Natalie Wood was a child star who went on to have a very successful adult career. Unfortunately the beautiful actress was also the victim of a horrific sexual assault. When she was fifteen years old Natalie was raped by an older actor. Although she never went to the police she told several friends that her rapist was actor Kirk Douglas. Natalie was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko on July 20, 1938, in San Francisco, California. Her Russian father was an alcoholic and her mother, Maria, was determined to make Natalie famous. She made her film debut in the 1943 drama Happy Land. At age nine she was cast as a cynical little girl in Miracle On 34th Street. The film made her one of Hollywood's most popular child actresses. She costarred with Bette Davis in The Star and with in Joan Blondell in The Blue Veil. When she was just fifteen her mother encouraged her to begin an affair with thirty-seven year old Frank Sinatra. Then in the Spring of 1954 Kirk Douglas invited Natalie to his room at the Chateau Marmont for an audition.
Natalie and Kirk Douglas
They remarried in 1972 and their daughter, Courtney, was born two years later. Natalie began to work less so she could spend more time with her family. Although she had a lifelong fear of dark water she and Robert owned a yacht called "The Splendor". On November 29, 1981 Natalie was on the yacht when she fell overboard and drowned. According to sources she had been drinking that night and had a fight with Robert. The police ruled her death was an accident. However many people believe that she was actually murdered. She was just forty-three years old. Natalie is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California. Her daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, also became a successful actress. In 2012 the investigation into Natalie's drowning was reopened and her official cause of death was changed from accident to "drowning and other undetermined factors". Meanwhile Kirk Douglas was never charged with a crime and never publicly talked about the "rumors" he raped Natalie. He died in 2020 at the age of 103.
Robert Wagner with Natalie's coffin