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Documentary recalls Natalie Wood as actress, mother

Posted 5/5/20

By Kevin McDonough

So many documentaries engage in exposing truths and challenging authority that it's almost strange to encounter a film that claims to be the "official" story. Don't go watching the HBO feature "Natalie Wood: What Remains …

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Documentary recalls Natalie Wood as actress, mother

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

So many documentaries engage in exposing truths and challenging authority that it's almost strange to encounter a film that claims to be the "official" story. Don't go watching the HBO feature "Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind" (9 p.m., HBO, TV-14) if you're looking for dirt, new details about its subject's life and death or lurid revelations.

Made by Wood's daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner, it includes interviews with other siblings, family friends, Hollywood stars and Wagner's father, Robert Wagner, now 90 and long subject to speculation about his role in Wood's sudden death nearly 40 years ago.

The film has access to clips from Wood's many films as well as home movies and footage of many publicity features made on behalf of Wood and Wagner when they were impossibly good-looking rising stars in the 1950s. Other stellar bodies from their era, including Mia Farrow, Richard Benjamin and Robert Redford, recall the couple's courtship, family life, divorce, remarriage and seeming domestic bliss.

These participants are pretty much as old as "old Hollywood" gets these days, and their recollection of New Year's Eve parties where Fred Astaire sang at the piano and where you might bump into Laurence Olivier and David Niven while mixing drinks are the stuff of TCM heaven.

"Wood" is directed by Laurent Bouzereau, who has enjoyed a long career creating the "making of" and "behind the scenes" documentaries that accompany DVD sets of Hollywood movies.

Part of the fun of watching such an "authorized" biography is trying to find the holes in the narrative. Why didn't Warren Beatty show up here? Discretion? Or vanity?

It's also interesting to see how Hollywood publicity and myth-making changed over the decades. Wood lived only 43 years, but she started making movies as a child and was around when studios still seemed to control every aspect of their employee's image. Later, we see interviews with Wood and husbands Richard Gregson and then Wagner with David Frost, Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin.

One possible reason why the death of Natalie Wood has inspired so much tabloid speculation for so long is that she simply died at the wrong time. She drowned on Nov. 29, 1981, just two months after the debut of the syndicated series "Entertainment Tonight." Suddenly there was a nightly showcase for Hollywood "news" or scuttlebutt. Her sudden death was one of the first major stories of the "Entertainment Tonight" era, and tabloid media has been chattering about it ever since.

• Netflix begins streaming the stand-up special "Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill."

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

"The Queen at War" (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) recalls how Elizabeth II's World War II experiences shaped her long reign.

• A kidnapper resumes on "FBI" (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

• The "American Experience" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-MA, check local listings) profile of President George W. Bush concludes.

• A father-son team robs banks on "FBI: Most Wanted" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• Sharpe's image on "New Amsterdam" (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

• Aaron gets his best shot in court on "For Life" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

The victim of a violent assault (Steve Carell) takes refuge in a world of his imagination, manifested in a miniature world of houses and lifelike dolls depicting a village during World War II in the 2018 drama "Welcome to Marwen" (8 p.m., Cinemax). Based on a true story.

SERIES NOTES

A corpse raises questions on "NCIS" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) * Apartment hunting on "The Connors" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Godspeed returns on "The Flash" (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG) * A twister descends on "Bless This Mess" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-14) * Primary colors on "mixed-ish" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * The Loom of Fate returns on "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) * Pops' secret shocks Dre on "black-ish" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

LATE NIGHT

Jimmy Fallon welcomes Ryan Reynolds, Karlie Kloss and Ezra Koenig on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Nathan Lane and Lauren Lapkus visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC).

© 2020, United Feature Syndicate