1962: When Natalie Wood Was Warren Beatty’s Plus-One on the Croisette

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In May 1962, Natalie Wood posed at Cannes for two U.S. Navy sailors.

By the time she hit the beach in Cannes in 1962, Wood had been nominated for two Academy Awards.

"She was so good, she was terrifying,” said Orson Welles of Natalie Wood regarding acting with her in RKO’s 1946 drama Tomorrow Is Forever. She was just seven years old at the time. Even at that age, Wood, born Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko, seemed destined to be a star. She earned her first lead role the next year in the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street.

By the time she hit the beach in Cannes in 1962, Wood had been nominated for two Academy Awards: for best supporting actress in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause opposite James Dean; and for best actress in 1961’s Splendor in the Grass, in which she starred with Warren Beatty. The actress was 23 when she attended as the festival’s guest, under the honorary title of “Etoile de Cannes” (“Cannes Star”), along with Beatty, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider.

Beatty had the John Frankenheimer drama All Fall Down in competition for the Palme d’Or that year, and Wood walked the red carpet with him at the film’s showing, a month after the finalization of her divorce from actor Robert Wagner. “Together in public, they were something to behold,” wrote Lana Wood of her sister and Beatty in her book, Natalie. “Beautiful, exciting, sophisticated.” But that relationship quickly ended, and a decade after the Cannes interlude, Wood and Wagner would remarry.

At 43, during a 1981 boat trip with Wagner and Christopher Walken, co-star of her then-latest film, Brainstorm, Wood drowned off Santa Catalina Island under circumstances that remain mysterious to this day. In 2012, the official cause of death was changed from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

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