Date of Birth : Jul 20th 1938
When she was just four years old, Natalie appeared in her first film called HAPPY LAND which was released in 1943. A production company had come to Santa Rosa where the Gurdin’s were living at the time and won a bit part of a crying little girl who had just dropped her ice cream cone. With stars in her eyes for her daughter, Mrs. Gurdin packed the family and moved south to Los Angeles in the hopes that more films would come her daughter’s way. Unfortunately, they did not, at least not right at the moment and the family continued to scrape by much as they had done in Santa Rosa.
Three years later in 1946, Natalie appeared in her second film entitled TOMORROW IS FOREVER. Although she was only seven at the time, she flunked her first screen test for the role. After being convinced by her mother to give her another test, the studio heads were impressed and awarded the role to Natalie. As Carol Warren in THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS, Natalie had already solidified her self as a bona fide star and she was just a child. Most actresses would be envious at such a smooth start.
In 1947’s MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, Natalie won movie patrons hearts as Susan Walker in a film that is considered a Christmas classic to this day. For a child actress, Natalie stayed very busy appearing in no less than 18 films in the late 40’s and early 50’s.
Not all the films she appeared in was a success. As a matter of fact two were duds. In 1948, Natalie appeared in SCUDDA HOO! SCUDDA HAY! a film best left undeveloped and in the can. The other was THE SILVER CHALICE. Years later co-star Paul Newman took out an ad and apologized for the movie when it made it to television.
When she was 17, Natalie appeared in a film which would further solidify her as a star and send her into adulthood as an actress who still had a bright future ahead of her. The film was 1955’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE with stars James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Dennis Hopper. She played Judy, a rebellious high school student who was more concerned with hanging out with the wrong crowd rather being a sweet teenager like her contemporaries. The result was her first Academy Award nomination.
After that movie, Natalie began taking on more adult type roles. She appeared in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, WEST SIDE STORY (both in 1961), GYPSY (1962), and LOVE WITH A PROPER STRANGER (1963). While Natalie was reported to be unhappy making WEST SIDE STORY, the film did win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. In short, the film was a smash hit. Although she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award in that one, Natalie did receive nominations for her roles in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS and LOVE WITH A PROPER STRANGER. Unfortunately, she won neither.
After the movie, THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED in 1966, Natalie stayed away from filming for three years giving herself time for herself and to consider where she was going. When she did return her star quality had not diminished a bit, when she played Carol Sanders in BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE.
From that point on Natalie didn’t work as much. She spent most of her time raising her family. She made a few television appearances, but nothing of substance with the exception of the TV mini-series “From Here to Eternity”. After making THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA (1980), Natalie began work on BRAINSTORM in 1981 with Christopher Walken. She did not live to see it released.
On November 29, 1981, Natalie was sailing on the yacht she shared with her husband, Robert Wagner, and their friend Walken, when Natalie drowned while trying to board the dinghy tied up alongside the yacht. She was 43 years old. Natalie had made 56 films for TV and the silver screen and it’s hard to say what she could have done while making her comeback.