The Celebrity Collector
Lana Wood Collects Madame Alexander Dolls and
By Ken Hall
It's a good thing Lana Wood went splash in the pool and not splat on the
pavement when she was thrown out of that Las Vegas hotel window in the 1971
James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. The actress, who played the voluptuous
temptress "Plenty O'Toole" opposite Sean Connery, might never have accumulated
such impressive collections of Madame Alexander dolls and vintage jewelry
pieces. Wood is the kid sister of Natalie Wood, who drowned in a tragic accident
That really was Lana, not a stunt double, who was tossed out of a
"I was told that I was going to be thrown into the pool,
basically half naked," she recounted, "but they told me not to worry because
they were going to be filming in the middle of the night. But it was Las Vegas.
Half the world's up in the middle of the night in Las Vegas! There were all
these people trying to get a look at me from their windows. It was quite the
scene." And probably her most famous scene on film.
Lana's fascination with
Madame Alexander dolls is actually a two-part story. The first part occurred
when she was a child, growing up in Santa Monica, Calif., where she lived with
her parents, Natalie and a half-sister, Olga. Her parents (Russian immigrants,
Nikolai and Maria Zacharenko) would give the dolls to young Svetlana (Lana's
real name) as gifts. Her father even built an elaborate three-shelf unit in her
closet to house them. She also had the accessories (tiny picnic tables, pies,
"I loved those little dolls. They were such a major part of my
childhood," she recalled, "but somehow, over the years, they just disappeared. I
have no idea what happened to them. And that's very sad. I'd love to have them
But about a dozen years ago, Lana was out shopping with her daughter,
Evan (now 33), and they went into a store in Los Angeles and saw a Madame
Alexander doll with a "Little Women" theme. "We both fell in love with it and
bought it on the spot for $50," she said.
Thus began the second phase of Ms.
Wood's Madame Alexander collection, although now she has a partner in Evan. "We
decided to become knowledgeable about the dolls, and picked up some catalogs to
look through," she said. "After that, we just went wild and bought everything we
saw that struck our fancy. I'd say we've got about 200 dolls today, most of them
6 inches tall but some that are 10 inches, too. They're displayed in rooms and
in a curio cabinet at home" (in Ventura County, Calif).
A few examples stand
out in Ms. Wood's mind. One is a 10-inch Christmas caroling doll she spotted in
a local florist. "I couldn't believe it," she said. "This doll should have been
priced at $200 or more. I don't think the lady knew what she had. I bought it
dirt cheap, for just $25."
She also has many of the Halloween-themed Madame
Alexander dolls (there's a new one every year; last year's was a girl dressed up
as a gold fish); one modeled after the Mona Lisa; and a French court girl in a
"Most of the dolls in our collection are current," Lana
offered. "We buy what we love and don't expect to ever get ten cents back on the
dollar if we decide to sell them. But that's not what drives us to collect. We
just love the dolls. It's a passion thing. We buy what we like. If it has an
interesting theme or if the doll has been dressed in a costume that catches our
fancy, we'll end up buying it. It's that simple. And we wouldn't have it any
other way. A collection should be about love, not money."
The vintage jewelry
collection has been ongoing and uninterrupted since Ms. Wood was a child. "My
mother had a Victorian hair locket with a lock of Natalie's hair, and I just
loved that little piece," she said. "In fact, I bought one in Beverly Hills for
Natasha" (Natalie's daughter from her marriage to Robert Wagner). Even as a kid,
there was something about vintage jewelry that appealed to Lana.
collection includes about seven small Victorian pins (one's inlaid with pearls,
turquoise and rubies, with a tulip flower design; one is enamel and seems to
have a foreign armed services theme; and one's a small frog, crafted from
marcasite and diamonds); a Russian cross, gold with a gold chain, that she wears
at all times (it was a childhood gift from a family member); and a heart ring
made up of scroll work, with the heart silver and semi-see-through, with a
She's also got a pair of Victorian-era Russian amethyst and
enamel earrings, about two inches long, purchased at Frances Klein (a shop in
Los Angeles); a heavy gold chain with a 6-inch Ankh, from the 1960s; a Carnelian
ring that's an Egyptian scarab; about ten "poison rings," so-named because they
actually do open to reveal a hidden swig of poison (to be used strictly in
emergency situations); an Art Nouveau bracelet "...that I simply adore, with
each disc a water lily"; and several marcasite bracelets.
When she was about
14, Lana was on the set of the film "Five Finger Exercise" and her mother
noticed she was habitually biting her nails. "She promised me a ring if I
stopped biting them," she remembered. It worked. Her reward was a gold ring with
a pearl set in the center. "It was modern, with four diamonds around the edges,
and I loved it."
"A few years later, when she was around 19 and appearing as
a regular on TV's Peyton Place, her preference for vintage pieces began to
Lana Wood was born March 1, 1946. Her parents were Russian by
heritage, but both fled the country following the Communist takeover. Her
father, Nikolai, lived in Vancouver, British Columbia; her mother grew up in a
Chinese province. The two met in San Francisco, where they were married and then
legally changed their last name, from Zacharenko to Gurdin. Natalie (real name:
Natasha) was born in San Francisco in 1938; Lana was born in Santa Monica, where
the family re-settled.
Natalie would change her last name, too, to Wood, out
of respect for the noted film director Sam Wood (her mother's idea). By then,
Natalie was already an established child star, having appeared in the 1947
holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street, as well as Driftwood, Tomorrow is
Forever (with Orson Welles), The Bride Wore Boots and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
When it came time for Lana to earn her first film credit, it only make sense
that she have the same last name as her sister.
In the beginning, Lana and
Natalie appeared in some of the same movies. Lana actually had a part in
Driftwood as a baby, but the scene landed on the cutting room floor. Her part in
The Searchers (1956, directed by John Ford), was a younger version of Natalie's
character. And the two appeared together in the 1958 movie Marjorie Morningstar.
But television allowed Lana to break out on her own, as she appeared in popular
series like Playhouse 90, Dr. Kildare, and The Fugitive.
In 1965, Wood signed
a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox and was cast in her first TV series as a
regular, The Long Hot Summer. She portrayed the Southern belle that Lee Remick
had played in the movie version. Her real break came the following year, when
she was cast as Sandy Webber, a waitress, in the hit series Peyton Place, long
recognized as the first prime time soap opera.
In 1971, Lana agreed to pose
for Playboy. Some photos of her wearing revealing nightwear had been taken by a
photographer friend, Eric Weston, who was trying to break into the industry. He
sent the photos to Playboy, and Hugh Hefner called Lana to discuss a pictorial
feature. Initially she declined, concerned that nude photos, no matter how
tastefully shot, would be damaging to her career and reputation. She relented on
the condition that some of her poetry also be published in the issue.
producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli spotted Lana in Playboy, he instantly offered
her the part of "Plenty O'Toole" in Diamonds Are Forever. Her next film project,
improbably enough, was the Disney romp Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1972). That
was followed by parts in feature films such as Grayeagle (1978) and Satan's
Mistress (1982). Lana married Richard Smedley, her co-star in the 1972 film A
Place Called Today. The marriage ended, but it did produce her only child, Evan.
In the early '80s, Lana was serving as Vice President of TV Films for Ron
Samuels Productions at Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles, when she was
approached about writing a memoir about Natalie. The resulting book, Natalie, A
Memoir By Her Sister, reached # 3 on the New York Times Best-Seller List. In
2004, Lana co-produced an ABC-TV movie special The Mystery of Natalie Wood. Lana
has been busy in recent years writing, producing and appearing at special
She has also been twice thrust into the role of caregiver once for
her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and who died from the disease
(Ms. Wood is writing a book about the experience that she hopes to get
published); and again for her daughter Evan who, at age 33, is battling
Hodgkin's lymphoma and fibromyalgia. Lana, Evan, Evan's husband and their three
children all live together in Ventura County, Calif. The family also maintains a
houseful of dogs (10) and cats (12).
Fans of Lana Wood may visit the star
online at www.lanawood.net.
Natalie (l.) was born Natasha Zacharenko. Lana's real name is Svetlana. The
two took the last name Wood in honor of film director Sam Wood.
Lana's book about her late sister Natalie, titled Natalie: A Memoir By Her
A few of the dolls in Lana's collection of Madame Alexander dolls.
Publicity still from the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever. Lana played the
voluptuous Plenty O'Toole to Sean Connery's James Bond.
Another shot of Lana's collection of Madame Alexander dolls.
Lana Wood today.
In the 1956 movie The Searchers, Lana played a younger version of Natalie's