Vintage | Celebrity

Photographer Releases Rare Photos Of Actress Natalie Wood And They're Stunning

The disappearance of Hollywood star Natalie Wood is one of those cases that still haunts the nation.

In 1981, the actress was on a yacht headed to Santa Catalina Island with her husband, Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken, when she vanished. The Miracle on 34th Street star's body was later found afloat in the sea off the island and officials ruled her death as accidental drowning after a brief investigation.

However, as the public caught wind of some of the details of the investigation, people began to speculate that the 43-year-old's death may have been due to murder.  

The night before her disappearance, Wood and Wagner got into an argument before heading to bed but moments later, when he attempted to say goodnight, Wagner noticed Wood was missing.

Express UK

There have been many questions about that fateful night, most of which remain unanswered. This prompted the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to reopen the case nearly 30 years after her death.

More recently, police revealed that Wagner is now a person of interest in the case.

Sadly, Wood's tragic end has in a way clouded the life she lived up to that point.

Wood, whose real name was Natalia Zakharenk, started out as a child actress, and by the time she was 25 years old, she racked up three Oscar nominations for her roles in major blockbuster hits, like Rebel Without a Cause alongside James Dean, Splendor in the Grass and Love with the Proper Stranger.

Time Magazine

Filmmakers wanted to cast her in their projects and magazines wanted her on their covers. Everyone who has worked with her had nothing but good things to say about who she was as a person and as an actress. Orson Welles once said that she was "so good, she was terrifying."

Celebrated photographer, Bill Ray, is one of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to work with Wood, and he has recently shared a few of his favorite pictures he took during a "dream assignment" for LIFE magazine.

The rare pictures give us a glimpse into Wood's life behind the scenes, years before she passed away.

Ray took these photographs 55 years ago, and to this day, he cherishes them. He followed Wood for about six weeks, so he could better understand what she was really like.

He soon learned that Wood was nothing like many of the stars that work in the entertainment industry.

"She was so wonderful and not at all a diva," he said. "She was eager to help and work. She was just interested in being a part of that story."

He had the opportunity to photograph some of Wood's most intimate moments, like this one, where she's lying in bed playing with her dogs.

Bill Ray

He also had the chance to take photos of Wood's family, including her mother, Maria, who played a huge role in her success.

Bill Ray

A behind the scenes shot of Wood taking a break on the set of the movie Sex and the Single Girl.

Bill Ray

According to Ray, Natalie was extremely driven and worked hard to ensure everything fell into place. He took photos of Wood running errands, working alongside costume designers, and consulting with directors of the movies she's starred in.

Bill ray

However, Wood was not just all work. She also had a playful side, and a large social circle...

Here she's pictured playing pool with her co-star Tony Curtis

Bill Ray

Wood also took her fitness seriously, and would workout regularly. While many actresses would be uncomfortable being photographed while sweating in the gym, the West Side Story star did not mind.

Bill Ray

Ray revealed that Wood loved the beach, but hated the rough waters because she wasn't a good swimmer.

Bill Ray

"We took a boat ride to Catalina, which, when you think back on it now, is really something. The sea was kind of rough going over there, and nobody enjoyed the ride. And Natalie, in particular, didn't like it and mentioned she couldn't swim and didn't like the water. I don't think she liked boats, and how she ended up on a yacht drowning off of Catalina years later, I just have no idea. It didn't make any sense," Ray recalled.

After all that time, the thing that stood out to Ray the most was Wood's eyes.

Bill Ray

He remembered how her big eyes were able to convey any emotion. "Her eyes would just melt your heart," he said.

What do you think of these rare photos of the late actress? Let us know!

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.