Due to an on-set accident when she was small Nat always had her left wrist covered in her later movies and publicity shots: opera gloves, long sleeves, watches, bracelets – lots of bracelets: demure for Maria in West Side Story (’61), flashy for Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy (’62). The arm jewelry is designed to wrap her wrist tightly and stay in place thus hiding a severely protruding bone.
In a film called The Green Promise (’49), the child star goes through a raging storm to rescue her lamb. The storm was created on set, and a little wooden footbridge was to collapse once she’d crossed. But the crash came while she was on the bridge and she broke her wrist.
The only time I didn’t see a bracelet or gloves hiding the misshapen wrist is in The Silver Chalice (’54). She plays a Biblical slave girl in a toga with no adornments, and the bone is obvious. (An aside: How do you change wood into mayo? You can’t, but believe it or not, they cast Virginia Mayo as Natalie’s grown up self in The Silver Chalice. Not even close!)
Why have I become so totally preoccupied with Nat’s left wrist? As I watch her movies or scroll through stills, I am always trying to catch a glimpse of that imperfection she was forced to hide. Catching sight of it is like seeing a rare bird. But it reminds me that these impossibly perfect creatures of the silver screen were/are actually real people with real flaws of flesh and soul and heart, except that maybe they aren’t “flaws” at all.
Photos from Top: Gypsy, Rebel Without a Cause, The Great Race, Rebel Without a Cause.
- Among the Stars