She seduced James Bond in a casino and posed nude for PLAYBOY, but ask Lana Wood to describe herself, and she won't say 'sex symbol.' "Believe it or not, I was an incorrigible tomboy as a kid," said Wood. And like most tomboys, Lana never dreamed of becoming an actress, but when your big sister is movie star Natalie Wood, you sort of gravitate to the family business. I spoke with Lana last week from her home in southern California.
JL: I gleaned from your book, "Natalie", that you were never obsessed with acting, but that your Mom pushed you into it.
LW: I think when you're born into a household where your sister is already a recognized star and things revolved completely around the motion picture industry, then that becomes your norm. But I don't think that would have been what I would have planned or chosen for myself. I actually wanted to be a marine biologist for many years, but I was always working. But I like acting very much. I love meeting new people, even being uprooted constantly going from set to set. But no, I didn't want to be a star. I just wanted to do my work and go home.
And though Lana didn't want to follow in Natalie's footsteps, her first film role had her playing a younger version of her older sister in "The Searchers." It was a classic Western that gave little Lana a chance to be around all sorts of critters and one larger than life cowboy.
JL: What was it like working with John Wayne?
LW: I adored John Wayne. He was like this big sort of lumbering presence, and he would stand next to me, and pull out these Allenbury's black currant pastilles candies, which he was always chewing on, and had with him all the time. He would open up the tin and say to me, "Take one." Then he'd say, "Take another one." (laughs) Then he'd give me a pat on the back, and off he'd go. He always acknowledged my presence.
Somehow being around horses and cowboys made the job of acting more palatable to tomboy Lana, so much so that as she grew into adulthood, she always jumped at the chance to work in the Western genre, both in film and on television. Her small screen credits included such oaters as "Have Gun Will Travel" "Bonanza", and "The Wild Wild West."
JL: You really loved doing Westerns, didn't you?
LW: Yes, I loved it because I'm a horse person. They could put me on any horse, and I wasn't afraid of snakes or animals of any kind, so yes I adored Westerns. The genre appeals to me, but I also like the connotations of the genre as well. When I was doing "Grey Eagle" with Ben Johnson, they put me on a horse bareback that I had never been on in my life and said, "Go as fast as you can from here all the way down to the cabin, and we'll follow you on this camera." The horse stumbled and they panicked because they thought, "We've lost her!" But I was fine and kept right on going.
Along the way, Lana paid her dues by acting in all kinds of genres, including a recurring role in the groundbreaking night time soap, "Peyton Place."
JL: Peyton Place was sort of racy for the time.
LW: Oh yes, that stirred the pot enormously, very racy back then. That was sensational. It's just too bad I was so young when I did it. I would like to have experienced it with a few more brain cells (laughs).
But the woman who described herself to me as having once been a "scarecrow with large breasts", grew into an accomplished actress, and became comfortable in the spotlight, and in her own skin. So much so that she readily accepted Hugh Hefner's invitation to pose nude for a 1971 issue of PLAYBOY. That photo spread landed her a role in the James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever" opposite Sean Connery. And though the couple's on-screen romance was cut short by villains who threw Lana off of a hotel balcony, Wood and Connery struck up a real life romance away from the cameras.
JL: Connery has a reputation as sort of a misogynist, so how did the two of you get along?
LW: We got along great. Sean is how Sean is. At least he is not full of pretense. I would rather be with someone where I can say, "Wow, I don't like this or that about them, but at least I know who they are." I wouldn't marry somebody like that, but it was fun at the time.
In recent years Lana has been outspoken in her quest for the truth about what happened the night sister Natalie drowned after having spent time on her yacht with husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken.
JL: The tabloids have made it sound as though you think RJ murdered Natalie, but if he was involved, surely you believe it was accidental?
LW: Of course it was accidental. Vengeance is not mine though. You know what I mean? I'm missing that gene. People ask why I don't do this or that, and I tell them, "because it does not change the outcome," and I'm very much a bottom line person. Now if somebody said "If you do this or that, your sister will come back," then I'd walk over broken glass. But that's not going to happen. This is very complex, and yes I believe he was involved, I mean he was THERE. Do I think he should be punished? I think people dole out their own punishment. I think people are far better at punishing themselves than anyone else could be, and I can only imagine what it is RJ's had to live with. That doesn't mean I'm not loyal to my sister because I miss her horribly. It ruined a great many lives, most of all it ruined Natalie's life. Let's please remember that.
Today Lana is constantly on the go. She is currently shooting one film, and has three others in production, and is very much in demand at nostalgia events. Next month she'll be appearing at the Western Film Fair and Nostalgia Convention in Winston-Salem. In fact, Lana is so busy, I was lucky to even catch up to her for a telephone interview.
LW: If I sound winded right now, it's because I'm changing my clothing because I need to take my granddaughter to a swim party.
JL: All my buddies will be jealous when I tell them that I was on the phone with Lana Wood while she was getting undressed.
LW: (laughs) You're funny !
Funny maybe, but I too am winded because I just glanced at Lana's PLAYBOY photos. Be still my heart, and thank the Lord for tomboys!
Lana's book Natalie is available through Amazon.com. The Western Film Fair runs from July 8 through July 11. For more information, visit www.westernfilmfair.com
Jim Longworth is a columnist for YESWeekly.com, and author of the "TV Creators" series of books. He also serves as judge for the primetime EMMYs, and hosts a weekly TV show for Sinclair stations.
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