Actress Natalie Wood was a beautiful woman, an award-winning actress, and by all accounts, a lively, spirited woman whom everyone enjoyed being around, according to the new HBO documentary called Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind. So it’s no surprise that her dating and marriage history boasts some of the brightest stars of the 1950s and 1960s. Here’s what you need to know about Wood’s lovers and husbands.
Wood Married Robert Wagner in 1957
Wood met her eventual first husband Robert Wagner (who everyone called “RJ”) around the movie studio when she was a teenager, but they didn’t go out until she was of age — the 26-year-old actually took her out on their first date for her 18th birthday.
In the documentary, Wood recounts how she had a crush on him at the age of 10 and told her mother that she wanted to marry him when she grew up. On December 28, 1957, her wish came true. But they separated just four years later and divorced in 1962.
Wagner admits in the documentary that there was tension in the relationship because her career was skyrocketing.
“My career was not igniting like hers was, but that wasn’t really a very big factor in the fact that we separated and eventually divorced,” says Wagner. “It was the pressure on her and her career that caused that. I also think I’d have been able to handle it better if I were older and a bit more experienced.”
Wood Dated Warren Beatty For Two Years, Then a String of Other Famous Men
In 1961, Wood co-starred with heartthrob actor Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass, for which she earned her first Oscar nomination. She and Beatty would go on to date for two years, but Wood’s friend, playwright Mart Crowley, says in the documentary that she didn’t cheat on Wagner and that Wood and Beatty didn’t get together “until long after Splendor had wrapped.”
Wagner admits that relationship made him crazy and he fled to Europe, which is where he reconnected with actress Marion Marshall, whom he would go on to marry in 1963.
“That was a very difficult time because I was so upset and disturbed by everything that I was ready to go after [Beatty]. I can talk about that pretty easily now, but at the time, it was a little bit difficult,” says Wagner, adding, “I was alone, I didn’t have anybody in my life and I just couldn’t stay in Los Angeles anymore and be alone, so I made a decision to move to Europe. I talked to [Wood] and said I was going to Europe and do you want to come there and she said no, I have other plans. And I said OK and I hung up the phone and that was it.”
Wood’s relationship with Beatty was notoriously tumultuous. In a never-published article she wrote for Ladies Home Journal, Wood says of their relationship, “Our affair was a collision from start to finish. While RJ never did express hostility, Warren couldn’t stop and I contributed my share of fireworks too. In fact, we were both so confused that we thought fighting and hostility meant real emotional honesty.”
After their split in 1964, Wood struggled with some mental health issues. Filming The Great Rae took its toll on her and she attempted suicide after filming wrapped, her daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner reveals in the documentary. But Gregson Wagner says she doesn’t think her mother really wanted to die, it was more of a cry for help — especially because right after she took the sleeping pills, she immediately asked for help from Crowley, who was spending the night at her house that night.
“I don’t necessarily look at that night as a suicide attempt. It was really a cry for help. After she swallowed the pills, she banged on Mart’s door so obviously, she wanted to live,” says Gregson Wagner.
After that, Wood entered therapy — then called “analysis” — which is something she eventually encouraged Wagner to do as well after they reconnected. He credits that with saving his life.
After her split from Beatty but before her second marriage, Wood was linked to several famous men, including singer Frank Sinatra, actor Henry Jaglom, actor Michael Caine, producer Arthur Loew Jr., Ladislav Blatnik, the shoe king of Venezuela, and actor David Niven Jr.
She also had a brief dalliance with singer Elvis Presley in 1956, according to Bobbie Ann Mason’s book “Elvis Presley: A Life,” but the two didn’t have much of a connection.
Wood Married Richard Gregson in 1969
After a string of relationships with various actors, Wood met producer Richard Gregson through their mutual friend, actor Robert Redford; Gregson was Redford’s agent at the time and Redford was best man at their wedding.
Wood and Gregson dated for two years and were married in May 1969. They welcomed daughter Natasha in 1970 and the documentary says that was the downfall of their marriage — Wood was so enamored with her daughter and with being a mother that Gregson started to feel like there was no room for him. He then had an affair with Wood’s secretary. When she found out, she kicked him out. Their divorce was finalized in 1972.
Wood Remarried Wagner in 1972
Wood and Wagner reconnected just as they were both coming off splits from their respective spouses and they remarried in July 1972. They welcomed daughter Courtney in 1974.
Because Gregson had left for his home country of England after his split from Natalie, Wagner adopted Natasha and she considers them both to be her father.
“I have two fathers, my biological father is Richard Gregson. I call him Daddy Gregson. My stepfather is Robert Wagner, who everyone called RJ, and I call him Daddy Wagner,” she explains in the documentary.
The Wood-Wagner household also sometimes hosted Wagner’s daughter Katie from his marriage to Marshall and Marshall’s two sons to whom Wagner was a stepfather, Peter and Joshua, from Marshall’s marriage to Stanley Donel. In fact, Joshua says in the documentary that he lived with Wood and Wagner for a while and the marriage just seemed to fit.
“After college, Natalie said come and live in our guest house and I stayed there for years and that’s where we became really close,” says Joshua. “It seemed to be that they should be together. This seemed right.”
Wood and Wagner were married until her death in 1981. He would go on to marry his Hart to Hart co-star Jill St. John, to whom he is still married today. St. John helped him with the loss of Wood because she too had lost a spouse fairly young, and eventually, the children came to accept St. John in their father’s life. Gregson Wagner says she and St. John “talked about it in therapy” and it was “definitely a process,” but they are all one big family now.
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind airs Tuesday, May 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and HBO Latino. It will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 6 at noon ET on HBO and HBO Latino; on May 6 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO2, on May 10 at 11:30 a.m. ET on HBO and HBO Latino, and Monday, May 11 at 1:30 p.m. ET on HBO.