After recent developments, even those who are too young to remember Natalie Wood know now, she died over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1981. At the time, she had almost finished her work on Brainstorm, a film that would be completed and finally released nearly two years later. But there was a new and exciting project just on the horizon for Natalie, one she never had a chance to begin.
That project was a stage production of Anastasia, the story of a woman claiming to be the only survivor of the murdered last Russian royal family. Natalie, during her long career, had never worked in live theatre, and she was nervously excited about the opportunity ahead. In fact, because her principal work had been completed on Brainstorm, which she had done to fill time until she could begin work on Anastasia, she was set to start rehearsals the Monday after Thanksgiving.
I mentioned in a previous article that I had once gathered a quite large collection of Natalie Wood material, and that, as I became known as a serious collector, I had been contacted by some of those who had been close to her. One of those I expected to hear from eventually was Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood, and I was correct in my expectations. Circumstances were such that Lana was selling some of her sister’s personal possessions, and she finally emailed me to offer some for my purchase. One of these items was Natalie’s own promotional poster for Anastasia, which, according to Lana, was one of six made and given to those principally involved in the production. Lana had no idea what had happened to the other five, but this one had passed to her after Natalie’s death and had hung on her wall since. The poster was even mentioned on page 369 of Suzanne Finstad’s landmark biography of Natalie, Natasha, The Biography of Natalie Wood, published in 2001 by Harmony Books. As Suzanne wrote, on Monday, November 30, 1981, some friends “gathered in the living room and den of the Wagners’ home on Canon, where the mesmerizing poster of Natalie, as Anastasia, was propped against a wall, a haunting reminder of the play she would have been rehearsing were she alive.” Natalie had received it just before she went to Catalina, but it would never hang on her wall.
At the height of my collecting, I had what I called my “Kill-For List,” which was a mental list of items related to Natalie that I would most like to have. An Anastasia poster was on that list. (I never got any of the others.) So, when Lana offered the poster to me, I had to have it. Lana was a sharp businesswoman, and she didn’t quote upfront prices for anything she offered for sale; she wanted me to make offers, so she could accept or reject them. In this instance, I offered an amount equal to the highest price I had paid to date for anything Natalie-related: the bridal veil she wore in the flashback wedding scene in Brainstorm. Lana politely declined the offer. I learned later that, before she came back to me, uniquely naming a price, she had unsuccessfully offered the poster to someone I knew. That price was 50% above my original offer. I jumped at it, and, after some time figuring out how to safely pack and ship it, the poster was on its way across the country, where it still hangs on my living room wall after more than 12 years.
The Anastasia poster is as it was when Natalie and Lana received it, in its original frame and condition. It depicts Natalie dressed in a gown, her hair up, and wearing her own jewelry. The black and white photo for the poster was taken by Natalie’s personal photographer since around 1970, Michael Childers, and was selected from a series of shots taken during that photo shoot. The poster includes, at the top, the title and the expected opening date of February 12, 1982. As noted at the bottom of the poster, the play was to have been staged at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. A tribute to Natalie was published on page CTG-16 of the February 1982 issue of Performing Arts, published by the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, using a photo similar to the one on the poster. The play was never staged.
During the time of our correspondence via email, Lana offered me a number of items, and I purchased roughly a dozen, all of which I still have, but the Anastasia poster is a treasure. Lana was sad to part with it, but she knew it would have a good home with me. Shortly after I received the poster, Lana offered a companion piece: a photo of Natalie in an alternate shot from the poster shoot, signed and inscribed by Michael Childers and presented by him to Lana as a bittersweet gift for Christmas 1981. I bought that, too, and they will stay together among the very best items I kept from my larger collection of Natalie memorabilia.
NOTE TO EDITOR: I am resubmitting this article with some changes. Although the content of my piece might not be “common knowledge,” it is not uncommon knowledge among those who are familiar with Natalie’s life. As to the matter of citation, I have cited the quote from Suzanne’s book. The rest of my article is based on personal experience and knowledge. I am the source; I am the authority. I am known to be in the collecting world. If that is not good enough, don’t publish the piece; if it is, please let me know, and I will delete this paragraph before publishing it.