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Actress Natalie Wood, who started her movie career when...

HOLLYWOOD -- Actress Natalie Wood, who started her movie career when she was four years old, played a range of characters from adorable waif in 'Miracle on 34th Street' to youthful sex symbol in 'Rebel Without a Cause.'

Miss Wood, who drowned Sunday off the coast of Santa Catalina Island at the age of 43, may have been the only major child actress to mature on film and attain adult stardom.

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Shirely Temple and Margaret O'Brien never became adult stars. Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor were both teenagers before they became stars.

In 1947, she was named'the most talented juvenile motion picture star of the year' by Parents Magazine and she went on to earn three Academy Award nominations during her career.

Cast as James Dean's sweetheart in 'Rebel Without a Cause,' the brown-eyed bruenette won her first Oscar nomination in 1961 as Best Supporting Actress.

She was honored with Best Actress Oscar nominations in 1961 for 'Splendor in the Grass' and in 1964 for 'Love with the Proper Stranger.'

Miss Wood, born Natasha Gurdin in San Francisco, made her acting debut when she was four years old in 'The Happy Land.' Director Irvin Pichel remembered the little girl two years later and cast her as an orphan in 'Tomorrow is Forever' and changed her name to Natalie Wood.

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Miss Wood married actor Robert Wagner in 1957 when both were beginning a steady climb in Hollywood. They divorced in 1962 and in 1969 she married Richard Gregson but divorced him and remarried Wagner in 1972.

She enjoyed several years of semi-retirement after completing 'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice' in 1969 but returned to appear in 'Peeper' in 1975 and 'Meteor' in 1979. On television, she starred in the mini-series 'From Here to Eternity' in 1979 and appeared with Wagner in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' in 1976.

Her other film credits include 'The Searchers,' 1956; 'Marjorie Morningstar,' 1957; 'West Side Story,' 1961; 'The Great Race,' 1965; 'Inside Daisy Clover,' 1966; and 'Love with the Proper Stranger,' 1964.

Miss Wood had an explanation for her long career in Hollywood.

'I was a child actress as opposed to a 'child star,'' she said in an interview. 'It was easier for me to make the transition. I didn't have the terrible exposure to the limelight as a child that Shirley and Margaret had.'

The actress had a daughter, Natasha, by Gregson, a daughter, Courtney Brooke with Wagner, and a step-daughter Katherine Wagner, the offspring of Wagner's marriage to Marion Marshall.

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