Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 2, 2018

Robert Downey Jr: “Kirk Douglas raped a teenaged Natalie Wood in the 50s” (Updated story)


For the Kirk and Natalie stuff, bear with me. I think it will be worth it. A bit of my own creative backstory first should set the stage nicely:

Research and writing for my forthcoming historical crime novel Murder in Birdland  continues, at an increasing and invigorating pace these past few months [Note: the Downey/Woods controversy started circa Spring 2018… though work on the novel is still going strong as of Spring 2019, as is the whole #metoo movement].

In the novel, Birdland club owner (and one-time boyfriend of Natalie Wood) Morris Levy’s older brother Irving is killed at the legendary jazz club in early 1959. This is our way in, for an inside look at music and the Mafia in the early Sixties, through the eyes of a would-be sax player who works for Morris and witnessed the murder.

I had been on the fence about how heavily to incorporate real historical figures from the era in my novel (covering late 1958 thru perhaps the JFK assassination in ’63). Natalie Wood, for example, briefly dated real-life music mogul Morris Levy, a central figure in the novel. So she’s definitely in (more on that in a moment). My conundrum is about which other real celebrities to include or exclude, especially in the frequently overlapping fields of movies, television, music, politics, and literature. Not to mention how to feature a celebrity without letting them “take over” and possibly dwarf the characters I’m crafting. (Not to mention the challenge of blending reality and fiction while staying out of slander territory.)

I haven’t completely solved those problems yet, but it’s fun to play with the tension: how much can I safely blend fact and fiction– or real historical personalities and invented characters, exaggerated traits, or fictional events– all for the sake of my own original story. As a test case for how short a memory Americans have, I just discovered a recent news item: the spotlight on centenarian Kirk Douglas during 2018. It’s pushing me to create a more significant presence in my narrative for two major entertainment figures of the era.

I was already including Natalie Wood, not just because she dated “Moishe” Levy, but also because I’m featuring the 1959 Broadway and 1961 Hollywood versions of West Side Story –including their actors, orchestra members and dancers –in my plot. Levy was then part owner of several other important NYC hangouts, plus he was the co-founder of Roulette Records. He also reportedly was a front for the Genovese crime family, which as an “open secret” controlled many important clubs and restaurants at the time. (Note: Levy finally was convicted of fraud in the 80s, but that’s another story…).

When Levy’s older brother was killed, it was never clear if the murder was Mob-related, or just a random beef with a lowlife patron. Needless to say, for the sake of high drama, I’m going with the Mob angle. And Natalie Wood, it turns out, apparently had a thing for “bad boys” like Morris Levy, both before and after being involved with two-time hubby Robert Wagner (no angel himself).

Not that Nat had a thing for Kirk… that s%!# was all on him!

Meanwhile, I also had already been including Kirk Douglas, since an important secondary theme of my bohemians-coming-of-age novel is Hollywood’s communist blacklist (plus civil rights and other prejudices in the Ike and JFK eras). Case in point: Kirk’s self-produced big-budget movie Spartacus (1960). This was claimed by some as the first film to break Senator Joe McCarthy’s decade-old anti-communist Hollywood blacklist. By openly crediting blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in 1960, Kirk’s actions as a producer put him at the center of a major change, as American performers and intellectuals finally “broke” the McCarthy blacklist.

(Side note: see the Brian Cranston movie about Trumbo from 2016… It’s stupendous… As is the Coen Brothers’ more darkly comic treatment of secret commies and gays, in 2016’s very underrated Hail, Caesar!)

Kirk was quite powerful from the 50s through the early 60s, the same period during which the major movie studios were gradually losing their power to independent producers and other economic forces. And old prejudices were also under fire, whether for racial, homophobic, gender-based or ideological reasons. So in some respect respects, Kirk was very much the Harvey Weinstein of his day: re-making an industry as a major player, while behind closed doors he was apparently abusing all of that power he had amassed, for his private amusement.

As for the resurgence of the Natalie Wood rape story, it’s another sad chapter in the #metoo saga from 2017 through today… even though Wood’s situation reportedly occurred sometime in late 1955. Wood was just 16, and Douglas was “auditioning” her. He was one of the first Hollywood stars with enough clout to start a successful independent production company of his own. Earlier in 1955, strong rumors had circulated around town that Wood had been in a consensual affair with the much older Nicholas Ray, her director on Rebel Without a Cause. We will leave that one alone for the moment, since the ambitious but needy Nat was likely on-board with it… even though it IS pretty skeevy behavior on Nick Ray’s part, I will admit.

On the other hand, the true “rough stuff” for Wood came when Douglas invited Natalie to his hotel room, theoretically to audition for a part in some upcoming film. (Not that he ever hired her… to add insult to injury.) She later told friends he said he had always wanted her, and he didn’t take no for an answer. The drunken rape by Douglas was reportedly fairly brutal. Wood was quietly taken to the hospital by her nut-job stage mother– the same mother who made her keep quiet, lest Douglas ruin her chance for a career as an adult actress. However, Natalie did tell a few people that she was close to over the years, plus her family, including her daughter Natasha Gregson-Warner –which brings us to Robert Downey Jr., and 2018.

Downey was in the film Two Girls and a Guy with occasional actress Gregson-Warner and Heather Graham sometime in the 1990s, and they became friends from that point onward. With both Natasha and Robert being children of movie figures from the 1960s, their enduring friendship only makes sense in retrospect. So apparently Natasha told Robert about her mother’s rape, …and now that Robert is safely back on top in Hollywood (having been WAAAAAY down near the bottom in the 1990s, with his own drug and domestic problems), he took it upon himself to call foul on Douglas and other Hollywood hypocrites. The occasion was the 2018 Golden Globe awards, which honored Douglas, who was then 101 years old and appeared onstage at the awards with his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones.

For the whole convoluted explanation of how it is somewhat provable that Downey was the “anonymous” commenter on an important Hollywood blog, I’ll direct you to the link below, rather than explain all the cloak and dagger research.

Gawker points to the Downey-Douglas-Wood story

So… the plot thickens, as they say. Now for me to decide, among other conundrums:

  1. How intimate did Wood get with my guy Morris Levy, yet another older man?
  2. How long were they involved, and should I creatively bend the truth about either real person or their sexual proclivities? (Did they date, or cheat?  Or –more accurately– did SHE cheat?…since I already know that he did, with any number of partners.)
  3. From a believable fictional character perspective, how “damaged” was Natalie?, … by the Kirk Douglas rape, by her family’s economic and emotional dependence upon her, and/or by the whole Hollywood studio system that she grew up within?  Especially at MGM, which specialized in screwed-up child stars. Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Judy Garland all certainly got more tabloid ink about their romantic exploits than Natalie Wood. But between her fake “dating” of gay actor/singer Tab Hunter to sell tabloids and movie tickets, and her ups and downs with Wagner, Natalie was clearly a drama queen as well. Nat was, to my eyes, a very insecure and sexually adventurous person, both a victim and in some ways a “player” herself. One look at her volatile relationship with infamous Hollywood horndog Warren Beatty in the early Sixties suggests this as well.

Nat W n warren-beatty-vintage-hollywood -62

Granted, I’m writing fiction. But still, I’d like my characterizations to be true to history. They will still necessarily be my own versions of real people– or my own fictionalized amalgams of various representative figures from the era. However, my goal is to ethically create honest characters, and to speak respectfully, without resorting to cheap and sordid sexual fireworks. Besides, it’s already a finely woven work of fiction, with several romantic subplots between ENTIRELY fictional characters, so it’s really not so much about Natalie Wood or Kirk Douglas anyway (nor should it be). But  on the other hand, I can’t see leaving the rape or the Levy affair out, either. What happens to people often forms or scars them for life. Especially between the ages of 13 and 20, at the height of puberty. Natalie’s rape at 16 is a historical fact. Whether or not it directly affects my plot, there’s no doubt that it indirectly affected her personal relationships and career from that date onward.

So what’s a stand up guy like me to do?… when Downey– one of my heroes in a way– is at odds with Kirk Douglas, who I also until recently thought was pretty terrific?  It’s not either/or with Kirk: he’s BOTH heroic for his progressive politics as well as his acting talent, which was consistent even when the material was not great)…
AND Kirk’s a s#%! for his hush-hush sex crimes.

Thus now, for me at least, Kirk has gone the way of Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Louis CK: massive talents with equally massive ethical blind spots, or repugnant mental/sexual disorders.  I’m still bothered about rumor-addicted contemporary society’s apparent (and perhaps twisted) need to scapegoat and tear down these monumental men. But if it’s all true (and I believe it is), then as with the McCarthy blacklist and the Confederate flag, it’s time for the rest of us to lead the way toward a brighter future. Here’s hoping that, like Robert Downey Jr. ,  Douglas and the others can conquer their personal demons, get some help, and eventually recover some semblance of a reputation and/or career.

That is, if we are willing to let them recover… which is an interesting pyscho-social question of its own. But I’m afraid it’s a question for another day.



  1. The problem here is that Downey denies this, and neither Wood or her daughter has ever made the claim publicly. So it’s foolish to dignify it with any claim of truth, especially by people who have NO idea of its veracity.

  2. Kirk Douglas Brutally Raped Actress Natalie Wood When She Was 16 Years Old…
    This story concerns one of the biggest male stars ever, and one of the most beloved female stars to ever live.
    One day she was invited to meet with this movie star about an upcoming major role. This man was a legend already, and was very powerful. Thinking he herself was powerful and savvy, she accepted the invite in his hotel room. She never saw it coming.
    Without even discussing the film, this actor; drunk already; began making a pass at her. She politely declined, and excused herself. He wouldn’t have it. He literally threw her down, slapped the hell out of her, and ripped her clothes off. He shouted obscenities at her, continually punched and held her arms so tight he left scars and bruises.
    He raped her repeatedly, spitting on her, and did permanent damage to her body. She was bleeding everywhere, with a battered face. She passed out. When she came to, the actor was still in the room gloating, and told her to come see him tomorrow night and he might give her the role. He laughed at her as she fell down, her legs so wobbly and weak. She gathered her torn clothes, and tried to walk out of the hotel and to her car – blood and semen running down her legs and bruises already forming on her face.
    She could barely make it back home in her car. She wanted to kill herself, so ashamed of what happened. The damage to her psyche was permanent, and haunted her forever.
    Her mom said she must have made the actor mad and offended him. They called a doctor, who took her to the hospital secretly to have her treated; The studio knew, and did nothing. After all, the star actor was a money machine. She grew into an amazing woman with a legendary career. But she never forgot, or forgave, and never got over what happened.
    She never named the star actor publicly, but her friends and family knew the truth. Even after marriage and kids, if she saw this actor anywhere – she would almost convulse and cry. And worst of all, Hollywood and the world continued to honor him, pay him, and treat him like a king.
    Today, he’s still alive and barely holding on. But those who know the truth are still hoping and praying he will rot in hell for eternity. That all his good deeds and donations will never mask the truth.
    So when the time comes, and the now 102 years old Kirk Douglas, the superstar actor, finally dies, there will be tributes and honors about him. Just remember that he is a monster who never repented, apologized, nor showed any sorrow for destroying the lives of others. Especially the life of that young beloved actress named Natalie Wood.

  3. July 26, 2018
    Natalie Wood’s Sister Talks About Her Sister’s Rape…

  4. wood’s mother pimped her out to a number of hollywood bigwigs. that is exactly what happened here. wood’s mom controlled everything in her life and the idea that she would simply sit outside an interview for hours is absurd. she knew exactly what was going to happen.
    what is bizarre are the claims that she had “affairs” with sinatra and director nicholas ray, when she was a teenager
    they werent “affairs”. she was molested…by serial molestors

  5. Lana Wood revealed that her sister Natalie was raped by powerful actor who’d been able procure his own production company: REELZ T.V. JUNE 5, 2019. Now I fully understand Natalie and certain roles, one, SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, and so much more of her life told by news medias….She was born 4 years before I was but as a child I read movie magazines and I adored Natalie Wood. When she died it struck hard at my heart just as it did when Sal Mineo was murdered.

  6. He didn’t just rape her, he beat her up. She casting-couched for a role with another director. She was under-age and jailbait. I think they wanted to teach her a lesson.

  7. She could be sleeping with everybody in sight but that doesn’t give anybody the right to rape someone. You are disgusting!

  8. I’m actually researching something I stumbled upon on TCM the scene in a Natalie wood movie Penelope where Jonathan Winters for comic affect assaults her.
    Researching is not quite the word I’m sussing around on the Internet.
    I am a fan of Kirk Douglas I don’t appreciate your rumormongering

  9. The Natalie Finstead biography of Wood is at issue here. Finstead twice describes Wood’s attacker as having famously big teeth. Once, however, Finstead mentions that he’d come a long way from his early pirate films. So, not Kirk, but…Burt Lancaster. Finstead also mentions Wood’s discomfort at the attacker sitting behind her and laughing at a certain Oscar presentation. If one could find pictures of either Burt or Kirk behind Wood at one of these gatherings, maybe something more concrete could be established.

    • An interesting suggestion. I don’t disagree that Lancaster could have been the actual rapist. I just don’t know whether he was self-producing anything at that point, if ever, nor whether he had as much power in 1955 as Kirk Douglas did. Plus you’re not sourcing your own suggestion about Lancaster. So I’ll stick with Kirk till there’s corroboration of anything….Yes, the fixers at one or the other studio may have muddied the water and made any certainty for an outside researcher very difficult, especially 60+ years later. Therefore, what I *really* wish is that Natasha Gregson-Warner (-Wagner-Wood-etc) would verify anything at all. It’s extremely likely she knows. Yet I’m also sure it’s been difficult for her, to live with scrutiny and prior scandals hanging over her head since she was young, especially the ones involving Robert Wagner. So I understand her instinct to neither confirm nor deny. And her Aunt Lana seems to be a “piece of work”, which doesn’t help. …Plus, none of us has “the right to know”. But there it is: these are our modern demigods, so we want to know anyway. Natalie, Robert, and Warren Beatty were the Brad, Angelina and Jennifer of their day. Christopher Walken got pulled into a swirling scandal by being on the boat the night Wood died in the 80s. Then Downey was the fallen idol of the 90s. This week, it’s Gabrielle Union, the latest judge to quit or be fired from “America’s Got Talent”, with accusations of racism and Simon Cowell’s sexism coming alongside the move. (Hate that dude, but he loves to be hated, so why bother?) [ See Deadline at
      for more.]….The magazine covers and clickbait creators trade in rumors and salacious sex (affairs, rape, statutory, kinky, same-sex, etc.) now more than ever. Not to mention murder (will Biggie and Tupac ever truly die?), which explains the recent podcasts, docs and other resurgences of the unresolved Wood/Wagner story. (And yes, RJ Wagner and Chris Walken are still alive, which complicates matters considerably.) ….Nevertheless, this $h!# has been going on since the silent era in Hollywood, when blatantly false accusations of rape and manslaughter against superstar Fatty Arbuckle killed his brilliant career, despite an acquittal and his obvious innocence. See Smithsonian magazine for more on that one [
      ], or my own separate Dec. 2019 blog entry on Fatty here:

      As for Nat and Kirk, I still believe it, though tentatively until further notice. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.
      Btw, if a pirate film is all we need to stengthen the case, Kirk did “The Devil’s Disciple” in ’59 (w/ Lancaster, one of *7 pics!* they did together), or Ulysses in ’54 (not pirates, but seafaring, etc), and even The Light at the Edge of the World (Argentinian pirates, though this was made in ’71, so not what we want).
      If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time I’ve had to eat my words… Nor am I the first to deconstruct Kirk’s carefully-maintained “heroic” persona and propose he was a sexual predator, with or without solid proof specifically about Wood.

      Either way, I’m glad to hear from you.

  10. Natalie went to that hotel room fully prepared to exchange sex for a movie roll, since she had done it before. Douglas would not have risked doing what he did without a request from the fixers. Being only 16, she was jail bait and the fixers wanted to teach her mother a lesson. Douglas would have flashed a moon on Hollywood Boulevard if the studios told him to. Jeanne Spangler was another loose cannon that had to go. The “found” note was a nice touch. A warning to starlets and actors. Scandals could destroy careers and pictures. Millions were at stake.

    • First, what’s the “found note” you refer to? I think I read about it, but I’ve forgotten. Thus, not sure if it’s relevant or not (or “true”, or concocted, as with many fixer tactics AND dirty family secrets.) Additionally, the studio system was floundering and losing power steadily by 1955, so Kirk acting independently and crossing various lines of propriety and law isn’t hard to conceive at all– especially if he was as drunk as the researchers suggest.

  11. […] blog here will perhaps recall that the rape –and to a lesser extent the death– of 1950s movie icon Natalie Wood has been one of the more popular subjects in this blog. Natalie, it turns out, once dated the real […]

  12. I appreciate everything that you’ve discussed in your article. Your honest approach is endearing and welcomed. However, including Louis CK with the likes of Cosby, Weinstein & Spacey doesn’t seem warranted. From what Inread, Louis of course used his power to ask other female comedians if he could pleasure himself in front of them. I may be wrong, but I haven’t heard anyone say he forced himself or did not ask beforehand. If this is indeed true, why include him with the others you listed?

    • Thank you. First, I’m a big fan of Louis CK. Which is why it broke my heart (maybe as much as the Cosby thing did, he was my first “love” in stand-up). And you’re probably accurate on a factual level that Louis may have “asked” or assumed, not forced, in some cases. So it’s not rape, but it is still arguably sexual abuse, both because he didn’t always ask (I recall he did it on the phone some, for example), or because he took advantage of his high status and level of power. I’m trying to get at the troubled psychology of these men (and men includung myself who have our own hang-ups should beware to throw stones too much, even though we’ve not crossed any line with actual behavior). It could be seen as splitting hairs to cut Louis a break. Nevertheless, I consider your point reasonable.

  13. And on the Cosby issue, Eddie Murphy made news just this week in his triumphant return to SNL, saying “If you would have bet me 20 years ago that I’d be this boring stay-at-home dad, and Bill Cosby would be in jail, I’d have taken that bet.” Cosby’s not-too-bright publicist hit back, making it again about race, still in full denial mode about sex crimes. Link to a story, and the publicist’s tweet, can be found here: [Bill Cosby’s Response To Eddie Murphy’s ‘SNL’ Joke Is *A Lot*]

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