Natalie Wood (July 20, 1938 - November 29, 1981) was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco, California, as the daughter of Russian immigrants. Soon her parents changed their surname to Gurdin, and at the age of 4 she was billed as Natasha Gurdin. A well-known child star, she was one of the relatively few who made the transition to adult stardom. Though she could hardly be called a "great" actress in the classic sense, within her own range she was a highly effective one, winning Academy Award nominations for Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass and Love With the Proper Stranger. Another of her great films was the musical by Leonard Bernstein West Side Story, in which she played the leading character Maria. Having a nice voice, she was supposed to sing all her songs. At the end she was dubbed by a professional singer, what was to her a great disappointment. During these years, which were the best of her career as an adult actress, she was a real Hollywood star, and was compared with Elizabeth Taylor.
Her two marriages to actor Robert Wagner were stormy, and conducted in the public eye. But they were once more reconciled at the time of her death. She was in the filming of the movie Brainstorm and preparing to make her stage debut in a Los Angeles production of Anastasia, opposite Dame Wendy Hiller, when she drowned in 1981 during one night while their yacht was anchored at Catalina Island, near Los Angeles.