendour, to take a vacation cruise to Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California coast. According to the initial account given to investigators, the three of them ate at a restaurant on the island on the evening of Nov. 28, 1981. Afterwards, they returned to the yacht, and Wagner and Walken got into a major shouting match. Wood was dragged into it, and eventually she stormed off to her cabin. However, when Wagner, who had remained on deck drinking, went to join her in their cabin, she was nowhere to be found. The next morning Wood's body drifted ashore about a mile away from the yacht and was found near an inflatable dinghy.
What was the long-held theory about the circumstances of her death?
When the L.A. County Coroner's Office got the results back from a toxicology study performed on Wood's body, it showed she had a blood alcohol level of 0.14%. The legal limit in California is 0.08%. She also had taken two prescriptions: one was for motion sickness, the other a painkiller. Those would undoubtedly have amplified the effect of the alcohol. The theory was that Wood noticed the dinghy was getting loose from the side of the yacht, so she tried to tie it back up. And in doing so, fell overboard. That would explain the bruises on her torso and arms, and the abrasion on her left cheek. The official cause of death was listed as both drowning and hypothermia. The other possibility is that, enraged by the argument she had with her husband, she took off in the dinghy to head for shore and never made it.
Who was listed as being responsible for Wood's death?
No one. The Coroner's Office determined that her death was nothing more than a tragic accident.
So why was the inquiry reopened in 2011?
On the 30th anniversary of Wood's death, the Splendour's captain, Dennis Davern, announced on on the Today show that he had lied to authorities during the initial inquiry. He alleged that Wagner delayed reporting his wife missing, "didn't take any steps to see if [he] could locate her," and thus, in his opinion, was "responsible for her death." The initial autopsy concluded, based on the contents of Wood's stomach, that she had died right around midnight on the morning of Nov. 29. Wagner didn't report her missing until around 1:30 a.m.
L.A. Coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, a semi-celebrity from his extensive testimony during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, reopened the case, as did LAPD investigators. They interviewed 100 new witnesses and reexamined the original autopsy report. Nine months after Davern's new allegations, Dr. Sathyavagiswaran changed the cause of death on Wood's death certificate to "drowning and other undetermined factors." Beyond that the LAPD had ordered the coroner's office not to divulge any further details of the new investigation.
Was there any indication of foul play?
For the past 31 years, the official answer to this question has been "no." However, on Jan. 14, Dr. Sathyavagiswaran released a ten-page addendum to the original autopsy report, which suggested that the bruises on Wood's torso and arms, and the gash on her left cheek, might have been the result of a struggle before she went into the water and not from her body getting carried by the tide after she'd drowned, as had always been assumed. There's no conclusive evidence to definitively determine when was those bruises were incurred. They could still just has easily have come after she was in the water, but it's not a certainty.
If there was foul play, is the LAPD circling suspects in her death?
No. The official position of the LAPD is that Wood's death was an accident, and that there are no pending charges or suspects in the case.
What's Robert Wagner's response to the investigation and Capt. Davern's claims?
The only response Wagner has had to the latest update in the investigation he released as a statement through his attorney, Blair Berk: "After 30 years, neither Mr. Wagner nor his daughters have any new information to add to this latest investigation, which was unfortunately prompted by those seeking to exploit and sensationalize the 30th anniversary of the death of his wife and their mother." Additionally, The Los Angeles Times reports that Wagner has not agreed to grant the LAPD an interview regarding the new developments in the probe, and that he is the only surviving person who was on that yacht the night of Wood's death with whom they have not spoken since the initial inquiry in 1981.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Getty]
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As its title suggests Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is intended to lay the foundation for a new franchise of sci-fi flicks in which humans and super-intelligent apes battle for earthly supremacy. Its duty then is to explain within the span of two hours and with a modicum of credulity how exactly our simian friends might come to supplant us atop the animal kingdom. The scenario was at least partially addressed in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes the fourth entry in the original series’ convoluted and time-warped canon and while Wyatt's film draws inspiration from Conquest it is by no means a remake. Nor for that matter is related in any way to Tim Burton’s underwhelming 2001 entry. (And thank goodness for that.)
The titular rise begins as with many of the world’s great catastrophes with the actions of one highly irresponsible man. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic scientist of prodigious talent and questionable ethics who works at a fancy San Francisco biotech firm called Gen-Sys (subtle!). His effort at producing a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease carries an ulterior motive: His father (John Lithgow) suffers from it and is close to entering its final stages. Will is close to a breakthrough when one of his chimpanzee test subjects goes well apesh*t causing his company’s suitably callous CEO Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo gamely spewing lines like “I run a business not a petting zoo!") to order the research facility’s entire chimp population liquidated.
Will is busy carrying out the grim mandate when he discovers that one of the test chimps has borne an offspring one he can’t bring himself to euthanize. Instead he and his primatologist girlfriend Caroline (Frieda Pinto gorgeous and superfluous) partners in appallingly bad decision-making decide to raise the infant chimp as their own naming it Caesar. Having inherited his mother’s gene modifications he shows signs of advanced intelligence and quickly develops a close bond with his adoptive human parents. But Caesar soon outgrows his domestic habitat and eventually must be shipped off to a simian “sanctuary” that is in reality anything but.
At this point we’re halfway through the film – and miles away from erudite apes and enslaved humans. To get us on track director Wyatt executes a rather audacious tonal shift transitioning abruptly from what was heretofore a fairly sober Project Nim dramatization into the balls-out apes-gone-wild summer action flick promised by the film’s trailers. His efforts are aided tremendously by his screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa whose clever absorbing script offers just enough plausibility in the first half to make its increasingly loony second half not just palatable but downright enjoyable. Wyatt strikes a delicate thematic balance respecting the subject matter while acknowledging its inherent silliness. (Scattered throughout the film are sly nods to previous Planet of the Apes films as well as a glimpse of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments.)
The silliness accelerates seemingly by the frame in Rise’s latter half as Caesar mounts a conspiracy to escape his Dickensian squalor exact revenge upon his cartoonishly malevolent captors and take his simian revolution to the streets. And it only gets crazier from there – the third act is basically a PETA wet dream. As far as cautionary tales go Rise is about as cautionary as they come.
Andy Serkis who performed all of the performance-capture work for Caesar is a marvel in the role though the question remains as to how the credit should be divvied up between him and the technicians at WETA digital who “painted” the character’s CG features. And make no mistake Caesar is very much a character – as well-rounded and fully-formed and convincing as they come and easily more compelling than any of his non-digital counterparts. Franco for his part is credible enough as a scientist who in spite of his academic credentials is a bit of a dolt (and perhaps a tad disturbed) and Lithgow tackles a relatively thankless role with grace. But the real stars are all those damn dirty apes.
In the late 19th century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) a misunderstood monster hunter is summoned to Transylvania to ferret out Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him once and for all. When Van Helsing gets to the small village where the vampire was last spotted he discovers he also must contend with Dracula's three seriously twisted vampire brides Dracula's angry henchman/werewolf--and a lovely gypsy princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who is hell-bent on eradicating Dracula and his bloodsucking kind for slaughtering her entire family. Oh and let's not forget Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) who holds the key to Dracula's evil master plan--something about releasing his minions of unborn bat-like children from their goo-filled cocoons so they can wreck havoc on the world. Yuck. Sounds like our resident monster stomper and his sword-swinging gal pal have their work cut out for them. If Van Helsing does manage to kill all his monster foes does that mean he's out of a job?
Jackman has the whole antihero thing down pat. He adequately embodies the younger more virile Van Helsing dishing out as much pain and torture as he can on the undead--but the Aussie actor isn't given nearly as much meat to chew on as he did say delving into the complicated Wolverine in X-Men. Instead the monster hunter is relegated to carrying big weapons wearing a big hat and muttering something about having bad dreams to a past he can't remember. Same goes for Beckinsale. The British actress was oh-so-cool on the other side of the fence playing the chic vampire Selene in Underworld cutting her way through a myriad of werewolves. As Van Helsing's heavily accented female counterpart Anna however she just runs around with her sword blurting out such pathetic dialogue such as "Dracula took everything away from me and now I'm alone in the world" while Roxburgh's Dracula--who can't hold a candle to other far more charismatic Draculas before him--wails about being so very alone as his luscious brides hang upside down in front of him. Give me a break. At least Australian actor David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) provides much-needed comic relief as Van Helsing's sidekick Carl a Catholic friar who doesn't much like playing hero.
With the requisite dark mood and tone action sequences and snazzy CGI-creations including the winged vampire brides and formidable werewolves you can see exactly where writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) spent Van Helsing's nearly $150 million budget. But even all the bells and whistles can't tie together the film's vacuous nonsensical mumbo jumbo as Sommers attempts to bring classic movie monsters together in the same movie. Maybe in a tongue-in-cheek Abbott and Costello movie it could work but as a serious action-packed thriller clearly Dracula Frankenstein and the Wolf Man do not need to meet. On top of that Sommers steals from other movies as well such as recent films Underworld (the whole vampire vs. werewolf conflict) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Van Helsing defeats a rather familiar-looking Mr. Hyde at one point). Whatever originality there is in the film leaves you either scratching your head--Dracula has kids?--or rolling your eyes--Anna needs to kill Dracula so her nine-generations of family can reunite in Heaven? Please.
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) who following a laboratory snafu absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad which causes him to turn into a huge rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte) who as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger for example but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film his co-worker Betty played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances however are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Ang Lee has turned to bigger greener matters. The Hulk the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic) is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands but his momentum even throws him off balance at times sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab Betty reacts in one panel Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on making the far and wide close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen it lost its wit.