Hi all, it’s Tim. With Natalie Wood Week upon us, there will be much talk of the actress’s run of films as a beautifully virginal ingénue, or her transition into roles as troubled adults and young women. But I want to pause on the threshold of all those Splendor in the Grasses and West Side Stories to pay tribute to the an earlier era in the Life of Natalie, when she became one of the best-loved child actors of the 1940s (and a good time it was for child actors, too).
The film that put her on the map was Miracle on 34th Street, of course, released when the actress was a mere eight years old in 1947. It wasn’t her first credited role (that would be the Claudette Colbert/Orson Welles vehicle Tomorrow Is Forever, from 1946), nor even the first movie to showcase her to good effect; earlier that same year, she’d been a solid presence in the supernatural melodrama The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, though that film ultimately didn’t ask very much of her besides being cherubic and innocent (this would remain true of a frustrating number of her vehicles throughout her later career). Simple, even if the simple ability to be a dazzlingly cute kid without it spilling over into tackiness was already enough to mark Wood out as more than just one more saccharine little girl ready to fill the void left by Shirley Temple’s ascendance into her late teens.
Miracle on 34th Street was something entirely different.