Professor dives into Natalie Wood’s life of controversy

By Modjina Ovil

The 1960s was a time when there were “good girls” and “bad girls,” and nothing in between, according to Cynthia Lucia, director of Rider’s Film and Media Studies program, and author of the soon-to-be published book, Natalie Wood: Hollywood History and Its Final Child.

Lucia recently returned from Warwick University in the United Kingdom. There, she spoke about her book, which is a critical study of the movies of Wood, a teen star of the 1950s who went on to be one of the top adult stars of the 1960s.

“It was a time in American culture where there was a division about what was perceived in ‘good girls’ and ‘bad girls,’” said Lucia. “A couple of Natalie Wood’s movies deal with this subject. Sometimes they reaffirm the good girl perception and sometimes they don’t.”

Lucia hopes readers will learn about the profound lifestyle changes that most female actresses have gone through while in Hollywood. For decades, Hollywood has carried conflicting imagery for women.

“This isn’t a biography — it’s a critical study of a number of fascinating movies in which [Wood] starred,”  Lucia said. “I’m hoping readers will want to look thoughtfully at her movies, all of which powerfully capture the times of a culture that was so confused about female sexuality and a Hollywood industry equally confused about how to represent it.”

The book also mentions major American movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, and censorship debates about a number of Wood’s 1950s and 1960s movies. Filmmakers were expected to follow production codes, which were lists of what was allowed to be included in films and what was not.

“At the time Wood was coming of age, the production code was weakening,” Lucia said. “By 1968, it disappeared and it became the rating system it is today. You can’t begin to imagine how, even a word or a phrase in the script, becomes the subject of detailed negotiations between film directors and the PCA (Production Code Administration). Can you imagine that huge directors and industry executives would devote long letters — before the age of email — to such a concern?”

An example Lucia gave was a line in Wood’s movie, Splendor in the Grass. In the film, a girl named Juanita (played by Jan Norris) “was considered a ‘bad girl’ and the guys know this.”

The original line in question was “Juanita knows what it’s for.” The people who made the production code thought this was too explicit. It was then changed to “Juanita knows what it’s all about.”

Lucia was able to deliver her lecture in Warwick’s comfortable atmosphere. Located in a beautiful countryside, the U.K. university welcomed her.

“Warwick has wonderful funding and support for scholars,” said Lucia. “They support scholars and expose their students to the work of scholars. There were others constantly coming and going from the Cryfield Grange location where we were staying. It was so wonderful to experience such support and genuine interest in advancing ideas and scholarship.”

Lucia said Rider’s support also was central to her research.

“I was so truly gifted by a wonderful Rider University sabbatical during Spring 2015,” she said. “During that time, I was able to visit film archives in Los Angeles, Connecticut and New York City. I’ve gathered so much material, the challenge is finding the time to write, research, and put it all together. During the school year, teaching and student needs are always my priority.

“But I always try get back to it, when I can. I’m looking forward to having a chunk of time in January and next summer.”

Additional reporting by Emily Klingman.

Printed in the 11/4/15 edition. This article was revised on Nov. 6, 2015, to correct the characterization Natalie Wood’s role in Splendor in the Grass. She was not the “bad girl,” who was played by Jan Norris.

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