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Natalie Wood Daughter Dismisses Robert Wagner Claims As Preposterous

Memories of Natalie Wood sometimes catch daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner by surprise. The three-time Oscar nominee drowned in 1981 at 43 while boating with husband Robert Wagner and “Brainstorm” co-star Christopher Walken. But she is very much still around – a “West Side Story” poster in Gregson Wagner’s young daughter’s music class, or on the tip of her own tongue.

While recording audio for her new book, “More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood,” Gregson Wagner, 49, tells MM she unknowingly emulated her mother in her quarantine studio in a closet at her home.

As her daughter, who turns 8 this month, was “sort of stomping up the stairs,” Gregson Wagner yelled, “Clover, you need to be quiet as a mouse right now. And then, like, 10 minutes later, I read a passage in the book where my mom said to me, ‘You can sit on my lap if you’re quiet as a mouse,’ and I thought, ‘Oh that’s so funny.’ I didn’t even realize I was repeating.”

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The book is out Tuesday, when the documentary Gregson Wagner produced, “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind,” premieres on HBO (9 EDT/PDT). (Coincidentally, it’s also the birthday of Wood’s second husband, the late producer/agent Richard Gregson, who is Gregson Wagner’s biological father, though she refers to both Gregson and Wagner as her dads.)

Both projects begin as Gregson Wagner, then 11, learns about her mom’s death from a news report on a clock radio while sleeping at a friend’s house. She sees the loss as a defining moment, spurring a “desire to find a maternal connection with so many of the people in my life” and a “search for comfort and feeling.”

“I was very much moving through the world as if I didn’t have any skin on me,” she says of life after the loss, “as if my flesh was just exposed.”

Wood and Gregson Wagner shared a “very intense and palpable” bond. When she was young, Gregson Wagner viewed her mother as her “mirror and my rock and my dearest love.” “… I didn’t know as a child that the intensity of our connection was not common between every mother and daughter.”

A childhood friend’s mother recently told her: “You know, your mom needed you just as much as you needed her. She would call me all the time and say: ‘How do you think Natasha is doing? What do you think I should get her for her birthday? How do you think I can help her with this separation anxiety she’s having?’”

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‘I was gripped by fear that my mother was going to die’
Gregson Wagner writes of her anxieties and the “elaborate good-luck rituals” she performed “to keep my mother safe”: calculated footsteps on a patterned carpet, organizing her stuffed animals and dolls.

“I was gripped by the fear that my mother was going to die,” she says in “More Than Love.” She even asked her famous mom to skip her voyage to Catalina that Thanksgiving weekend in 1981. Wood promised her anxious daughter she’d be fine during her weekend aboard the Splendour, but the body of the “Miracle on 34th Street” star was discovered on Nov. 29.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department labeled Wagner a “person of interest” when it reopened its investigation of Wood’s death in 2018. Wagner has been accused of foul play by Splendour deckhand Dennis Davern and Wood’s sister, Lana. Wagner’s spokesman, Alan Nierob, has told USA TODAY that Davern and Lana should be embarrassed by their actions. “They are despicable human beings, capitalizing on the accidental death of a beloved member of the Wagner family,” he said. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”

“More Than Love” provides insight on the contentious relationship between Lana and Wood’s family, explaining, “Though my aunt was at our house for the holidays, she was never part of my parents’ inner circle.” Gregson Wagner says that after Wood left her clothes to Lana, they were sold, despite promises to Wagner that she wouldn’t. A shop promoted the items – “Belonged to Natalie Wood” – enraging Wagner. “None of us were able to forgive Lana for that,” she writes. “After that, my aunt was no longer welcome in our home.”

In “What Remains Behind,” Gregson Wagner sits down with Robert Wagner, who married Wood twice, from 1957 to 1962 and again in 1972 until her death. They share a daughter, Courtney Wagner, 46, and raised Gregson Wagner.

Gregson Wagner says Walken declined to participate in the documentary that she produced. He also refused to discuss Wood’s death on “CBS This Morning” in 2012, explaining he “stopped talking about that 30 years ago.”

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Gregson Wagner asks Wagner how the label “person of interest” makes him feel. “I don’t pay very much attention to it, Natasha, because they’re not gonna redefine me.”

She firmly believes in his innocence. “It bothers me that anyone would think that you would be involved in what happened to her, because you would’ve given your life for my mom,” Gregson Wagner tells him, tearfully.

“That’s true, I would’ve,” he assures her. “We all would’ve.”

Gregson Wagner tells USA TODAY she was reluctant to talk to Wagner about her mother’s death “because I didn’t want him to ever feel that I questioned him, and I didn’t want him to ever feel unsafe with me.”

She says “What Remains Behind” is not designed to exonerate Wagner, but “we needed to deal with the accusations because they have become part of the story.”

“Honestly, part of me doesn’t care what anybody thinks about my dad, because I know the truth. I know who he is,” she says. “I know that he would’ve never had anything to do with her death and would’ve given his life for her. So, there’s a part of me that I’m like, ‘Think what you want.’ However, there’s another part of me that if there’s anything I can do in my lifetime to erase or ameliorate that noise, I’m happy to do it.”

She dismisses the idea that Wagner contributed to her mother’s death as “so preposterous.”

Instead of suspicion, Gregson Wagner holds sweet memories of Wood and Wagner’s fondness for each other.

“They were like great friends. He was always making her laugh, and she was always making him laugh,” she says. “It just seemed like they were basking in each other’s sunlight all the time.”

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