January 19, 2004 12:00 PM

by Gavin Lambert

A working actress for almost 40 of her 43 years, Natalie Wood was never easily categorized. Her roles shifted from adorable moppet (Miracle on 134th Street) to tempestuous screen “ethnic” (West Side Story) to throwaway eye candy (The Great Race). Lambert, who knew the actress for 20 years, since she starred in the screen adaptation of his book Inside Daisy Clover, sheds light on this chimerical force in his admiring biography. Wood was one of the first modern actors, drawn into Method acting on the set of director Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (where she juggled two lovers, Ray and Dennis Hopper) and becoming the icon of sexually oppressed youth in Splendor in the Grass. Examining Wood’s daybooks and interviewing her friends, Lambert finds a decent woman, discreet among gossipmongers and loyal to her intimates. His ability to spin a yarn makes this a bio that’s revealing and rewarding, without slinging mud.

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