Lana Wood remembers being a tomboy and a daredevil growing up. “I was climbing trees and roller-skating. I kept throwing myself into a friend’s swimming pool, but I didn’t know how to swim! People kept dragging me out again.”
The actress and younger sister of Natalie Wood hasn’t lost her moxie. In Dog Boy, a film that opened on September 8, she plays a down on-her-luck veteran actress on the cusp of losing everything. It’s a brave role that hit very close to home. “So much mirrored my life,” Lana, 76, tells Closer. “There’s a scene where I say I felt alone. That’s something I always said. My entire growing up, I always felt alone.”
Born eight years after her sister, Lana was left to her own devices while their mother, Russian immigrant Maria Zacharenko, orchestrated Natalie’s rise to stardom. “Our mother was very caught up in the business. People adored her because she was very amiable and larger-than-life,” recalls Lana. “But she was not that way with me or at home.” Lana spent a lot of her childhood sitting in the corner of Natalie’s film set reading a book. Her sister had inherited Maria’s outgoing nature while Lana took more after their father, Nicholas. “He hated to go out,” she recalls. “He wanted to be by himself reading books and playing the balalaika.”
Teenage Natalie was a beautiful yet fleeting presence in their home. “She rarely felt like just a regular sister,” Lana says. “She was away when she was working. At home, she was always getting dressed to go to a premiere. She was very seldom around.” Lana took it for granted and didn’t realize how fine an actress Natalie was until the premiere of 1961’s West Side Story. “I walked out of the theater, and it dawned on me,” Lana says. “I thought, ‘Wow, she’s special.’”
Lana ended up following in Natalie’s footsteps as an actress, and the shared profession brought them closer. “We both loved movies and kept up with all the new films and TV shows,” recalls Lana, who also turned to Natalie for personal advice. “She was someone who would give me a hug if I broke up with a boyfriend,” she recalls.
Most of the time, the sisters just had fun together, lunching, going to the movies or shopping. “It was something we never did when we were young,” explains Lana. “The age difference meant a lot back then, but the gap closes the older you get.”
Those happy times didn’t last long enough. Natalie’s death in 1981 at age 43 left Lana devastated. “I miss her laughter most,” she says. “And I miss the way she would envelop those she loved with so much care. It breaks my heart that her kids will never feel that again.” Today, Lana’s happy to be back on screen in Dog Boy. The author of several memoirs, she plans to try her hand at fiction next. “I’m working on a mystery,” she says. “I just adore writing and already have pages and pages.”