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Tinseltown Talks column: Daughter recalls Thanksgiving with Natalie Wood

Nick Thomas
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Natalie Wood and daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner in the early 1970s.

With the holidays approaching, seasonal movie favorites will be inching their way into television schedules. While considered perennial Christmas entertainment fare, the opening scenes of “Miracle on 34th Street” actually take place at Thanksgiving with the annual Macy’s parade.

The 1947 movie and Thanksgiving festivities hold special significance for actress Natasha Gregson Wagner.

“I don’t recall the first time my mother showed me ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ but I remember as a child knowing she was in the cast and enjoyed watching her as a little girl,” said Gregson Wagner from Los Angeles.

That little girl was her mother, Natalie Wood.

“The first time I saw my mom on the television was on one of those big old square box sets and I actually found it a little scary,” she recalled. “I even went around the back to try and figure out how she got inside!”

Although her mother died when Natasha was just 11, the Thanksgiving meals with her mother remain memorable for Gregson Wagner.

“She loved Thanksgiving, which was always very festive and our house was filled with a large extended family. But my mom was not a big cook, so a lovely couple, Helen and Gene, would prepare the dinner every year. And the lady who helped raise us, (housekeeper and nanny) Willie-Mae, would make sweet potato puree in a hulled out orange shell topped with marshmallows - delicious!”

Natasha shared memories of her mother by contributing personal photos and thoughts to Manoah Bowman’s 2016 book “Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life” as well as co-producing the 2020 HBO TV documentary “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind.” And two years ago, she created a line of products Natalie Wood fans might enjoy, including a gardenia scented candle as well as a perfume.

“When I was growing up, my mom always burned scented candles and gardenia was her favorite scent. Our ‘Natalie’ perfume (is) gardenia based, too, with my favorite citrus notes added such as orange blossom” (see www.nataliefragrance.com).

But with fragrances from contemporary entertainers such as Mariah Carey and Kim Kardashian dominating today’s market, could a perfume named after a classic film star compete?

“You’d be surprised,” says Gregson Wagner. “A lot of young people seem to know who my mother was, especially if they grew up with parents watching her movies. But it’s also a modern fragrance that speaks to young women. And for those familiar with my mother, it’s a way to celebrate her life.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 850 magazines and newspapers. See www.getnickt.org.

Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara in 1947's "Miracle on 34th Street."