Natalie Wood’s Daughter Is Keeping Her Mother’s Legacy Alive

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Spoilers: mild spoilers ahead for HBO's Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind.
With the new HBO documentary, Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind, Natalie Wood's daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner is keeping her mother's legacy alive by putting the focus back on her illustrious life — instead of her tragic death. In turn, Gregson Wagner is able to show the ways in which her own life was shaped by the very pubic loss of her iconic mother.
The documentary's trailer begins with Gregson Wagner, who is also a producer on the project, admitting, "The day my mom died, my entire world was shattered. Since then there's been so much focus on how she died."
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This is due to the mystery surrounding Wood's death at the age of 43.
Her 1981 passing off the coast of Catalina Island in California was initially ruled an accident, but countless books, films, and, more recently, podcasts, believe there is more to the story of her drowning. That focus on her passing "has overshadowed who she was as a person," according to Gregson Wagner. This new film is focused on telling more of her mother's story.
With help from those who knew her best, Gregson Wagner delves into her mother's successful film career, which included starring roles in classics like Miracle On 34th Street, West Side Story, Rebel Without A Cause, and Splendor In the Grass. Wood earned three Oscar nominations before the age of 25, which gained her a kind of power in Hollywood that few women at that time had. A feminist actress before people were throwing around the F-word.
Gregson Wagner also tries to better understand her mother's final moments by discussing the night of the accident with her stepfather Robert Wagner. In 2018, he was named a "person of interest" in the investigation into Wood’s death. (He has repeatedly denied any involvement in his late wife's death.)
But as much as the film offers a more complete picture of Wood in her everyday life, it is really about a daughter trying to better understand the mother she lost way too young.
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Gregson Wagner was only 11 years old when her mother passed. Yet, she grew up to follow in her acting footsteps. Her mother made her acting debut at just four years old, but Gregson Wagner was 21 when she first appeared onscreen in the 1992 movie Father & Sons. She would go on to star alongside Robert Downey, Jr. in Two Girls and a Guy, and appear in High Fidelity, the Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie, and the short lived soap opera Pasadena.
In recent years, Gregson Wagner, who is married to 7th Heaven's Barry Watson, devoted more of her life to her mother's legacy. In 2016, she released the coffee table book Natalie Wood Reflections on a Legendary Life. Along with the documentary, she also dropped More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait Of My Mother, Natalie Wood, a memoir that revisits her mom's too brief life and her sudden death's affect on her.
In it, she shows unyielding support for her stepdad. "My mother no longer has a voice of her own but I do and this is what I know — RJ [Wagner] loved Natalie ‘more than love,'" she writes in More Than Love, according to The Cut. "No one in my world questioned my dad’s love for my mom or his utter despair at her loss.”
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No one can question Gregson Wagner's intentions with her latest work, the most personal of her career. Her goal was not to inspire more tabloid fodder about the night her mother died, but “to cast the attention on her life, period,” she told the Guardian by reintroducing the world to the woman she knew only as mom. “We weren’t raised by someone who seemed like a movie star at all,” she explains in the film. “All she just seemed was sort of larger than life, but not because she was famous. More because she was just her.” 
For Gregson Wagner, the most surprising part of making the documentary and writing her memoir "was just how healing it feels to share the story. You know, for a lot of years I’ve been so private about my life with my parents because it’s been so misconstrued in the press," she told Deadline, "and I wasn’t ready to share, and now that I’m doing it I feel so much better."
With these two new projects, Gregson Wagner pays homage to her mother, and in turn, givers her fans a chance to know Wood in ways they never could have before. But these companion works are also an introduction to Natasha Gregson Wagner, who is more than Natalie Wood's daughter; she is an artist and an entertainer in her own right.

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