Moviegoers watched Natalie Wood grow up. And we grew up with her.  

All along the way, she reflected her times in the roles she took. One of her first memorable parts was in "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947), in which she played Susan, a little girl who'd been taught by her no-nonsense mother (Maureen O'Hara) not to believe in Santa Claus. The otherwise adorable Susan’s skepticism reflected a new wariness sweeping the land after the Second War, with nuclear weapons a reality and the Cold War looming. 

She was one of the few players to make the jump from child actress, to ingenue, to full-fledged movie star. In her hey-day, in the '50s and '60s, Wood starred in movies that covered all the hot topics of the day, from troubled teens, to women's liberation, to wife swapping. 

Did moviegoers appreciate how Wood was mirroring their own lives? Maybe. Then again, they were probably too busy marveling at how the little girl who'd rejected Santa had become a true icon — the young woman we'd all have wanted to take to the prom, and later, the radiant lady we'd have married (or befriended) in a heartbeat.

Pictures of Natalie always break your heart. She'd decided to scale back on her movie career in the late '6os, having been in front of a camera continually for a quarter of a century. Her output in the '70s was sporadic and mostly not up to her prior work. By the early '80s, she was back doing films again.  Then, just like that, we lost her to a drowning accident in 1983. She was just 41.

To this day, her death remains shrouded in mystery. How did Natalie, who hated the water, end up there? Was there foul play? Beyond these unanswered questions, losing this incredibly talented actress in her prime was more than tragic; it was a waste. But we still have her luminous, captivating presence, captured in photographs and on celluloid, and that helps a little. Anyhow, it'll have to do.

Let's watch the legend grow:

1. Young Natalie

"Someday I'll play strippers and sassy single girls. For now, I’d like some gum."  

1947, "Miracle on 34th Street"

2. The Look of Love

How could anyone turn this girl down?

c. 1950s

3. Paparazzi Time

She was even more beautiful than Warren Beatty, although it looks like they went to the same hair salon...

1962, Academy Awards

4. Smokin' Hot!

Sure, everyone was doing it back then. But few were as cute with a cig as Natalie.


5. Family Affair

The original cast of "Hart to Hart"? No, it's Natalie with hubby Robert Wagner in a rare family photo.