Natalie Wood was one of the biggest film stars of the late 50s and early 60s, starring in such classics as Miracle On 34th Street while still a child and continuing on to acclaimed roles in Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, West Side...
Natalie Wood was one of the biggest film stars of the late 50s and early 60s, starring in such classics as Miracle On 34th Street while still a child and continuing on to acclaimed roles in Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, and more. By 1981 her career had cooled, but she still had one thing from her early days of stardom - her marriage to fellow actor Robert Wagner. Well, remarriage, to be precise.
There was uncertainty about whether the second Wood-Wagner marriage would survive much longer by the time the couple, fellow movie star Christopher Walken, and skipper Dennis Davern set off for a weekend-long jaunt on the couple's yacht, the Splendour, just after Thanksgiving 1981. At the end of the trip, only 3 of the 4 guests on the Splendour would return home alive.
What really happened the fateful night that Natalie Wood supposedly drowned off the California coast? Was it simply a terrible accident, as ruled in the coroner's initial report, or something much more insidious? And why is the famous "Number 2" from the Austin Powers film series the LA police department's number 1 suspect?
We tackle all the stories, theories, and more for a drama-packed 1 year anniversary episode!
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We’ve discussed many times before on the show, especially in our 2-part “Hollywood Horrors” series early on, that I have a fascination with film and film stars since, of course, I am a filmmaker myself, and love the history of my profession. One story that has always stood out to me as both especially tragic and especially mysterious is that of Natalie Wood and her untimely death at the young age of 43. There is so much weirdness surrounding her drowning in 1981 that, unlike other cases, there have been recent developments that dramatically change the story even almost 40 years later...so, of course, I want to dive into her case today, no pun intended. I will of course begin with some backstory, because as you know Sean, I think context is very, very key in any case or mystery.
Natalie Wood was an extraordinarily talented actress from an incredibly young age. Our listeners may recognize her from a variety of places, but most likely as a child actress in the original Miracle on 34th Street, or as a young woman in classics like Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean and the film adaptation of the musical West Side Story. Born in 1938 in California to Russian immigrant parents, Natalia Zakharenko was destined to rise from her unlikely beginnings to become a star. Natalie’s mother, Maria, had visited a psychic in China when she was younger, who told Maria that she would have “a child that would be known internationally” and, also, that “somebody was going to die from drowning.” Maria developed a fear of drowning and especially dark water because of this, which she eventually passed on to her daughter - more on that later. But, because of this, Maria also felt strongly that Natalie would become famous.
Maria had dreamed of becoming an actress or ballet dancer during her childhood in Siberia and China, but had never achieved that success. Of course, that’s always a recipe for a silver screen stage mom. Natalie was first noticed by members of a crew during a film shoot in downtown Santa Rosa California when she was a toddler, which prompted the family to move to Los Angeles in order to pursue a film career for her. Her name was changed from Natalia Zakharenko, nicknamed Natasha, to Natalie Wood by studio executives at RKO Radio Pictures, to Americanize her for the masses. A few weeks before her 5th birthday, Natalie made her film debut in a small role in the film Happy Land. This attracted the notice of director Irving Pichel, who invited her to do a screen test for his next film, Tomorrow is Forever, a couple years later. Natalie won the part, playing a German orphan opposite Orson Welles. A memorable story from this set occurred when Natalie was unable to cry on cue for a certain scene, which prompted her mother to literally tear a butterfly to pieces in front of her, making her sob. Very cool, very cool. Natalie’s natural talent was apparent to all those around her, including big names like Welles, who later said that Natalie was “so good, she was terrifying.” Big words coming from Citizen Kane himself!
Her best-known film as a child actress was the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street, where she starred as a girl who believes a department store Santa Claus is the real deal. Natalie skyrocketed to fame after this, and the film was massively successful - even through today, where it dependably appears on TV every holiday season. She continued in many films after that, taking her schooling on her dozens of film sets - though, despite this, director Joseph L Mankiewicz would say that “In all my years in the business, I never met a smarter moppet.”
Natalie transitioned into teen stardom with some television appearances, but really found success as an ingenue at age 16 when she was chosen to star in the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause alongside James Dean and Sal Mineo. The role required her to sign a long-term contract with Warner Brothers, but it was the first script she really WANTED to do as opposed to what she had previously been told to do by her parents. It marked a turning point in her personal life and her career, and she was nominated that year for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She had managed to do what many child stars hadn’t, and the world was her oyster.
It was at about this point that Natalie was introduced to actor Robert Wagner. Robert Wagner is probably best-known now to the Baby Boomer generation for his role on the 80s mystery series Hart to Hart, or to us millennial types as the eyepatched henchman Number 2 in the Austin Powers film series. At this point, he was a 26-year-old up-and-comer, dwarfed in fame by Wood, who was only 18. Now, Natalie already knew who he was - in fact, she would later recall that, upon seeing him in the studio commissary when she was just 10 years old - she had turned to her mother and said of the older actor, “I’m going to marry that man someday.” Robert Wagner, known as RJ to basically anyone that speaks of him, had dreamed of film fame since being a child himself, but it hadn’t struck him as quickly or intensely as it had Natalie. 20th Century Fox, realizing it had a bright young starlet on its hands, decided to take a proactive role in her romantic life and set her up with Wagner on their first date. Though the setup was fake, so to speak, the attraction was real, and despite their age difference they found themselves in a committed relationship that culminated in a wedding a year later after Wagner proposed over a champagne dinner.
So everything’s great, right? Well...it was tough. Natalie had grown up in a bizarre situation where reality and fantasy were constantly blurred, and she was neither prepared for marriage nor knowledgeable about the real trials and compromises that go into marriage. I mean, I was 29 when we got married. 19-year-old Carrie is a completely different person. I didn’t know what I wanted, or really who I even was yet. I can’t imagine having gotten hitched at that point in my life. Add in the bizarro-land of Hollywood and the scrutiny of the spotlight and it’s a recipe for disaster. Things started to come to a head in 1960, a couple years after the wedding. Natalie’s career was still on the rise, and she had been cast alongside up-and-coming actor Warren Beatty in the film Splendor in the Grass. Now, if you’re not up to date on your midcentury Hollywood tea, Warren Beatty has always been known as a womanizer. And apparently, even at this point, Beatty made his costars’ husbands nervous. It appears that at some point, the on-camera chemistry between Natalie and Beatty became speecy-spicy. Director Elia Kazan wrote in his memoir, “it was clear to Natalie . . . that Warren was bound for the top; this perception was an aphrodisiac.” One day Wagner arrived to set to find Beatty with his arm around Natalie’s waist while waiting for a scene to be set up. The men flipped out at each other, but Kazan was like, “Ohhh this is HAWT and only making my movie better, let ‘em fight.” He did say later that he regretted the pain the perceived affair caused Wagner, and that his “sexual humiliation became public.” Wagner admitted himself that he even found himself stalking Beatty and showed up to his house one night with a gun, determined to kill him in a jealous rage, but didn’t go through with it. Yikes.
The marriage continued to crumble, especially as Natalie sought mental health treatment and began to discover who she really was. Her career also continued to explode, with her garnering a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Splendor, taking a leading role in the smash hit West Side Story, and earning another Best Actress nomination for Love With The Proper Stranger. The wild success Natalie was finding was not matched by Wagner’s own career, and she herself said in her unpublished memoirs that she understood how difficult it must be for someone to deal with that.
There are some tawdry rumors, which have been somewhat confirmed by Natalie’s sister Lana Wood, that the straw that broke the camel’s back of the marriage was Natalie finding Wagner in flagrante with the male housekeeper. Who knows if this is true, but either way, the couple shocked the country with their divorce in 1963.
In the decade or so after, they married others, had children with others, and continued acting. Wagner finally scored some promising roles, and broke into television as a “small screen version of Cary Grant” in the show It Takes a Thief. Natalie did end up dating Beatty, as well as Michael Caine and other Hollywood royals. She attempted suicide with sleeping pills in 1966, but survived. Herself and Wagner had divorced their spouses, and at this point Wagner came calling back to Natalie. Lana told Vanity Fair, “They fell as hard, if not harder, than they had the first time. They were thrilled and confused.” In 1972, Wood accompanied Wagner to London aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 to promote a new television film he’d made. The morning after the couple left New York Harbor for England, a freak storm with 70-foot swells rose up and engulfed the ocean liner for four days. When the couple emerged from their cabin unharmed on the other side of the Atlantic, they decided to remarry. Perhaps they considered it a sign, and in a way it was...but not in the way they thought. Prophetically, she wrote in her unpublished memoir: "In the movies, the happy ending is still popular. The boy and girl walking, hand in hand, into the sunset. Presumably, they are heading for the altar, but is that the end or the beginning of their problems?" Natalie and RJ got remarried in 1972 - interestingly, aboard a yacht off the California coast.
I can really relate to Natalie’s fear of being in the water. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a terrible fear of flying. But intertwined with my fear is my love of travel, and Natalie faced a similar dichotomy with her passion for being on the water. She loved boating, apparently, but hated the idea of being in the water, especially dark water. This stemmed from years of trauma, starting with her mother’s repeating of the prophecy and continuing at the hands of irresponsible directors in a series of accidents in water on film sets that only cemented her fears.
It’s considered bad luck to change the name of a boat, but Wagner and Wood did just that in 1975 when they purchased their own boat and changed its name from Challenger to Splendour, which Natalie insisted wasn’t a reference to the film she’d done with Beatty but like, how weird is that? Perhaps adding to the success of their 2nd marriage, Wagner’s career was now at its climax, while Wood’s was foundering. While he was finding fame as the suave lead of the hit TV show Hart to Hart, Natalie had entered the nightmare time of all actress’ lives - middle age - when parts and opportunities begin to dry up. But it seems this was very well suited to Wagner’s ego. Wood dipped her toe into television as well, including in an adaption of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof costarring Wagner, but by the time of her death in the early 80s, she had suffered a few big-screen flops and was giving it another shot with a film named Brainstorm, a science fiction flick co-starring Christopher Walken. Walken had won an Oscar just 2 years earlier, and according to Splendour skipper Dennis Davern, Natalie had become infatuated with him and even had begun openly flirting with him, despite Walken having been married since 1969 and his wife being on set for the whole shoot. Davern told Vanity Fair, “When they were in North Carolina together, rumors were going around about Chris Walken and Natalie, so R.J. went down there. He had a few days off from Hart to Hart . . . but he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself over this.” Guess he’d learned from his “About to shoot Warren Beatty” days. Lana Wood agreed with Davern’s assessment, writing that “I don’t know if Natalie’s [love affair] with Chris was imaginary or real, though my strong suspicion is that it was all in her mind and that perhaps she was only wishing it to be so.”
We’ll cover the fateful Thanksgiving weekend voyage...after the break.
So, there’s already weird vibes with the suspicion that Natalie was crushing on Christopher Walken and that, maybe, they were having an affair. It’s in this heated atmosphere that Wood invited Walken on a weekend trip aboard the Splendour for Thanksgiving 1981, during a break from filming.
The weather that weekend was rotten, and boat captain Dennis Davern pleaded with Wood not to take the trip, but she wouldn’t hear of it, only telling him that Christopher Walken was coming. Perhaps she wanted to impress him, or wanted time with him away from his wife? Indeed, it’s never really been clear why Georgianne Walken didn’t make the holiday weekend trip. We do know that Natalie also invited Mart Crowley, a producer on Hart to Hart, and Peggy Griffin, her secretary, but both declined due to their workloads. So it was just the 3 W’s - Walken, Wagner, and Wood - stuck on a boat all weekend with their captain of 6 years, Dennis Davern.
The Splendour left Marina Del Rey around noon on Friday, and immediately Davern noticed the attention Wood was giving to Walken. “Christopher and Natalie are sitting in the salon together and giggling, and I’m looking at R.J. and thinking, He doesn’t look too happy. R.J. was getting annoyed, and plus, we’re drinking. . . . I was seeing R.J. getting mad.” Tons of alcohol had been packed for the voyage, and everyone was drinking heavily. Around 5pm, the trio went to dinner in town while Davern stayed on the boat. They shopped for a while, had a meal at a harborfront restaurant named El Galleon, and came back to the Splendour as it was getting dark.
Here’s where stories begin to diverge, including with the people themselves. Vanity Fair put it perfectly in their article Natalie Wood’s Fatal Voyage, so I’ll quote what they said: “Doubts about the accident theory have, in fact, never died down, especially in the tabloid press. The principal reason for that is the only other person on the boat that night: Dennis Davern, who claims he has always believed that something more sinister occurred. Davern says that the account he gave to police investigators in the days after Wood’s death was incomplete, sanitized, and in some places downright false. Over the years he has offered parts of his story—for money—to various tabloids, and has occasionally appeared on television, most notoriously in February 1992, on Geraldo Rivera’s Now It Can Be Told, when he was filmed without his knowledge discussing an argument aboard Splendour and implying that he knew how Wood got into the water. In the early 1990s he visited New York publishers in an unsuccessful attempt to interest them in a book on the subject. Despite the fact that Davern is not the most savory witness, he tells a compelling story, one that has been fairly consistent in its various public incarnations even as it has grown with damning details.” As you may have heard a few years ago, Davern did manage to write his book, Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, which he released in 2006. So, ok, Davern has profited off of his story, which changed from the time of the immediate aftermath of the death. But, he HAS stuck to this version, to the point of getting multiple polygraph tests from the LA police department. His story begins on Friday night and that he recounted for the podcast Fatal Voyage:
Apparently, fights were beginning and just getting worse with all the drinking the group was doing. The fighting started to escalate more and eventually, Natalie couldn’t take it any longer, and asked Davern to get her off the boat. “He was acting so crazy, it was just so totally uncalled for, I mean, she was petrified, I felt so sorry for her.” Concerned that the fighting was getting out of hand, Davern knocked on Walken’s stateroom door and asked him to intervene. Walken refused, saying, “Never get involved in an argument between a man and a wife.” Thanks for the help, Chris. So Davern got Natalie in the yacht’s dinghy to bring her to shore. Davern brought her to a hotel, got 2 rooms, and they stayed there that evening. Davern stated that he stayed with Natalie because she was hysterical and they were friends, with them talking practically all night, but nothing romantic or sexual happened- Dennis said that “She knew I wasn’t going to make any kind of play for her--she was comfortable with me”. Natalie did apparently tell Dennis that she was thinking of leaving Robert Wagner for a second time.
The next morning, Saturday November 28th, Natalie wanted to get a seaplane, but it wasn’t working out. Davern, trying to smooth tensions, said they could go back to the boat and make a nice breakfast and try to put the previous night behind them. So they did. They eventually moved to the other end of the island, where there really is only one restaurant to visit, and is a more secluded and remote area. Wood and Walken decided to head ashore for happy hour while Wagner was fishing, and RJ told them himself and Dennis would meet them later. The water taxi picked the movie stars up, and the night was under way.
Davern and Wagner joined the pair a while later at Doug’s Harbor Reef restaurant, and they were already pretty tipsy after spending a long while at the bar. This group could DRINK. So much so, in fact, that when Wood said she thought they had better wine on the boat, Davern and Walken returned to the yacht to get a couple of bottles. There the two smoked a joint, then returned to the restaurant. According to the waitress Natalie wasn’t in the best of moods. At one point, Christopher Walken threw a glass on the floor as a toast, kind of like in Thor, and Natalie followed. This annoyed RJ, who suddenly demanded to go back to the boat- restaurant manager Don Whiting stated to police that he felt Wagner was annoyed with his wife. Davern brought the group back on the dinghy, and they settled back in with even more wine.
Davern’s police interview from shortly after Wood’s death tells the next part of the story like this: “He recalled that RJ and Natalie got into a discussion about her being gone and how RJ missed her. During the discussion Chris Walken entered into it, supporting Natalie’s views. He felt RJ was getting upset over this and Chris Walken getting up and going outside around this time. Natalie went to the master stateroom to go to bed. Chris Walken came back into the main salon and he was going to bed. Here this was normal procedure for Natalie. In the evening she would just leave, prepare herself for bed, and usually return after ten or fifteen minutes to say goodnight. . . After some time passed, he stated, RJ went to see where Natalie was.”
Here is Wagner’s version of what transpired that night after the group returned from Doug’s Harbor Reef, as recalled in his 1986 biography, Heart to Heart with Robert Wagner:
“We reached the boat in a happy frame of mind after spending a few hours at the restaurant eating and drinking. During dinner, I got into a political debate with Walken and we continued it aboard the yacht. There was no fight, no anger. Just a lot of words thrown around like you hear in most political discussions such as ‘you don’t know what you are talking about!’ Natalie sat there not saying much of anything and looking bored. She left us after about a half hour, and we sat there talking for almost another hour. Then I went to kiss her good night, and found her missing.”
So, this differs from even Davern’s original story and the testimony of those at the restaurant who felt that everything wasn’t as happy as Wagner later stated. However, Davern’s story nowadays is also a bit different from his original police interview. Here’s what he told Vanity Fair in 2000, and notice how it’s different than his original, and Wagner’s:
“So we’re sitting there, and Chris and Natalie are giggling and carrying on, the same as before, totally forgetting that me and R.J. are there. I’m saying to myself, Oh my God, this is getting to be too much right now. All of a sudden, R.J. grabbed a bottle of wine and smashes it right on the table in front of them. Glass goes flying all over. ‘Jesus Christ,’ R.J. says to Christopher, ‘what are you trying to do, fuck my wife?’ Christopher got up in two or three seconds and headed right out the door. Now Natalie says, ‘I’m not standing for this a minute longer!’ She goes down to her stateroom and slams her door. Christopher goes right down to his stateroom. Now I’m left alone with R.J. I say, ‘R.J., let’s just calm down.’ We stayed up there for a little while, then R.J. says, ‘I’m going to go down there and see Natalie.’ From his location on the bridge, he could hear the couple fighting in the stateroom below. “I’d never in a million years seen them fight like that before. I just couldn’t believe it. . . . You know, stuff getting thrown around.” He checked on them quickly, but Wagner answered the door, looking upset, and shooed him away. It’s a little unclear exactly what happened here, and we’ll go into that in a ibt, but eventually Wagner returned to the bridge around 11:30 pm, where the two men drank a bottle of wine together. Around 1:30 am on Sunday morning, November 29th, Wagner told Davern he was going to check on Natalie. After a few minutes he returned and told Dennis, “She’s gone.” Dennis is like uhhh...where? Wagner doesn’t know. So Davern looks for her himself - she’s not in her stateroom. Not in Walken’s stateroom. Not in any of the bathrooms. Then, he noticed it: the dinghy was gone. This baffled him, because he felt - with the evening before being proof - that if Natalie had wanted to go back to shore that night, she would have asked him to bring her, not go alone in the dinghy, in complete darkness, over the dark water she was so terrified of. Davern went to put on the Splendour’s floodlights to look for Natalie, but Wagner told him not to. Then, he went to fire up the boat’s engines to cruise the water looking for Wood, but Wagner again told him no, allegedly saying “Don’t do that. Let’s think about this. We don’t want to do anything, Dennis, because we don’t want to alert all these people.”
Eventually the pair decided to call Don Whiting, the restaurant manager. No, not the Coast Guard. The manager of the restaurant they’d had dinner at. Because that makes total sense. He thankfully told the acting harbormaster, who went aboard the Splendour soon after to look for Natalie. He felt everyone was pretty drunk but still concerned for Natalie’s well-being. They had no luck. The Coast Guard was finally called and arrived around 5am, and they sent a diver to search under the boat, but found nothing. They started combing all around toward shore, figuring if she was in the inflatable dinghy she had been blown toward the shoreline, and eventually reached an area called Blue Caverns Point. The dinghy was eventually discovered near a crevasse - engine down, but with the key not turned and the boat not running. Natalie Wood, however, was not on the raft. No one was.
This really changed the tone of the search. The rescuers had figured she would be found alive on the dinghy, since the small raft had been missing and that was the logical assumption. But finding an empty boat meant that Natalie could be in real peril. The sheriff’s helicopter arrived overhead, and spotted something in the ocean below. They directed the patrol boat toward the object, a red spot contrasted against the dark water, and here they tragically found the body of Natalie Wood, floating with the current.
Natalie was pulled out, and though attempts were made, it was clear that she was deceased. Natalie had been wearing a red down jacket that was soaked through, along with a long flannel nightgown and socks. Strangely no shoes, which you’d think she’d want to have if she was going to shore. Robert Wagner was notified and asked to identify her - normal procedure - but he instead directed Dennis Daverne to do the identifying. Perhaps he was completely consumed by grief, that’s understandable...but I would imagine you’d want to see your loved one one last time after such a shocking turn of events. Just hits me as strange.
Wagner didn’t submit to an initial police interview, standard procedure, but retreated to his home and lawyered up. Less than 48 hours after Wood’s body was discovered, the initial autopsy results were in. This seems super quick for an autopsy, but there was a lot of attention on this death - which LA county coroner Thomas Noguchi, aka the Coroner to the Stars, was used to. Noguchi performed some of the biggest autopsies of the 60s and 70s, starting with Marilyn Monroe - look at that, another shady death! - and continuing with Robert F. Kennedy, Sharon Tate, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, and Natalie Wood. Noguchi...ugh. I’m not a fan. Apparently, shortly after the RFK shooting, Noguchi had resigned under pressure as Chief Medical Examiner after Deputy Los Angeles County Counsel Martin Weekes testified that he had seen a smiling Noguchi dancing in his office and that Noguchi had announced to associates "I am going to be famous. I hope he dies". Nice, Thomas. Even better, an Asian-American employee in the coroner’s office stated she had heard Noguchi saying he hated Jews and using a racial epithet to describe African Americans. Despite this, a coalition formed accusing the medical examiner’s office of forcing Noguchi out due to racial descrimination, and he was eventually reinstated. Following Wood and fellow Hollywood star William Holden’s deaths in 1981, it was alleged that Noguchi's attention to celebrity deaths was causing problems in the more mundane aspects of the coroner’s office, and he was demoted from coroner to physician specialist in 1982.
So, there’s a lot of weirdness here, and there have been a lot of questions surrounding his autopsy of Natalie Wood. He ruled that she had died of drowning, and that the bruises found on her arms and lower legs, as well as an abrasion on her left cheek, was caused by her falling into the water. At the press conference announcing the results, he tried to downplay her inebriation at the time of her death - she had a .14 percent blood alcohol level - and stated her down jacket probably became waterlogged after she slipped off of the yacht, pulling her down. She would have clung to the dinghy as it drifted away from the harbor and eventually, overcome by exhaustion and hypothermia from the extremely cold November waters, drowned.
Noguchi later listed a number of questions that he still had about the night of Wood’s death in his book Coroner. These included “Wasn’t it strange that the two men on the yacht didn’t even know that she had left the boat? Hadn’t she spoken to them? Why had she slipped out to the stern of the yacht in the middle of the night, climbed down a ladder, and untied the dinghy? What was she doing? And where was she going? And why?” and also “When she first fell off the swimming step into the water, why didn’t she simply swim a few strokes and reboard the yacht by way of the step? It must have been only a few feet away from her. Even with the heavy jacket, she could have accomplished this effort easily.” Apparently, Noguchi isn’t the super-curious type, because he answered none of those questions in his book or in the previous autopsy. A former intern of Noguchi at the time of Wood's death stated that he saw bruises were substantial and fitting for someone who gets thrown out of a boat, and claimed that he made those observations to Noguchi, who reacted strangely. In the intern’s words, it was a reaction as if he was involved in a cover-up.
A week after Natalie’s death, LA homicide detective Duane Rasure was finally able to visit Wagner at his home for an interview. He was satisfied, though there were inconsistencies in the testimony of the 3 principal witnesses. Wagner posited a theory that the dinghy was banging against the boat and Wood had gone to retie it, slipped on the cold deck, and fallen in, pulling the dinghy away from the Splendour. Rasure seems to agree, though he told Vanity Fair, “I can’t tell you exactly how she got in the water.” Which seems problematic, y’know, as the detective on her case.
It was stated that, “we talked to Wagner and Walken and there was no indication that there was any argument.” This is odd, considering Walken’s version of events - and, by the way, Christopher Walken has literally NEVER spoken about what happened the night Natalie Wood died aside from to the police. Here’s what his police interview says:
“They were in the salon talking; [Walken] stated they had all been drinking and they had one of those conversation going where—and he used this reference—“you put all your cards on the table.” RJ was making statements and complaining that she was away from home too much. She was away from the kids, it was hurting their home life. Mr. Walken stated he also got involved with discussion supporting the victim’s views—she was an actress, she was an important person, this was her life. He suddenly realized he was violating his own view about getting involved in an argument between a man and a wife. He stepped outside for some air and when he returned, everybody was apologizing, particularly Robert Wagner and everything seemed fine.” So, unlike Wagner’s initial telling of it, both Walken and Davern agreed that there was an argument between Wood and Wagner that night.
Another clue would soon come in...well, a clue unless you were a detective or a coroner that doesn’t feel the need to answer questions. John Payne and his girlfriend, Marilyn Wayne, contacted police to say they had been sleeping aboard a boat that had been moored near the Splendour the night of Wood’s Around midnight Payne had heard a woman yelling, “Help me, someone please help me!” She felt the voice was coming from near the stern of the Splendour - from someone in a dinghy. He awakened his girlfriend, who also heard the yells. The couple claimed they hadn’t responded because a loud, drunken party was raging on another nearby yacht, and they had thought someone was just “playing around.” Apparently, they had ALSO heard a man’s very drunken voice respond mockingly, “O.K., honey, we’ll get you,” and because of this believed the voice belonged to someone at the party, since it was said so jokingly. They absolutely should have called someone about this, but hey, maybe they were drunk too.
Despite these developments and a broken wine bottle in the salon still bugging Rasure at the back of his mind, he pronounced the case as closed and Natalie’s death as accidental less than 2 weeks later.
Now, the yells and mocking reply the couple heard harken back to the aforementioned confusing moments before Davern found that Wood was missing. Lana Wood revealed that Davern called her over 10 years later, sounding tormented and upset. He wanted to finally reveal what had happened that night. He told Lana that, yes, there WAS a huge argument, and a fight broke out, with RJ breaking a wine bottle on the salon table and making his famous pronouncement to Walken. Wood and Walken left, Wood and Wagner fought, and eventually Davern finds Wagner up on the deck. “Where’s Natalie?” / “She’s gone.” HERE, Dennis questions him, and Wagner said that somehow she’d ended up in the water. Davern of course wanted to rescue her, but Wagner told him, “Leave her. Teach her a lesson.” Wagner was incredibly drunk, and got another bottle of wine and told Dennis to join him for more drinks. Hours later, they finally called for help.
So why didn’t Dennis tell this version to the police right after the incident? He claims in the days after the tragedy he became a virtual prisoner in Wagner’s home - at first the two would comfort each other as friends, but after several weeks it became very difficult to leave. His girlfriend tried to visit the house and was turned away. An alarm system came on at night that prevented him from even opening the door. He had no phone in his room, and Wagner’s bodyguard was usually positioned by the door. Both Davern and Wagner essentially became drunks and each other’s only support in the months after Natalie’s death, and this symbiosis along with everything else prevented Davern from making any kind of escape. To complicate matters, Wagner was beginning to act like a real mensch to Davern - he got Dennis into the Screen Actors Guild, and although he’d had never acted before in his life, he started getting small roles on commercials and was given one on Hart to Hart. Davern stated, “He used to give me checks. A thousand, two thousand. My friends said it was hush money and that R.J. wouldn’t want anything to do with me after Splendour was gone. I used to tell them that R.J. wasn’t like that, that he was a real friend to me.” Eventually he went to live on the boat while he tried to sell it, a way of getting out of Wagner’s grasp. No one wanted the doomed boat, and it was donated to the Sea Scouts, with Davern finally escaping to Florida. After that, yes, he did sell his story here and there, including in his 2006 book.
In 2011, Davern publicly stated that he had lied to police during the initial investigation, again alleging that Wood and Wagner had argued that evening after RJ accused Natalie of flirting with Christopher Walken, that Wagner was jealous and enraged, and that he had prevented Davern from searching for Natalie or immediately notifying authorities of her disappearance. In 2012, Los Angeles County Chief Coroner Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran amended Wood's death certificate and changed the cause of death from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors". An addendum in 2013 stated the bruises found on Wood’s body could have happened before she went into the water, and not as a result of a fall from the yacht. There were also additional cuts on her body and face that hadn’t been mentioned in the original report. Though he continues to deny any involvement, in February 2018 Robert Wagner was named a person of interest in the investigation, which appears to be ongoing, and a new witness came forward to state they saw two people on the rear deck of the Splendour around the time of Natalie’s disappearance, corroborating Davern’s story. Another new witness also told detectives they heard intense arguing coming from the deck of the Splendour...then, silence. I hope answers are finally found, and Natalie either receives justice - or her family receives closure.
Sean, what do you think - ALLEGEDLY - happened the night of Natalie Wood’s death?
We’re back with Lizard People, Big World!
Sean, one of our favorite current shows is the subject of an incredibly strange conspiracy theory. Indeed, one of the stars of Apple TV’s incredibly charming comedy Ted Lasso has been accused of...not being a real human being?
Yep, Brett Goldstein - who plays grump with a heart of gold Roy Kent on the show - has become the center of a conspiracy claiming that he’s not a human actor but actually just a creation of Apple’s very good CGI technology. As far back as a year ago folks have posed the question of if Goldstein is a CGI creation, with responses stating that “he 100% is CGI, i swear he glows off the screen and looks like a halo character in movement and speech”, “I know I’m 67 days after the first post, but i just started the show. I was creeped out by the random cgi, searched it and this was the top result on google. What is this shit?”, and “Thank god this tread exists... it been the biggest question I’ve had since I started the show ... wtf is going on? He must be cgi or something ?”.
Admittedly, Roy is very deadpan and unemotional, but is it possible that this is just a side effect of also being completely rendered from 1s and 0s? Believers agree on several points: he has perfect facial hair, his fabric and skin look perfectly smooth, and he looks like a soccer player from the FIFA video game series. Perhaps it isn’t completely impossible - after all, in the season finale of The Mandelorian - SPOILER ALERT! - a young Luke Skywalker shows up, even though Mark Hamill is now in his 60s. However, I will say possible CGI Roy Kent looks a LOT better than deepfake Mark Hamill. Could Apple’s tech POSSIBLY be better than Disney’s??
I will say what kind of adds to the fun of this conspiracy is that, due to COVID times, we’ve only really seen Brett Goldstein in video interviews or in interviews or photos with co-stars. But, listen, Goldstein DOES have a film and TV career reaching back to 2009, including appearances on Doctor Who and Drunk History, and a film podcast dating from 2018, so if this is a long con, it’s a LONG con. But it is kinda fun, yeah?
Here’s Goldstein’s response to the rumors, and clearly, he’s getting a kick out of it, due to some of his jokes and of course how he chose to be portrayed by Memeoji in the Instagram video.
That’s it for this episode, and the first YEAR, of Ain’t It Scary with Sean and Carrie! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @aintitscary, and check out our website at aintitscary.com. You can support the show by supporting our sponsors, and becoming a patron at www.patreon.com/aintitscary. And please, subscribe to the show and throw us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts...we’ll be forever grateful. Don’t forget to screenshot your 5-star reviews and share with us on social media for your chance to win a gift straight from us!
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See you next Thursday!
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