Thursday, March 19, 2015

An Interview with Lana Wood

Lana in Diamonds Are Forever.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting actress Lana Wood at the Williamsburg Film Festival. Although best known for playing Plenty O'Toole in Diamonds Are Forever, Ms. Wood has had a long movie and television career, both in front of and behind the camera. Her first credited role was as a young girl in John Ford's The Searchers. As an adult, she became a regular on the popular TV series Peyton Place and guest-starred in shows like The Wild, Wild West and Mission: Impossible. She later worked as a production executive and co-produced a miniseries about her sister, The Mystery of Natalie Wood. She also wrote the biography Natalie: A Memoir About Natalie Wood By Her Sister. In between signing autographs and chatting with fans at the film festival, Lana Wood graciously talked with me about her career.

Café:  In a 2007 interview, you discussed playing the character Debbie as a young girl in The Searchers. You noted Jeffrey Hunter's "incredible kindness." Did you have any interaction with John Wayne?

Lana in The Searchers.
Lana Wood:  John Wayne used to come to me every morning, stand next to me, and pull out a tin of Allenberry black current pastilles, which he doted upon. He'd open them up and I'd take one and he's say: "Take another one." It was an ongoing little jokey thing between us. He was a very sweet and kind man. He cared a great deal about everything.

Café:  How did John Ford treat you as a child actress?

LW:  I don't think John Ford liked me. He never really spoke to me. I think the only thing he ever said to me was in the scene where Chris (the dog) and I run up to the headstone. He said: "Can you bend at the waist?" I couldn't bend at the waist, though I tried very hard to do it.

Café:  Peyton Place was already an established hit when you joined the cast in 1966. What are some of your memories of working with Ryan O'Neal, Mia Farrow, and the other cast members?

A publicity shot from Peyton Place.
LW:  In Peyton Place, we were all very young--and very spirited. I think that's a good way of putting it. There was a great deal of flirtation at all times. Ryan was an adorable, sweet guy, but not the best to work with. Mia was very sweet. All she'd eat for lunch was cottage cheese and spinach. Barbara Parkins absolutely loathed me. She would not speak to me, ever. What I would do was I'd go into the makeup room in the morning and talk to her all the more because I knew she wouldn't answer me. I was kind of poking the bear a bit.

Café:  You made quite an impression as Plenty O'Toole in Diamonds Are Forever and she remains one of the best-remembered "Bond Girls." Why do you think Plenty has remained so popular over the years?

LW:  Hopefully because I wanted her to be very sweet. I didn't want to appear like a hooker. Shill is not really the top category when you list careers you would like to have had. And I was very worried about that. So, I made her very ingenuous and just very nice. That's what came across and I think that's what people identified with.

Café:  I've seen the two deleted scenes with Plenty: the dinner scene with Bond and when she discovers James and Tiffany Case together. Do you know why they were cut from the final film?

Lana and friend Sherry in Williamsburg.
LW:  They didn't help move along the plot. The studio wanted the film at a certain length back then so it could squeeze in another showing. So, unfortunately, it was Plenty who went.

Café:  You were friends with Sean Connery before Diamonds Are Forever. How did the two of you meet?

LW:  My boyfriend at the time was dear friends with Sean. We were invited to dinner at his house. So, I went to his house, we had dinner, and I got to know him.

Café:  What do you think of Daniel Craig as James Bond?

LW:  I adore him. I think, at last, other than Sean, he is James Bond.

Café:  What led you to take a break from acting from the mid-1980s until a few years ago?

LW:  Several things. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I had gone behind the camera at that point as well, so I was producing. I was working at Universal Studios as director of development for television films. I moved my Mom in with me. Lots of things. It was just unfortunate.

Café:  What were some of the made-for-TV films that you were involved with from a production standpoint?

LW:  Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer mystery Murder Me, Murder You. Lynda Carter in Born to Be Sold, which was, at that time, the highest-rated television film. Hotline (also with Lynda Carter) and two Lynda Carter specials. I rewrote six episodes of Bring 'Em Back Alive, a TV series with Bruce Boxleitner. And I produced The Mystery of Natalie Wood, which was an ABC miniseries.

Café:  Of all your films, which one was your personal favorite and why?

LW:  I like different ones for different reasons. I'm so thrilled to have been part of The Searchers. That's something that will go on forever. It meant the world to me to be in a film like that, which is so iconic--with John Wayne, Ken Curtis, Jeffrey Hunter, and Harry Carey. It's a beautiful film that holds up to this day. I'm very proud of it.

Café:  You show a number of adorable dogs and cats on your FB page. Are they all yours?

LW:  (laughs) Oh, yes! I haven't even put the half of them up. I can't get them to sit still.

Café:  Do you have any upcoming films or appearances that you'd like to share with our readers?

LW:  I have two films coming out. One is called Killing Poe, which is a black comedy. Then, I have a thriller coming out called Bestseller.

You can "like" Lana Wood on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


  1. Thanks for the great interview Rick! This was really interesting to read. You do such a nice job interviewing such interesting people!

  2. Her description of Plenty is why she remains one of my favorite Bond girls. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tiffany Case is almost as forgettable as Mary Goodnight and Christmas Jones.

  3. I had such a crush on Lana Wood when she was on Peyton Place--and still do! Thanks for this interview.

  4. Very nice interview Rick and great to hear about Lana Wood and her past and present.I used to watch Peyton Place on TV when I was young - it was big in those days. And The Searchers is one of the great films. So with the Bond Girl experience she has a great record.

  5. Enjoyed this interview, Rick! I never knew Wood was in THE SEARCHERS; loved her reminiscences about her time making that film. Some good DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER bits, too. (You were too gentlemanly to ask her about her infamous comment about Connery, something along the lines that he "smelled like a lion's cage" after a day's filming.

    1. Jeff, I figured that she was asked about her affair with Sean and about her sister all the time. I wanted to concentrate on her career.

  6. Lana Wood and Jill St. John were both in Diamonds Are Forever. Nine years after the death of Natalie Wood her widower Robert Wagner married Miss St. John.

  7. I remember Plenty. I remember her well. She had Plenty to remember her by. A fantastic figure in a low cut top. Still, if Lana wants to believe it was acting that's her perogative.

  8. While jumping into Lana's "Peyton Place" experiences why wasn't she asked about her other ABC series immediately preceding "PP," "The Long, Hot Summer"? Sigh.
    Amidst a large ensemble she made quite an introduction as Eula, the 17-year old girl with a figure like Lana Wood's and who shows up in Frenchman's Bend from the other side of the tracks in a neighboring state, making the threat of the Mann Act hanging over the young males.
    Fortunately a dozen episodes are available on YouTube. Lana could easily entertain us with an entire column just on "The Long, Hot Summer" and its notoriety for three cast departures in the course of less than its brief duration, 26 episodes. Tisha Sterling, Edmond O'Brien and Paul Geary -- M.I.A.
    Lana, wearing a white two piece bathing suit, shares some Eula dialogue opposite O'Brien's Will Varner that's as revealing as her glorious figure (filmed at Esther Williams's oft-used pool on the MGM backlot). She also 'held her own' working with Ruth Roman, whose Millie gives Eula a waitress job a the Frenchman's Bend Inn. And of course the show's hunk, a pre-"The Invaders" Roy Thinnes, playing Varner's adversary, Ben Quick.
    . . . A missed opportunity that Classic Film & TV Cafe can rectify with paragraph after paragraph of informative, enlightening reading via a follow-up interview. Furthermore, while she's available, there's reams of "Peyton Place" territory left unexplored.
    Unlike her "The Long, Hot Summer" all of "Peyton Place"'s 500+ episodes are available for screening on YouTube, plus the first couple hundred on DVD.
    Meanwhile, we wish Lana Wood good health, personal and professional fulfillment and true happiness.