Natasha Gurdin and Hollywood's Movie Star, Natalie Wood
Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko, Natasha Gurdin, Natalie Wagner. Of those three names, I am sure none are recognized. Now, try:
Ah, the famous movie star born in 1938 and died from maybe accident in 1981, that the LA police are re-investigating. Despite her Russian background and birth name, she was as American as any apple pie born in San Francisco. Her parents were Russian immigrants who found work in the entertainment industry—her father as a set designer, her mother as a ballet dancer. Her parents had changed their last name to Gurdin because it would be easier to say in English.
Natasha would soon move to Santa Rosa, Calif., and lived in a home on Tucker street. Santa Rosa was small then and in the middle of acres of prune orchards. Now, it is a large city and home to world famous wine from Sonoma County. All of the prune orchards were converted to grapes. By all accounts, the Gurdin family were no different than any other and had their share of problems. Soon, Natasha would have a younger sister, Lana.
It was her mother that saw stardom in Natasha and she would appear for 10 seconds in her first movie, Happy Land in 1943. She was age 5. In this film, all she had to do was to drop an ice cream cone on a street in Healdsburg, where the movie was filmed. The town is 15 min. north of Santa Rosa. Then, at age 7, she was in an Orson Welles movie, Tomorrow is Forever (1946), in 1947, The Miracle on 34th Street. Until age 16, she would be in 20 films, yet it was Rebel Without a Cause (1955) that made her a "star".
Another rising star in Natalie's first movie was Harry Morgan, famous as Col. Potter in TV's sitcom MASH. Harry, like Fred MacMurray, fell in love with Sonoma County and it was only hours from LA. Both owned large ranches in the area and were known to the locals.
While Natalie continued to have small parts in movies, she also continued to go to all the Santa Rosa schools and even attended Santa Rosa High, home to many students even today. But after age 16, attending school became much more of challenge because she was an "up and coming star" as was her co-star, James Dean.
Sonoma County has always been a favorite place for Hollywood to make movies since the 1940s. Its proximity, terrain, and towns, appeal to many set locators seeking a place to film rural scenes.