- There have long been Hollywood rumors regarding an alleged assault against a teenage Natalie Wood.
- In a new memoir, Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood, is naming the alleged perpetrator for the first time: Kirk Douglas.
- Lana told Insider she didn’t include the story to “get back” at Douglas, but to provide insight into Natalie’s life.
Lana Wood, the younger sister of famed actress Natalie Wood and an actress, herself, is done keeping Hollywood’s secrets.
In her new memoir, “Little Sister: My Investigation into the Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood,” Lana lends her confirmation of what, for years, was a persistent Hollywood rumor.
The former “Bond Girl” alleges that in the summer of 1955, while the two sisters were filming John Ford’s “The Searchers,” their mother, Maria Zakharenko, took the girls to LA’s Chateau Marmont, where she instructed a teenaged Natalie to go inside the hotel to meet with a powerful industry icon.
The tale of an assault committed against a then-up-and-coming Natalie, who later starred in classic films like “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story,” has spurred whispers and theories for years. But for the first time, more than 65 years after the alleged assault took place, a person who knew Natalie directly is naming the accused perpetrator.
“Kirk Douglas was ushering me into his suite,” Lana remembers Natalie telling her years later, as she wrote in her memoir
“Then she got very quiet,” Lana wrote, “and her eyes filled with tears. I could barely hear her when she added, ‘And, uh…he hurt me, Lana.'”
Douglas, who starred in films like “Spartacus” and “Paths of Glory,” died in 2020 at the age of 103. He would have been in his late 30s at the time of the alleged assault and married to Anne Buydens.
Lana, a young girl at the time, remembers waiting with their mother in the car outside the Marmont for Natalie to emerge.
“It seemed like a long time passed before Natalie got back into the car and woke me up when she slammed the door shut. She looked awful,” Lana wrote in “Little Sister.” “She was very disheveled and very upset, and she and Mom started urgently whispering to each other.”
When the two sisters spoke about the alleged assault as adults, Lana remembers Natalie describing the incident as an “out-of-body experience,” saying she was “terrified” and “confused,” though never mentioning the word “raped” or “molested.”
In “Little Sister,” Lana estimates that Natalie was 15 and herself, 7, at the time of the assault, but in the summer of 1955, Natalie would have been 16 or 17, and Lana would have been 9.
In response to questions about the discrepancy, a publicist for Harper Collins told the Los Angeles Times: “The book is a memoir and reflects present-day recollections of events that happened over six decades ago.”
Nobody left to protect
After Natalie told Lana about the assault later in life, the younger sister said Natalie swore her to secrecy.
But with the impending 40th anniversary of Natalie’s drowning death off the coast of Santa Catalina Island and Douglas’s 2020 passing, Lana believes her older sister would forgive her for breaking her word, as there’s “no one still around to protect.”
“This is for Natalie,” Lana told Insider in an interview. “That episode really hurt her for her entire life. Things like that don’t go away.”
The 75-year-old said she had no apprehensions about including the story in her new memoir after years of widespread speculation. In “Little Sister,” Lana wrote about seeing inaccurate or incomplete variations of the story in print over the years as the rumor mill ruminated on the details.
Douglas’ name had been raised before but never confirmed. When he died in 2020, Natalie’s name trended alongside his on Twitter.
Lana, who had previously discussed the alleged assault, but never named a perpetrator, told Insider that she was bombarded by the press following Douglas’ passing with requests to confirm the rumor or discuss his relationship to Natalie. At the time, she refused to comment.
“I think that would have been a very cold thing to do,” she said. “Out of respect for his family, I would not say anything.”
A representative for Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas’ son, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment, but earlier this month, the actor, through his publicist, told the Associated Press, “May they both rest in peace,” in response to questions surrounding the allegation.
In his own 1988 memoir, “The Ragman’s Son,” Douglas wrote about meeting Natalie for the first time.
“‘Oh, Mr. Douglas, would you please sign my jacket?'” Natalie said, according to Douglas’ book. “As I obliged, the woman who was driving got out and introduced her. ‘This is my daughter. She’s in movies, too. Her name is Natalie Wood.’ That was the first time I met Natalie. I saw her many times afterward, before she died in that cruel accident.”
Lana told Insider she didn’t include the anecdote to “get back” at Douglas, but instead, wanted to provide insight into some of the struggles that shaped Natalie’s life.
“This is my chance to let everybody know what happened to Natalie,” she said. “You aren’t just born a certain way. She went through quite a lot.”
‘Suck it up’
The girls’ mother was a Russian immigrant, who according to Lana, was “overly concerned with Natalie and stardom.”
In her memoir, Lana alleges that Zakharenko set up the meeting between Natalie and Douglas in the hopes that “many doors might be thrown open for her, with just a nod of his famous, handsome head on her behalf.”
Zakharenko’s advice to Natalie following the incident, according to Lana, was to “suck it up,” telling her daughter not to talk about the alleged assault in order to protect her burgeoning career.
But in a book that is dedicated to telling the truth about Natalie’s life — and death — the younger sister said she couldn’t leave out the more challenging details surrounding her mother’s reaction to Natalie’s struggles.
“It was the truth and it’s something I had to write about,” she told Insider. “I’m not oblivious to how my mom was. Nobody is perfect.”
Reliving ‘heart-wrenching’ memories
The new memoir, which primarily focuses on the aftermath of Natalie’s mysterious 1981 drowning death, was a labor of love, Lana told Insider. But that doesn’t mean writing it was easy.
“It was terrible, absolutely ripping my heart out,” Lana said about the writing process, which required her to delve back into her sister’s tragic death and ongoing familial strife.
“I would have to stop, walk out of the room … and not do any more for that entire day or two days,” she added.
But she hopes the project will keep Natalie’s memory alive — “not simply as a movie star, but as a person who had a full life.”