LANA WOOD: THE RETROCRUSH INTERVIEW

Interview by Randy Waage
randy@retrocrush.com

Lana Wood grew up surrounded by Hollywood A-list talent. It's not surprising that her own work includes many gems such as John Ford's classic western, "The Searchers" with John Wayne, the James Bond movie, "Diamonds are Forever", numerous TV shows, a celebrity appearance in Playboy Magazine, a memoir about her sister, and a second successful career as a producer.

Join us as Lana discusses: Sean Connery's Toupee, her thoughts on A-list celebrities, how she nearly killed Walter Matthau, her affair with Ryan O Neal, Mia Farrow's special diet, and what it was like being Natalie Wood's kid sister.

Tell me about your first movie role in, "The Searchers".

Wasnít it fabulous? It was filmed in Utah with beautiful scenery. It holds up to this day.

You had a crush on John Wayneís son Patrick?

I was an 8 year old. I remember responding to him. Natalie went out with him a couple of times. He became a grownup and was no longer interesting.

Was it difficult acting at 8 years of age?

I was very nervous. I donít think I just naturally fell into it. John Ford kept saying to me bend over and say to the dog, "Chris go home!" Get the dog to leave. I couldnít bend from the waist. He walked up to me and said, "You need to bend over." I didnít know what to expect.

Were you spooked by the Indians in "The Searchers"?

This was my first venture away from home. We were staying above a trading post out in the middle of nowhere. At night the Indians would build bond fires and you could hear them singing. It would scare me.

How long were you on the set?

We were there for quite awhile. I remember walking on those sand dunes to get up to the set. The water was a rusty color because of the sand and poor Ward Bond being stung by a Scorpion. There was nothing around.

Itís listed as one of Americaís Film Instituteís 100 best movies ever made.

Wow! Thatís terrific. Itís a fabulous film.

Jeffrey Hunter was in that film.

He had the most startling eyes. They were very, very blue. He was a dear, sweet man.

Has there been a revival or rediscovery of how great that movie is?

They have run it at various little theaters, but they havenít made any kind of a "to do" over it. I was glad I was asked to take part in the commentary in the documentary that preceded the film when they re-released it on DVD.

You were close to your dad growing up.

I was very close to my dad. When I was a kid my mom would be out with Natalie and my dad took care of me.

Was it tough for Natalie to become an actress at such a young age? She didnít want that for her own children.

Well, this is something that Natalie really loved though. She loved acting and everything that went along with it. She did feel she missed out on a childhood however. She would have preferred for Natasha and Courtney not to lose their childhoods. I donít think they did. I think they enjoyed their childhood.

Your mom got Natalie into show business as a child and she wanted to get you into it too.

It was hard for me to play any sort of a Hollywood game. I was not good at going to the parties or going to the premieres. I didnít want to do it! I worked and when I finished work I wanted to leave. I was probably one of the few people who would get my makeup put on in the morning and freak out if somebody wanted to arrange it again later on in the day.

When my mom said, "You have your first interview." I was in Junior High School and I had my first boyfriend. Everything was going along great. I didnít say no at first. I walked to school like I always do, but I went to a pay phone and called Natalie who was married to Robert Wagner at the time. I told her, "I donít want to go on this interview. I donít want to work. I want to stay in school. I want to be a kid."

I was upset and she sent RJ out for me. He picked me up from school and took me to their house. I stayed there for a month. She made my mom promise not to make anymore interview appointments for me or try to get me any work. I didnít work until after I graduated high school then I played a 14 year old in the Dr. Kildare TV series. After my first day on the shoot I thought, "This is what I know. This is what I like." Itís everything else to do with acting that doesnít sit well with me.

You were surrounded by Hollywood A-listers at an early age.

That was my norm. People have said to me, ďWhat was it like meeting Lawrence Olivier?Ē Iíd say, ďHe was a very nice man.Ē Theyíd reply, ďWerenít you nervous?Ē Iíd say, ďYou donít understand. These are the people that I know. This was my life. These are normal people who are a little more charismatic than the accountant doing books for Ralphís supermarket, but heís still doing a job the same as everyone else is doing. These are the people that I grew up with. It was completely normal for me.

What about some of the people your sister knew: Bette Davis? Elizabeth Taylor?

They were other actors. Thatís it.

David Niven?

David I got to know later on. I was actually living in the south of France off and on. It was someone I was seeing lived out that way. He was friends with David and we became friends. I adored him. He was a wonderful man. He was an incredible raconteur. You could just sit and listen to David all night long. He told the most wonderful stories Iíve ever heard.

It was great you had a TV show for awhile.

I was on Peyton Place for years and years. It was fabulous.

One of your co-stars Mia Farrow only ate Spinach & Cottage Cheese?

We use to go to lunch and Iíd eat everything around. Sheíd only eat Spinach & Cottage Cheese. Thatís all sheíd order.

Did you see Frank Sinatra at the time?

He didnít come around the set. He had been friends with Natalie and thatís how I knew Nancy Sinatra. I use to be friends with Nancy.

Did you hang out with the Rat Pack?

I was too young. Thereís an 81/2 year difference in ages between Natalie and I. When Natalie was 18 I was 10 years old. I didnít hang out with anybody. I hung out with dolls.

What about Walter Matthau?

I evidently scared Walter Matthau badly when I was doing Peyton Place as an adult by firing off a toy gun Bobby Darin had given me in the commissary. I thought the caps were all spent.

I was showing it to someone when I pulled the trigger and it went off. Walter tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Young lady I want you to know that I recently had a heart attack and you scared me." He went on & on & on. It absolutely mortified me.

On Peyton Place you were close with Ryan O'Neal?

I dated Ryan for awhile. He wasnít the kindest person in the world. Iím sure none of us where when we were very young. I donít think itís a character flaw of his. He wasnít particularly kind at the time. I think we were all too young and selfish.

You had a few marriages.

Iíve been married four times. I was getting married for the wrong reason. Unfortunately for me I was very lonely. I wanted someone to sort of connect with. I didnít take into account that itís important to wait for that one special someone.

I was always so delighted somebody cared. Once into the marriage Iíd discovered Iím not in love or I canít deal with these problems. This isnít what I wanted and I would leave. I wouldnít stay for the wrong reasons.

You were 18 or 19 when you first got married?

I was 16.

Were you ready to get away from home?

I was just a kid and out of school. I seemed very aimless and along came Jack Wrather the III. He was gorgeous and 18. He claimed to love me until death do us part. I told my mom, "Weíre going to Mexico to get married." They said, "Okay honey; call us when you get back."

How does one get married 5 times?

I was married 4 times. How do you get married 4 times? You get a license.

You probably get tired of talking about "Diamonds are Forever"?

Itís such a big favorite how could I possible get tired of it. Itís quite amazing. I certainly had no idea that when I did that film it would be something that would follow me around for the rest of my life. I did more television than film.

Youíve always talked about the scene where you had to jump off a platform in Vegas for "Diamonds are Forever".

I went into the water in the middle of the night with little panties on. It wasnít fun.

Sean Connery had a toupee at the time.

He had a toupee. He hated it, but he had to wear it.

Did you have a relationship with Robert Redford?

Robert was married when Natalie was working with him.

What was Robert like?

Heís very upstanding. Heís wonderful. Heís very thoughtful. I know actors can be terrific. I know Iíve been saying all these wonderful things about all these people. Theyíre fascinating people.

You appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson?

I was on the show a couple of times. He was wonderful. I was also on the show with Joan Rivers and I was also on one time with Joey Bishop. I just thought it would be something that was fun.

I was scared to be on with Joan. I thought sheíd be sarcastic to me and Iíd get very upset because Iím very sensitive. She ended up being really nice to me. She was so sweet to me. I couldnít believe it.

You were on the retro classic TV series Police Story?

They liked me on that show. I use to do one every year the show was on. Theyíd call and say, "Can you do this one?" and Iíd say, "Absolutely".

What characters did you play?

One time I was a stripper who was murdered. Another time I was someone who was hiding funds.

You got to play a bad girl on that?

I usually did play the bad girls on those.

What about Fantasy Island and Ricardo Monteblan?

I worked with Ricardo twice. We did a film for TV together called, "Blackwater Gold". I adore Ricardo Monteblan. Heís a wonderful, wonderful man! He and his wife are a wonderful couple. Heís got a wonderful family. I cannot say enough nice things about him. He is terrific! Heís kind, giving, and very concerned.

What was "Blackwater Gold" about?

It was about a sunken Treasure. I played a biologist and Keir Dullea was my boyfriend. He had ruptured an eardrum on a dive and couldnít dive anymore. Ricardo, Keir, and I were going after a treasure. Of course there were bad guys. Brad Dillman was a bad guy and France Nuyen was a bad girl.

I got the good girl role that time. That was for ABC. Itís on DVD.

What about Little Ladies of the Night with Linda Blair?

It was with Linda Purl. Sheís a wonderful actress.

Werenít you the supreme hooker in the movie?

I was the top hooker. It was one of the highest rated ABC movies of the week.

Do you think playing a tough woman character comes naturally?

I suppose thatís part of me. Thereís a lot of Plenty ole Toole from the James Bond movie too. Thereís a lot of naivetť.

What was your role in the Captain America movies?

I played one of the bad guys. I was a pilot flying a plane. Itís just fun and games. It was terrific.

Free Grass?

That was with me, Russ Tamblyn, and Richard Beymer. It was a feature film. It was about Marijuana smuggling.

You worked with Iron Eyes Cody in the movie "Grayeagle"?

He was a lovely guy. I was actually brought into the tribe. I was given an Indian name and everything. I went to a ceremony. He was a very kind, caring person. Ben Johnson was a big favorite. I just adored Ben. He was wonderful.

Tell us about the horror movie you starred in called Satanís Mistress.

Itís the worse film in the entire world, but itís got this massive cult following. Itís hysterical. I mean people just love this movie. The monster is laughable. Itís the funniest thing youíve ever seen.

You were on the soap drama Capitol.

I was on Capitol until the show was cancelled.

Are there other shows or movie roles that you liked?

I was very proud of QB VII. I really wanted to be a part of that. I lost a good agent over it because he said it was too small a role and I shouldnít do it. I loved working on "Wild Wild West". I loved being able to do light comedy. I loved doing a guest starring role with Richard Dreyfuss on the Felony Squad. He was very funny & a wonderful raconteur.

You appeared in Playboy?

That wasnít something that was planned. I tried to get out of it.

Once you took the pictures you had second thoughts about it.

Everybody started getting mad and there was some concern about how I would come off. I spoke with Hugh Hefner and told him, "I donít want to go out there and say arenít I pretty?" Itís not what Iím all about. Hugh said, "How can I run it. Weíd really like to." We just kept talking and talking. I had mentioned to him that I write and he said, "What do you write?" and I said, "Iíve got a book of poetry." He said, "What if we include the poetry and I publish your book?" and I said, "Okay". That would work and thatís how the poetry appeared in Playboy and in a book.

Did they ask you silly questions: what was your favorite cake to eat?

I wasnít a playmate. I was an actress. They use to do one celebrity a month. I was the celebrity layout. I wasnít a playmate.

Do you think it hurt or helped your career?

I donít think it made a difference one way or another. A friend of mine had written "Diamonds are Forever" Tom Mankiewicz wrote it and he was the one who mentioned me to Cubby Broccoli.

Is Cubby Broccoli for real?

His family developed the plant that is Broccoli. The vegetable was given their name. It sounds like a made up name I know.

What about your career as a producer?
 

I got to appear in a show that I had originated. I was Vice President of Development with Jay Bernstein and Larry Thompson productions. I put together the "Murder Me, Murder You" movie from Mike Hammerís Mickey Spillane. I was a producer on that and we went to a series before we even finished filming because CBS was so thrilled with it.

I left there to work somewhere else as a producer. I got a call months later from the production office being frantic and saying, "We just had a problem with an actress. Can you please come in and do this role?" I said, "Absolutely." I just thought it would be so much fun to see my crew again and everybody I had worked with. I adored it. It was a blast. I loved it. I got murdered in that too.

You produced a movie for Lynda Carter?

I produced two of her movies: "Born to be sold" which was about the Black Market baby adoption and a thriller called "Hotline". Then two of her Lynda Carter Specials.

People still have crushes on her from Wonder Woman series. Iím sure she gets tired of that.

No. I think people are flattered that they are remembered and that they have some sort of an impact. Youíre doing something that takes people away and into a different time or situation. Movie work is about fantasy. I think people are very pleased that they are remembered. I certainly am.

You got to hang out with the stars of "Rebel without a Cause": Sal Mineo, James Dean, and Dennis Hopper?

I was very, very young.

Your sister Natalie was very busy in the business.

Exactly, Natalie was doing one film after another. I remember being on the set of Rebel without a Cause. It was always night shooting and I remember being very tired. The day shoots werenít as bad. I was of an age where I should have been in school and my mom was taking me to the set. Iíd have to sit in the school room on the set, but then Iíd wander away because no one paid any attention to me.
 

I remember Dennis of course because we did that funny double date with Natalie & Dennis & Me & Dennisís brother. We all went to a premiere together. It was very cute.

James Deanís image still pops up everywhere.

In England theyíre putting up a whole showing of photographs that have not been previously released to the public. They called and asked if I would say a few words about James Dean that they could put up in the gallery with the photo and I said sure. Theyíre doing a whole big thing for the anniversary of his death.

Any impressions of him?

He came to the house.

What about the rumors that he was called the human ashtray and people would put out cigarettes on his chest?

Thatís ridiculous. I wouldnít have known about that at the age of 8. He was sweet enough to watch my little girlfriend and I put on a skit for him. He laughed appropriately and was very kind. Thatís all I remember.

I watched Natalie and Warren Beatty in "Splendor in the Grass" recently.

Isnít it wonderful? Thatís stuff is really hard to watch. I didnít watch that movie for years & years after Natalie passed away because it was too tough on me.

Iím sure anytime you see your sister on TV it must be sad.

Well, when you couple it with the fact that sheís gone and all that. Then itís too much for me.

Warren helped you out after one of your marriages?

He helped me out all the time. I think the world of him. I think heís fabulous.

Were you surprised that Warren Beatty finally settled down?

I think it was the right time and the right person.

Your sister Natalie did a wonderful thing for you when you turned 16 in buying you a Thunderbird.

No, no no. It wasnít a Thunderbird.

It was a car right?

She did buy me a car.

It was something fancy.

It was a Jaguar SKE.

At 16? You were probably a little spoiled at that point?

Probably. Natalie took me out to buy my prom dress, but I couldnít decide between two of them so she bought them both for me.

Didnít she have her own Pink Thunderbird?

Way back when she did.

Your sister must have been like a second mom to you?

Exactly, and a dear friend.

She was always pretty much there for you.

Yes, she was. She always was.

She was married to Robert Wagner twice?

She liked him well enough she went back a second time. She went back for a second helping.

Do you still talk to Robert Wagner at all?
 

Everybody has sort of moved on in their lives. We just went through something that was too incredibly painful to continue to be close. It was such a horrible tragedy. Itís just too much for us to have been able to stay close.

Suzanne Finstad wrote a definitive biography of your sister Natalie Wood called "Natasha: A biography of Natalie Wood".

She did an incredible, incredible biography. The book rights were purchased by ABC for Gerald Abrams for his production company. He got in touch with me. The book was purchased by the network to make a series or whatever to go into development. He contacted me and didnít see how the film could be made without me. They needed me. He was aware of my production background and that I had produced other things. We started the process from there.

I read your memoir and the Natasha book which the miniseries was based on.

It was fabulous wasnít it? It was wonderful. Suzanne did such a great job. Hers was a different book. It was very comprehensive. Mine was about Natalie and Iís relationship. Herís is about everything and itís actually its better that everything comes from everyone else instead of another member of the family.

Thereís was a bit of a hubbub when your book came out.

Oh it was because of Natalieís suicide attempt. It was the first time anybody had ever heard about that.

When did you find out about Natalieís additional suicide attempts?

When I started speaking with Suzanne she gave me a copy of her book. It was still in galley form.

Suzanne interviewed you for the book.

Not until the book was almost finished. We did get together. I didnít say much or tell her much because I didnít know her. Then I had a lovely meeting with her and she called me again and we chatted some more. Then I felt a little more comfortable and trusting with her. She has a great deal of integrity. Thatís what I needed to feel good about. Knowing that Suzanne has integrity and she does. I became more comfortable and began to work more closely with her.

You helped produce the mini-series about your sister?

That was really tough. I think we had about 3 or 4 days of shooting left to do in Australia and it was going to be all the stuff on the boat about the accident. I said, "You know what folks youíre all doing a great job. Iím out of here. Iím going home. I couldnít hang around for that. I left. It was a little too intense for me.

You got award winning director Peter Bogdanovich for the mini-series?

We were just thrilled to get him. Peter is very enamored with John Ford so everyday heíd come up with another "Searchers" question for me and come running up saying, "John Ford, John Ford". Iíd say, "Peter enough of John Ford."

They filmed in Australia.

We had to shoot it there with our budget. We had to come in on budget. We couldnít shoot it out here for the amount of money we were given.

Iíve heard itís too expensive to shoot in Hollywood or California.

Itís really sad. Itís hurting a lot of people that more things arenít getting made here, but what are you going to do.

Many people say that Natalieís memory or acting talent has been underrated.

Right. I was hoping more people would see the miniseries and remember her. I think thatís one of the reasons all of us wanted to make the film. It would bring a new generation and make them aware of Natalie and what she did.

What would you like people to remember most about your sister?

Thatís she lived a life that she wanted. Thatís she was a wonderful mother and a wonderful human being. She did lead the life that she wanted. She loved what she did and she loved her life. She was a very kind, giving person.

I had forgotten that as a child she did the Christmas Classic "Miracle on 34th Street".

Thatís right. Itís against the law not to watch it. You could be arrested if you donít watch it. You better be careful and watch it.

Both you and Natalie were into animals. There was something written about too many dogs & cats and watching out for poop in her backyard.

That would happen. Before we have people over for barbeques here we run out with a shovel too.

Didnít you have a couple of pets growing up?

We always had dogs. Natalie had horses. We had a Squirrel at one point. Weíve always had animals.

Iíve read you collect dolls?

My daughter and I started collecting the Madame Alexander dolls. Weíre going to save them all for my granddaughter. She canít have them yet because sheís only 5. She will destroy them. Now Iím just a handbag collector.

Youíre quite a shopper. Is there a specific item you always go for?

I do shoes, handbags, and jackets. I love jackets. Iíve always liked pretty things. I mean if one could have a limitless amount of wall space Iíd probably be buying a lot of art. Itís easier to afford a couple of cute sweaters than a Van Gough. I think beautiful things are very nice to surround yourself with.

Are you currently dating anyone right now?

No, Iím not. Iím currently taking care of three grandchildren, 7 dogs, numerous cats, and a big house.


If you'd like to find out more about Lana Wood, or to buy one of her autographed photos, check out her website at: http://www.lanawood.net/

 

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