Lana Wood is best known for her memorable turn as party girl Plenty O'Toole (''Named after your father perhaps?'') in the James Bond film DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971). She is also known for being the sister of the much-missed Natalie Wood. Yet Lana has been an actress for over five decades, working with some of the greatest talents in Hollywood, such as John Wayne, Jack Lemmon, Richard Dreyfuss, John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow, and is an exuberant , charming and hugely experienced actress. Lana is also a successful TV producer. I talked to her about some of the highlights of her career.
Your first film was John Ford's THE SEARCHERS (1956), when you were very young. You played the young version of Natalie's character. Do you have any strong memories of the shoot?
I was eight years old when I made it. I remember everything about THE SEARCHERS as if it were yesterday. I remember it better than a lot of other things I did, mainly because it was the first time I had travelled away from California, and it was my first acting job with dialogue. I remember the train ride to the location and the car picking us up to drive us out to the trading post where we were going to stay. I remember they had to lead us up there and that they had dried ice in the car.
Ward Bond was stung by a scorpion and I was escorted off the set really fast. John Ford tolerated me. I don't think he was overly fond of children in particular. He gave me a couple of terse bits of direction, but other than that he sort of just left me alone. John Wayne was lovely to me. He would ply me with candy, which were fruit lozenges. He used to keep them in a tin and say to me "Take some more! I've got them in my pocket if you want them later." Jeffrey Hunter was fabulous. Ken Curtis used to whittle beautiful little animal figurines and give them to me. It was a lovely set. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
You must have enjoyed being able to spend time with your sister on location too.
I did, even though we weren't in any of the same scenes since we were playing the same person! When I was working she was out sunbathing. She got a nasty burn out there that had to be dealt with. I also remember being frightened of the Indians' chanting, and my mom buying a lot of long velvet Indian skirts and tops and turquoise jewellery.
I am so thrilled that I was a part of that film. It really means a lot to me, that movie. It's amazing how it's held up so well. Many times, you'll have a favourite movie that you've seen over and over again and you see it again and wonder what the heck you ever saw in it! With THE SEARCHERS, that doesn't happen.
You have worked with a lot of famous faces on TV, such as Jack Lemmon and John Cassavetes. What was it like working with them? I have worked with some wonderful people. Jack Lemmon was wonderful. He was very serious. I played his daughter, and he was very warm.
I worked with John Cassavetes on a show called 'Playhouse 90', and it was live. I was just a little kid appearing in a live show! I was playing Dana Wynter as a child. That whole set was really something. I was very nervous, partially because it was live and there just seemed to be such urgency about it. You knew you couldn't mess up a line or not hit a mark properly because that was it! What you see is what was going to be on camera and out there for everybody in the world to see! It was a little nerve racking.
It's odd. You spend so much time on every set that the cast and crew really become part of your family. You see these people more than anybody at home. You're just not there. I have such great memories about most of my TV work. There aren't many people who I thought "I hope I don't run into that person again". It never really happened to me. A couple of rude people here and there, but not so many. I love the people I work with. They're creative and interesting and I have a great deal of respect for them.
How about the likes of Richard Dreyfuss ('Felony Squad'), Ryan O'Neal and Mia Farrow (both in 'Peyton Place')?
Richard Dreyfuss was wonderful to work with, a delight. He just kept me in stitches. He knows more jokes and anecdotes than anybody! Richard is a fabulous raconteur.
Ryan could be a pain in the neck. He was close to my age. He wasn't the greatest person in the world to work with, but I think it was because he didn't really have all his professional skills down pat like I did. I had been working since I was eight years old.
We were all baby brats apart from Mia. She was fabulous, very serious and into her craft. The rest of us were just silly. I did a lot of cutting up on 'Peyton Place'. I was no little angel. I used to do practical jokes.
'Peyton Place' was quite a groundbreaking show in the way it presented sexual themes, wasn't it?
It was, absolutely. It did cause quite a stir. It had an incredible following all over the world, which was terrific. I was actually assigned to do another series called 'The Long, Hot Summer', from the movie with Paul Newman and Lee Remick, and we only went one season and were cancelled. So the studio basically said "What do we do with Lana? Hey there's a show called 'Peyton Place' that we are filming on the lot. Put her in that!' And that was all she wrote there. I stayed there for about a hundred episodes!
Later on you posed for 'Playboy'. Was that a difficult decision?
I look back at it now and wonder why I was ever concerned about it, but at the time it was a tough decision. I actually backed out after I had done the photos. I was able to track down Hugh Hefner at his home in Chicago and I told him I wanted the pictures pulled. We had a long chat on the phone and he kept asking me what kind of pictures I would be comfortable with. He asked me "What if we publish the poems that you write. Will that you make feel better?" He felt the pictures were beautiful and wanted them seen. We struck a deal and Playboy Press published the entire book and ran some of the poems in the magazine as well.
How do you feel about the photographs now?
I think they are beautiful shots now. I don't understand why it was nerve-racking to me at the time because they are in beautiful good taste. The photographer we had, Mario Casilli, was just a genius. What's so nice is that back then it was all natural shots. We didn't have make-up and hairdressing. There was nobody to do that sort of fussing or anything. There was no such thing as touching up photos and photoshop. I'm actually very glad that I did it.
Do you still write poetry now?
No, actually I don't. But I accidentally found the book of poems that I had written back then and I started going over it. I was very pleased. I like it better now than I did back then!
How did you first hear about DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER?
I got a call from my friend Tom Mankiewicz. He said that he had written this screenplay, and that when they were talking about casting he had brought up my name because he thought I would be terrific in the film. So an appointment was set up to meet and I went out and chatted with 'Cubby' Broccoli, Guy Hamilton and Tom. Shortly thereafter, I got a phone call saying that they really liked me and wanted me in the film, and would I consider playing Plenty O'Toole. I said 'Absolutely! I'm there!'. I was thrilled because I was a big Ian Fleming fan.
How did you feel about getting the smaller role of Plenty instead of the lead role of Tiffany Case?
It didn't bother me. Everybody would like to be starring in something, but I'm happy to be working. It's not about being a celebrity so much, but being an actress. I've never been into partying or going to premieres or openings or all that socialising. When 'it's a wrap!', i just like to go home and not be bothered. I've always been happy to just do the work. If there's something about a character or the screenplay I really like, I just want to do it. It's like with the TV mini-series I did called 'QB 7'. I wanted to do it because I wanted to be a part of that project and work with people like Anthony Hopkins, Ben Gazzara and Juliet Mills. That was a small role too.
How was meeting Sean Connery for the first time?
Well, I knew him before I started work on the film. We had actually had dinner at his home in Putney when he was married to Diane Cilento. So I felt very comfortable working with him.
Did it make it easier or more difficult to the love scene with Sean because you knew him?
It made it much worse! Plus the fact we were dating made it feel like people were looking at something they shouldn't be looking at. We didn't want people to catch on that we were together either. They cleared the set for the scene. Recently someone managed to find a shot that wasn't in the film and put it up on Ebay. I was really surprised because there was nobody on the set, only Sean, Guy Hamilton, the focus puller, the wardrobe assistant, the sound man and myself!
How long did you work on the film?
It was only a couple of weeks. And then of course I had most of my scenes cut out. But, hey, that's life. First of all, I didn't think my death made sense. I had just finished travelling all over the world to promote the film and I saw it when I got back and I was devastated. It felt like I reached down to grab some popcorn and I looked up and I was dead! I thought "What happened to all the stuff in between?" I wasn't a happy camper. I probably wouldn't have toured had I known ... but actually I probably would have. I'm pretty much a pushover!
What are your strongest memories of shooting DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER?
Several things. My nervousness at having to do the fall into the pool only wearing a pair of panties!. That wasn't a big thrill for me! I was assured that "We are going to be filming so late that we'll have the whole place to ourselves." Nonsense! It was Las Vegas! Nobody goes to bed in Las Vegas! Everybody's up and everybody can see you! I didn't mind the fall into the pool so bad, but I did have to do it twice.
The one scene I was uncomfortable with was the scene where they actually kill me by tying my feet to a block of cement. My grandson recently asked me how they did the scene. And I told him - "They tied me to a block of cement!" He couldn't believe it. That was the way we did things back then.
They had to position me at a point in the pool where only my hair would be floating on top of the water. I couldn't be too deep and I couldn't be too shallow. It was just at the point where the bottom of the pool would float into the deep end. What nobody realised was that the block was slowly inching towards the deep end. There came a time when I couldn't reach the rope to pull my mouth free to breathe and everybody got a little panicky. People jumped in to untie me. It was not terrifically pleasant!
What were your impressions of the producers, 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman?
'Cubby' I adored. I never actually met Harry and was never even introduced to him. He never even said "Hi". He was at breakfast one morning at the hotel where we were all staying. Tom pointed out "There's Harry Saltzman." I replied "Oh, I've got to go over and introduce myself. " Tom advised me "I wouldn't do that if I were you. If you go over to him and say "Mr. Saltzman, I'm Lana Wood'', he will get angry because you called him Mr. Saltzman. And if you go over and say "Harry, I'm Lana Wood", he'll get mad because you called him Harry. " So I said "So you're trying to tell me to just stay away?" Tom nodded and said "Yeah". So that was it. I just said to Tom "Thanks for the heads up!"
How do you feel about Plenty being one of the most memorable Bond girls?
I don't really know why she has become so memorable but I am really delighted! Who knew? I certainly didn't know at the time. But, you know, you do the best you can, you make choices for each particular character and you hope that the rest of the world can identify. I got lucky.
I wanted to keep her very honest and genuine. There were no ulterior motives in her character. She and Bond just liked each other. And I can thank Tom Mankiewicz for some great dialogue. I was concerned the audience might dislike Plenty if she came across as too heavily sexy. Guy Hamilton sat and listened to me and said "Lana, do what you whatever you want to do!'' I said "Really?"' You don't often get free rein. It was terrific. He and his wife were actually robbed in Las Vegas. Pretty scary. Guy was a a lot of fun and easy to work with.
Have your feelings towards the character changed over the years when you see the movie?I feel a little bit kinder towards her now, but I think I would play her differently now. Good old hindsight! Just small things. I am never completely happy with anything I do. I'm my biggest critic. I worked with Ben Johnson, a great, natural, fabulous actor, and he had never watched himself onscreen!
Did the film help you to get some good roles?
I don't really know if it hurt or hindered my career. I have always been a fairly busy actress. I've always done a lot of television, and I continued doing a lot of television. It certainly created a great deal more interest in me recently. It's one of those films that will stay with me and gave me a lot more mileage than being the crazy nun on 'Beretta'!
Did you stay in touch with Sean over the years?
Absolutely. When Sean made METEOR (1979) with Natalie, she invited him over for Thanksgiving. So we were reunited. I had a small child by then and Sean had married Micheline. We had a really nice time. It was lovely to see him again. I called him about four years ago and I couldn't reach him. I left a message and "Boom!', he called back first thing in the morning. He's good about that. I will always adore Sean.
How does it feel to be part of the Bond legacy?
I could not be happier. It's absolutely wonderful. I can't believe that it has gone on and had the impact and fans that it does. I could not be more proud.
How does your association with Bond impact on your life now?
Well I got a licence plate for my car that says PLENTY on it! The film has overshadowed everything I have ever done, from what turned out to not be such a large role. It has kept my name out there and I am always introduced as the person who played Plenty! It's also terrific that I am famous for a role that was created by my friend Tom.
I also go to a lot of fan conventions and fortunately I have made good friends with so many of my fellow Bond girls. People like Caroline Munro, Martine Beswick, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Gloria Hendry, Maud Adams. Serious friendships that will be with me for the rest of my life. We are all very close. Being in the Bond film turned out to be a great gift. It has given me a great deal.
What do you think of Daniel Craig's James Bond?
I think he's fabulous. We finally got a definitive Bond again. There hasn't been one since Sean Connery. As lovely and as sweet as most of the other actors were, I don't think any of them really personified James Bond, the character, other than Sean. Everyone was in uproar when Daniel Craig was cast. My response back then was that he was a fine and accomplished actor and that he should be given a chance. I hate being right all the time - but I am usually right all the time!
Do you think being the sister of Natalie Wood helped or hindered your career?
Those are things that I don't really think about. I don't think it is important to know that. I really think that whatever path I chose was what I wanted to do. Life never goes perfectly smoothly. I can't say that any one thing really helped my career. There are good sides and bad sides to just about anything. It's necessary for things to be that way. It's good and bad but that's life. It's what makes it all interesting.
I couldn't choose a sister that I could think more of than I do Natalie. I am very fortunate to have someone like her in my life.
Was there any fall-out in Hollywood over your autobiography? You revealed some of the romances you had had with some famous people. Not really. I thought the book was very kind. I was roughest on myself! I remember running up to Mark Rydell after the book came out. I told him that I hoped I didn't upset him, and I reassured him that I had changed his name. He responded "Lana, you could never do anything that was unkind."
You decided to switch from acting to producing in the '80s. Why was that?
To be honest, I wasn't getting a lot of roles and I needed to be more active. I was raising a daughter on my own with no financial or emotional help of any kind, and after talking to Natalie about wanting to be more active, the pitfalls of Hollywood, what things I loved and listening to her advice, we hit upon developing my own projects. It was perfect for me because I have always been an avid reader. If it isn't nailed down I will grab it and read it! I ended up becoming Vice President of Development for TV Movies at Universal Studios. I worked with some wonderful people and got to produce a bunch of things. I worked with Stacy Keach on 'Murder Me, Murder You', which became the 'Mike Hammer' TV show. Halfway through the filming we got a call from the network telling us that they wanted to make it into a series. It was a big compliment indeed and I got a really good track record in production. I absolutely adore production.
Do you prefer it to acting?
It's different. It depends on how much control I want at the time. I'm always happier when I am producing, but sometimes I might be content to just go in and do my part and go home. Acting is a heck of a lot easier but it doesn't have quite the same feeling for me.
What projects are you working on now?
I've had some setbacks in my personal life but I continue to be involved with production, even though recently I've been acting again quite a lot. I've been delighted. I am developing a producing project right now that I am really excited about.
I spoke with Lana by telephone on the 26th April 2012. I would like to thank her for her time.
Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and other sites, and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased.