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Natalie Wood was an American film and television actress best known for her screen roles in Miracle on 34th Street, Splendor in the Grass, Rebel Without a Cause, and West Side.

More than 50 years ago, on October 18, 1961, Natalie Wood premiered one of her most iconic movie roles: Maria, the 20th-century twist on Shakespeare’s tragically lovelorn Juliet, in the big-screen version of West Side Story. That Wood could nail the tricky mix of effervescence and anguish the part required was no surprise — after all, at just 23 years old, she was already a Hollywood veteran, an Oscar-nominated star whose astonishing talent had been honed since the age of 4.

And at nearly every stage of her career — the early days as a cute studio-contract moppet; her teenage Method experiments inspired by her work in Rebel Without a Cause; her emergence as a powerful leading lady who could more than hold her own with Warren Beatty and Steve McQueen.

Natalie Wood died, far too young, in 1981. She was just 43 years old. She drowned near Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of California; in 2012, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner reclassified the cause of her death as “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

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