50 Years Ago in Pop Culture: I Feel Pretty

West Side Story, released in 1961, won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Pretty and witty and wise. Photo by: thefoxling

The romantic tragedy,  adapted from the 1957 Broadway production, was based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.   It was originally conceived as a love story between an Irish Catholic boy and a Jewish girl to be titled East Side Story.

Only six cast members from the stage made it to the big screen, and none of them had leading roles.

For the movie, director Robert Wise wanted Elvis Presley to play Tony, the lovelorn hero trying to escape his gang affiliation.  However, the part went to Richard Beymer in his best known role.  He was a strapping, handsome guy, but he couldn’t carry a tune and his voice was dubbed.

Natalie Wood replaced Carol Lawrence as Maria. Although her songs were dubbed, too, many consider her performance in West Side Story one of her finest. That’s saying something as she was nominated three times for Academy Awards, as well as a Golden Globe for Gypsy, in which she sang, danced, and stripped.

And, boy, was she pretty.  Hollywood’s leading men thought so, and she dated many of them – Michael Caine, Steve McQueen, and Warren Beatty, to name a few of her boyfriends.

But Natalie was always taken with actor Robert Wagner.  A year after the studio arranged a date, they married in 1957, much to the consternation of her mother.  She was only 19 years old; he was 27.  They divorced five years later, married other people with whom they had children, and remarried in 1972, only a few months after her divorce from her second husband.  Her mother again protested to no avail.

Yet it seemed to work for them.  In a 1977 interview, Wagner, smiling, stated, “I’m sure glad it all worked out.”  Added Wood,  “I guess we do [belong together].  Yeah, I think we do.”

Until death do ‘em part.

On Thanksgiving weekend 1981 Natalie died by accidental drowning, or so the coroner ruled.  The couple was relaxing on their 60-foot yacht Splendour near Catalina Island off the California coast with Wood’s co-star, Christopher Walken, from the movie Brainstorm.  They were also drinking a lot – Bloody Marys, Margheritas, beer, and wine – and arguing loudly.

Here the story gets murky.  At some point Natalie, after retiring to her stateroom, returned to deck and either attempted to tie up the boat’s 10-foot rubber dinghy or decided to go ashore, despite being terrified of the water, and fell in.  Upon realizing his wife wasn’t in bed, Wagner and the captain searched the yacht for her with no success and called the Harbor Master to see if anyone had seen Wood.  Witnesses on nearby boats heard her crying for help, but the Coast Guard wasn’t called in for a couple of hours.

Natalie’s body was found after dawn the next morning about a mile away from the yacht.  She was clad in a down jacket and nightgown with socks, sans underwear.

A star was born. Photo by: Caveman Chuck Coker

Thirty years later the case has been reopened.  The captain, whose memoirs have just been published, has accused Wagner of a cover up and stated that he lied in previous probes.  Still, he passed a polygraph test in 2008.

Through his spokesman Wagner declared he supports the sheriff’s department, assuming the new information on which their efforts are based come from “a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit” on the anniversary of Wood’s death.

Now, several weeks later, the hubbub has died down, but the investigation will take months.  Is this a tragedy or publicity?  A wrong being righted or much ado about nothing?  Whatever the case, Natalie Wood, RIP.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


Elvis, He's Everywhere -- At Fiesta Del Sol, Solana Beach. Photo by: Susan Marg

Elvis, He's Everywhere -- In a shop window in Gold Country. Photo by: Susan Marg


With Respect to June Weddings

Love is in the air in Las Vegas. Photo by Susan Marg.

Not everyone wants to get married in spring when buds are blooming, birds are tweeting, and the sun is shining.  Some prefer winter.

Weather not being an issue for a New Jersey couple who so wanted to marry, they robbed a bank in January 2010 and then took off for Las Vegas with a $10,000 payoff.  The roads must have been clear. They made it to Oklahoma before they were captured five days later.

Charles B. Koch, 28, half of the dynamic duo, had told the bank teller he carried a bomb.  His significant other, Cheri Harper, 27, had on her person a concealed knife.  No wonder no one stood in their way.

These days the average cost of a church wedding with the usual trimmings is almost $27,000.  If Bonnie and Clyde went the traditional route, it might be understandable why they needed some extra cash.

But for a wedding in Las Vegas?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Las Vegas.  My husband and I had a renewal of vows ceremony a few years back.  We danced to an Elvis impersonator singing “Viva Las Vegas,” which has nothing to do with love or marriage, and twenty of our friends joined in.

It’s a tradition that goes way back, Las Vegas weddings, that is.  It began in 1933 when a reverend opened his home on South Fifth Street, eventually renamed Las Vegas Boulevard, to out-of-towners who wanted to tie the knot.

Today a simple ceremony can be had for under a hundred dollars at one of the standalone chapels that still permeate the lower part of the Strip heading towards the Fremont Street Experience.  Witnesses, if needed, are part of the package.

What a deal!  The accommodations are not as upscale as at one of the resort casinos like the Bellagio, but it’s legal.  And dressing in nice clothes for the occasion is optional.

For their effort, Harper and Koch each received a seven-year prison sentence.  Whew!  That’s longer than most first marriages last.  Second and third marriages, too!  When they’ve their done their time, will the romantic robbers still be in love or, like so many others, will they be ready to move on?

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


Once Upon a Time in Las Vegas

Photo by Magic Madzik

I first went to Las Vegas in 1978.  My brother was in L.A. on business, and I was on a trip to Phoenix, so Sin City seemed like a great place to meet.   Although the days of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack were long gone, Ocean’s Eleven memorialized them for me, and  the sounds of Louis Prima and Keely Smith rang in my head.

We stayed at the Holiday Casino on the Strip, which became Harrah’s Las Vegas.  I don’t remember anything distinctive about it, but we partook in its cheap buffet and played a hand or two of blackjack at its tables.  I was much more taken with The Aladdin down the street.  Someone had let Jeannie out of her bottle, and all the dealers looked like Barbara Eden.

Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu in a private 8-minute ceremony at The Aladdin in 1967.  Decades later the hotel’s wedding chapel commemorated the nuptials with a “Love Me Tender” special.  For $999 an Elvis impersonator walked the bride down the aisle and sang two songs.  Now the casino is the Planet Hollywood Resort.  I’m not sure Elvis is given his due anywhere on the premises, although one of his jumpsuits in enshrined under glass at the Hard Rock Hotel.  If you come across an Elvis-themed slot machine, bet a quarter as tribute to the King.

A smiling, neon clown still greets guests and gamblers at Circus Circus, and its “big top” is the biggest in the world.  On my first Vegas adventure, I could have watched the juggling acrobats and flying trapeze artists overhead indefinitely.  It was a trip.

Crowds continue to enjoy the high-wire walkers and winning a teddy bear, if they’re good, at games like dime toss and milk can on the Midway.  The kids today, and there are plenty of them underfoot, certainly have fun.  The casino’s Adventuredome, an indoor theme park added in 1993, offers plenty of thrilling, chilling rides for those who like loosing their stomachs after eating hot dogs and cotton candy.  But it’s not the way I get my kicks.

No matter how much Vegas has changed, my excitement comes with a turn of the cards or a roll of the dice at quieter venues further south on the Strip.  As Dean Martin said in Ocean’s Eleven, “The odds are always with the house, with the house!”  Then as now that’s certainly something to remember before betting the house, but what’s the fun in that?


© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved