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Taking Names: Report reopens questions over Natalie Wood’s death

- - Monday, January 14, 2013

Hollywood icon Natalie Wood may have suffered non-accidental injuries before her 1981 drowning death and ended up in the sea in a "non-volitional" manner, says a new coroner's report released Monday.

The report, compiled by the Los Angeles County coroner's office after the case was reopened in 2011, raises fresh questions about her death and the role of her actor husband Robert Wagner and a fellow actor on the fateful night.

The "West Side Story" and "Rebel Without a Cause" star drowned on the night of Nov. 29, 1981, off California's Catalina Island, after an evening of drinking and eating with her husband and actor Christopher Walken.

Her "accidental" death at age 43 has long been a Hollywood mystery — but was thought to have been laid to rest until a November 2011 surprise announcement that police were reviving the probe.

A "re-evaluation" coroner's report, dated in May but published Monday, recounts how Wood, Mr. Wagner and Mr. Walken were drunk after dining in a restaurant and continued drinking after returning to the couple's boat, the Splendour.

The captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, said they realized Wood was missing around midnight, but initially thought she might have returned to shore using the boat's dinghy.

Mr. Wagner raised the alarm with authorities at 1:30 a.m. A search was launched, and her body was found floating face-down in the ocean some 200 yards from shore, while the dinghy was found nearby, about a mile from the main boat.

In the new report, a copy of which was published by the Los Angeles Times, the medical examiner said some of the injuries found on her body did not necessarily come from an accident, such as falling from the boat or dinghy.

"With the presence of fresh bruises in the upper extremities in the right forearm/left wrist area and a small scratch in the anterior neck, this Examiner is unable to exclude non-accidental mechanism causing these injuries," it said.

It added: "This Medical Examiner is unable to exclude non-volitional, unplanned entry into the water."

As a result, "the cause of death will be changed to drowning and other undetermined factors. Manner will be changed to undetermined. How injury occurred will be listed as found floating in ocean," the report concluded.

"Circumstances not clearly established."

Mr. Davern, who co-wrote a 2009 book about the mystery, said the couple had a fierce row shortly before she vanished, and that Mr. Wagner delayed a search that could have saved her.

A publicist for Mr. Wagner said when the case was reopened that his family supported the police probe, while warning against people "trying to profit from the 30 year anniversary of her tragic death."

Golden Globes 
ratings rise

The Nielsen Co. said that the Golden Globes awards ceremony Sunday got a nice ratings bump over last year.

With Tina Fey and Amy Poehler handling host duties, the NBC telecast drew in 19.7 million viewers. That is an audience growth of 2.8 million viewers, or 17 percent over last year's show, which was hosted by Ricky Gervais.

It was the top-rated Globes in six years, according to national figures released Monday.

For the fourth year, the Globes were televised live to all time zones, and some Western markets also carried an encore telecast after the live coverage, which began at 5 p.m. Pacific time.

NBC said the telecast is the season's most-watched awards program, topping the CMA Awards, Emmy Awards, American Music Awards and People's Choice Awards.

The Grammy Awards will air Feb. 10. The Academy Awards are scheduled for Feb. 24.

Caro, Katherine Boo nominated for critics prizes

Robert Caro, Katherine Boo and the late Anthony Shadid are among the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle prize.

Ms. Boo has won the National Book Award for her nonfiction account of a Mumbai community, "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers," while Mr. Caro was a finalist for his latest Lyndon B. Johnson book, "The Passage of Power," and Mr. Shadid for his memoir "House of Stone." Zadie Smith's "NW" and National Book Award contender Ben Fountain's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" were fiction nominees.

Thirty authors in six competitive categories were announced Monday.

Others in the running for fiction include French author Laurent Binet's "HHhH," Adam Johnson's "The Orphan Master's Son" and Lydia Millet's "Magnificence." Ms. Boo is a nominee for general nonfiction, along with Andrew Solomon's best-selling "Far From the Tree," Steve Coll's "Private Empire," Jim Holt's "Why Does the World Exist?" and David Quammen's "Spillover."

In biography, the finalists were Mr. Caro, Tom Reiss' "The Black Count," Lisa Cohen's "All We Know," Lisa Jarnot's "Robert Duncan, the Ambassador From Venus" and Michael Gorra's "Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece." The autobiography nominees were Mr. Shadid, Reyna Grande's "The Distance Between Us," Maureen N. McLane's "My Poets," Leanne Shapton's "Swimming Studies" and Ngugi Wa Thiong'O's "In the House of the Interpreter."

No cash prizes will be given to competitive winners, to be announced Feb. 27. But $1,000 will be divided between Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, winners of a lifetime achievement prize for their "groundbreaking work in feminist criticism."