Natalie and Lana Wood may have been eight years apart, but the sisters were both pushed into show business by their mother Maria Zakharenko, a Russian immigrant.
While Natalie “loved all the attention,” Lana claimed she wasn’t so enthusiastic about Hollywood. She reportedly would run away just to avoid the auditions the matriarch set up for her.
“I just wanted to be left alone,” Lana recently recalled to Closer Weekly. “I wanted to go to school and be like my friends.”
It was Natalie, she said, who intervened and made Zakharenko promise that she would stop being a stage mother to her younger sibling.
Natalie Wood, circa 1960. (Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“She always tried to protect me,” said the 75-year-old.
Natalie, who was nominated for three Academy Awards and starred in movies like “West Side Story,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” passed away at age 43. She was on a yacht with her husband Robert Wagner, co-star Christopher Walken and boat captain Dennis Davern on Thanksgiving weekend of 1981. After a night of drinking, her body was found floating in the waters off Southern California’s Catalina Island.
Investigators initially ruled Natalie’s death an accident but reopened the case in 2011 to see whether Wagner, 91, or anyone else played a role after Davern said he heard the couple arguing the night of her disappearance. The coroner’s office amended Natalie’s death certificate the next year to include “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
Lana recalled to the outlet how she and Natalie were close confidantes.
Lana Wood (right) said she was very close to her sister Natalie Wood. (Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
“I always ran to Natalie if I needed somebody to give me a hug after I broke up with a boyfriend,” she said. “Or if I had an audition to do, I would ask to run the dialogue by her. The only time we weren’t glued together and talking about things other than just superficial stuff were the years when she was married to [Wagner]. Those were the times when she seemed almost disengaged.”
Lana admitted she never really felt close to her brother-in-law.
“I didn’t really engage RJ in anything when I was at their house,” she said. “It was always just me and Natalie doing things together, but never RJ. Perhaps I am to blame for some of that.”
Lana claimed she was “confused” by her sister’s marriage to the actor. The couple first tied the knot in 1957 but called it quits in 1962. They said “I do” once more in 1972 and remained together until her death.
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood said “I do” twice in their lifetimes. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
“She never said to me, ‘I can’t live without him,’ or, ‘We are meant to be together,’” alleged Lana. “A psychic once told me that they were together in another life, and it didn’t end well, and they keep trying to make it right.”
Natalie’s death still raises questions – ones that still haunt Lana.
“If I could talk to Natalie now, I would say, ‘I will do everything in my power to clear your name, your motives, and to explain who you really were,’” she said. “‘And I won’t stop until we get the truth.'”
Lana recently released a memoir titled “Little Sister: My Investigation into the Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood,” where she sheds light on details surrounding the case and how she has fought for answers over the years.
Lana Wood (right) recently wrote a book about Natalie Wood’s tragic passing. (NY Daily News via Getty Images)
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re still on the case,” she told Fox News in November. “I’m hoping that perhaps somebody’s son or daughter would have seen or remembered something. There’s got to be more people out there that know something.”
In 2018, Los Angeles sheriff’s officials named Wagner a “person of interest.” He has denied any involvement in Natalie’s death, and no charges have been filed. His spokesperson had no comment when Fox News reached out regarding Lana’s book.
That same year, Lana and Davern participated in a podcast titled “Fatal Voyage” which pointed fingers at Wagner. At the time, a spokesperson for Wagner told Fox News: “They are despicable human beings, capitalizing on the accidental death of a beloved member of the Wagner family. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
Lana, who has no relationship with the actor, said she previously pleaded with Wagner to speak with the investigators handling the case.
Splendour, the boat owned by Robert Wagner, docked off Two Harbors, Catalina Island the day after the body of Hollywood legend Natalie Wood was discovered in the chill November waters. Wood was with her husband Robert Wagner, co-star Christopher Walken, and Splendour’s captain Dennis Davern on the evening of November 28, 1981. Authorities recovered her body at 8 a.m. on Nov. 29 one mile away from the boat, with a small Valiant-brand inflatable dinghy beached nearby. (Paul Harris/Getty Images)
“I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t speak to the detectives,” she said. “He never did. And I don’t know that he ever will. Will there ever be a deathbed confession? Probably not. It just seems to be going that way. All I can do is have the truth printed.”
Lana said she has zero doubts that Wagner is “responsible” for what happened to her sister.
“There were two people on the back of the boat and then there was only one,” she alleged. “I hold him accountable.”
In a 2008 memoir, Wagner wrote that he and Walken argued on the night in question. When he went to bed, the star noticed that his wife and a rubber dinghy that had been tied to the yacht were missing.
Natalie Wood’s passing still raises questions today. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“There are only two possibilities,” Wagner wrote. “Either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”
Walken, now 78, has said little publicly over the years about the incident and has offered brusque replies at times when pressed. However, he told Playboy in 1997 that he thought Natalie was probably half-asleep and slipped, hit her head and fell from the dinghy. Lana insisted it was unlikely that Natalie would have attempted to leave the boat on her own.
“That’s pretty drastic for Natalie,” the former Bond girl explained. “She always had a thing about being alone. I had flown to New York a couple of times to stay with her because she would call and say, ‘There’s nobody here. How fast can you get here?’ And then I would do everything I could to get on a plane and be with her. Being alone was always an issue for her. So I can’t imagine she would try to leave a boat in the middle of the dark by herself.”
Lana said she will continue to push for answers regarding her sister’s passing. Natalie, she said, would have done the same for her.
“I hope that after reading this book, people will learn what Natalie was really like and what she went through,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.