"Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour" is a compelling examination of the events surrounding actress Natalie Wood's mysterious death during an ill-fated weekend yacht trip in November 1981. The deeper into the book I got the more convinced I became that husband Robert ("RJ") Wagner was not an innocent bystander, far from it, and the authorities doing the initial investigating failed miserably in their shared responsibility to determine the facts and proceed accordingly.
Why did chief coroner Thomas Noguchi conclude that the weight of the red jacket found on Natalie's body weighted her down, preventing her from climbing into the yacht's dinghy to safety when in fact the jacket's down filling had kept her body afloat? (The red jacket was spotted by helicopter the following morning.) What explained the ugly bruises on Natalie's arms, legs, ankles and the left side of her face--injuries that could not be caused by falling into water--and, perhaps not coincidentally, why did it take some FOUR HOURS to convince Robert Wagner to call in the Coast Guard when he "discovered" his wife was missing? Why did California police decline to interview nearby boaters who insisted they'd heard a woman's cries for help during the night? Clearly the power of celebrity and money allowed someone (looking straight at you, RJ) to get away with negligent homicide or manslaughter if not murder, leaving the hapless skipper Dennis Davern holding the emotional bag.
Davern was the only witness to that strange, tension-filled weekend and he emerges in his trusted friend Marti Rulli's book as a naïve, haunted and deeply guilt-stricken man. Davern knew he did wrong lying to the police, silenced by fear, confusion, and the enormous weight of Robert Wagner's influence and power. For months, in the immediate aftermath of Natalie's death, he allows Wagner to control literally his every movement. Davern rationalizes this behavior--his and Wagner's--as shared grief for the lost, beloved Natalie, of whom he became very fond in the years he'd known and worked for her. In time he realizes that he and RJ are not friends and probably never were; Robert Wagner's only true concern was for the protection of his image, reputation and career.
Meanwhile the elusive Christopher Walken, the only guest on the Wagner's yacht Splendour, and the person at the center of the rising conflict between Natalie and RJ that fateful night, was allowed to slide away with few if any hard questions asked; he went off to make more movies. When questioned about the tragedy on press junkets, Walken stuck closely to Wagner's story that everything was "fine" and then at some point Natalie just "disappeared." This despite having initially insisted to authorities that he was sound asleep in his guest room and completely unaware of the night's unfolding events.
Both Walken and Wagner changed their stories again, slightly, after Davern eventually admitted a screaming fight erupted between the Hollywood golden couple that began in their stateroom and spilled out onto the lower deck, a brawl so violent that the frightened Davern, stationed up on the bridge, felt compelled to turn on a radio and crank up the volume in an attempt to cover the noise. (When Noguchi noted an argument may have taken place that explained the condition of Natalie's corpse, he was summarily fired from the case.)
Appalling. Infuriating. After this book--you may also want to read Suzanne Finstad's 2001 "Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood" for another perspective--you will likely never look at Robert Wagner (or his manic, menacing turn in 1957's "A Kiss Before Dying") in quite the same way. Probably not until both Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken are dead and gone will the full, ugly truth come out about the tragic end of Natalie Wood.
an extremely sad, and for me an enraging tome. the questions the author raises made me uneasy to begin with. why did rj (the putatively loving husband) delay calling for help, after he and the skipper (dick davern) realized Natalie was not on the boat? In the revised autopsy (done after the publication of this book), the bruises on nat's body were explained as having occurred before she entered the water. a public transit passenger posited they must have occurred during her fall. I riposted, "I think it is much more likely he beat her and caused her to fall in the ocean." that is why , I think, rj was so reluctant to alert the authorities. furthermore, he did not fear the bad publicity, knowing as he did that he came from a long-established, rich and powerful family of Hollywood. i.e. he had enough pull to get away with killing his wife. the author of this intriguing book goes into this in much more detail. if you ever saw this actress in any of her roles , in any of her film productions, and you liked her, you owe it to her spirit to do whatever you are able to, to redress this injustice, down the coast, 11-29-81. r.i.p. Natasha gurdin, born, Santa Rosa, CA, d. Santa Catalina Island, CA. Actress Jill St. John, RJ's next wife, commented, "well she shouldn't have gone out to the boat, not knowing how to swim. I wouldn't have. " Douglas Trumbull, director of Brainstorm, the uncompleted film Nat was working on before dying, got out of the business, and returned to England.
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