Natasha Gregson Wagner's interview on her mother Natalie Wood by The Spectrum in 2016
With the holidays fast approaching, seasonal movie favorites are already inching their way into television schedules. While considered perennial Christmas fare, the opening scenes of “Miracle on 34th Street” actually take place at Thanksgiving with the annual Macy’s parade.
The 1947 movie and Thanksgiving festivities hold special significance for actress Natasha Gregson Wagner.
“I don’t recall the first time my mother showed me 'Miracle on 34th Street,' but I remember as a child knowing she was in the cast and enjoyed watching her as a little girl,” said Natasha from Los Angeles.
That little girl was Natalie Wood, whose films have been airing throughout November on the Turner Classic Movies network.
“The first time I saw my mom on the television was on one of those big old square box sets and I actually found it a little scary,” recalled Natasha. “I even went around the back to try and figure out how she got inside!”
Now Natasha is sharing her mother’s Hollywood fame with her own children, 4-year-old daughter, Clover, and two stepsons aged eight and 11.
“Last year we showed them the film. Clover was a bit young but now knows that’s her grandmother as a little girl. She asks: ‘So Grandma Natalie met Santa Claus? I thought kids aren’t allowed to see him.’ That’s a hard question to answer!”
Thanksgiving meals with her mother also remain memorable for Natasha.
“She loved Thanksgiving, which was always very festive and our house was filled with a large extended family. But my mom was not a big cook so a lovely couple, Helen and Gene, would prepare the dinner every year. And the lady who helped raise us, (housekeeper and nanny) Willie-Mae, would make sweet potato puree in a hulled out orange shell topped with marshmallows – delicious!”
This Thanksgiving, Natasha is employing additional senses to reinforce memories of her mother and she’s sharing them with fans.
“We just launched a gardenia scented candle,” she said. “When I was growing up, my mom always burned scented candles and gardenia was her favorite scent. And last March, our ‘Natalie’ perfume was also introduced. It’s gardenia-based, too, with my favorite citrus notes added such as orange blossom” (see nataliefragrance.com).
And with a tie back to “Miracle on 34th Street,” a Natalie Holiday Gift Set is also available exclusively from – where else – Macy’s! (see macys.com.)
But with fragrances from contemporary entertainers such as Mariah Carey and Kim Kardashian dominating today's market, could a perfume named after a classic film star compete?
“You’d be surprised,” said Natasha. “A lot of young people seem to know who my mother was, especially if they grew up with parents watching her movies. But it’s also a modern fragrance that speaks to young women. And for those familiar with my mother, it’s a way to celebrate her life.”
Initially, that life was briefly shared with actor Robert Wagner, then with British producer Richard Gregson, Natasha’s father. Later divorced, Wood remarried Wagner who helped raise Natasha. With all that talent, it’s no surprise Natasha has extended the family acting tradition.
Her last film, an independent feature called “Search Engines,” toured the festival circuit this year with a theatrical release in select cities last month. The film also features Natasha’s husband, “7th Heaven” star Barry Watson (see indicanpictures.com).
“The actress playing my husband’s love interest dropped out and his agent asked if I would take the role," explained Natasha. “I haven’t been focusing on acting since I was pregnant, but thought it would be fun working with my husband. And, the film is set at Thanksgiving!”
Since her first film role in 1992, Natasha has worked with some Hollywood legends. In her first TV movie the following year, she shared dramatic scenes with Raquel Welch in the mystery thriller “Tainted Blood.”
“She was very nurturing to me,” said Natasha. “I really enjoyed the emotional depth of my character.”
Her next film, “Dark Horse,” featured an old family acquaintance.
“Tab Hunter was in the cast. He worked with my mother on three films and loved her so much. He was so supportive and kind to me. But I don’t pepper actors who worked with my mom with questions about her, that sort of comes out naturally.”
Natasha remained close to another Hollywood legend – her Godmother, Ruth Gordon, whose success as an actress soared late in life winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Rosemary’s Baby” at the age of 72.
“Ruth took the role of Godparent very seriously,” noted Natasha. “Every time she and her husband Garson were in Los Angeles, they would send this fancy car to pick me up and we’d have a meal together at the Beverly Hills Hotel. My mom had an intimate inner circle of friends throughout her life, and Ruth was one of them."
Known to friends for her loyalty, the public mostly recognized Natalie Wood for her screen presence, often comparing her to Hollywood beauties such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. In one of her last roles playing a Russian translator in 1979's “Meteor," 41-year-old Natalie emerged from rubble at the film's conclusion.
“Even covered in mud, she still looks stunning on the camera," laughed Natasha. "But she didn’t like shooting that scene because she never liked to be dirty and cold!"
While cautious when discussing her family with the media, Natasha recently shared some reminiscences as well as rare family photos in Manoah Bowman’s book ‘Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life’ released in October (see runningpress.com).
“There’s at least 50 never before seen photos,” she said. “My mom saved everything and it’s all housed in a secure storage facility. I just felt it was the right time now to sift through it all for the book.”
Natasha, who turned 46 in September, was just 11 when her mother died. And while her mother tackled acting and parenting successfully, it’s not a juggling act Natasha wants to attempt at the moment.
“I’m quite happy working on my mom’s legacy and raising my children while taking a break from full-time acting,” says Natasha. “But I always remember something my acting teacher, Larry Moss, told me. At the time, he didn’t know who my Godmother was and said ‘Natasha, you’re going to be like Ruth Gordon – the best is yet to come!’”