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In the 1950s, Elvis Presley began dating Natalie Wood. He’d long admired her as he’d grown up watching her films, and she couldn’t help but feel charmed by him. After growing up in Hollywood, Wood found his earnestness refreshing, at least at first. Her feelings changed after she visited his home in Memphis. According to Wood’s sister, she found Elvis’ relationship with his mother unnerving. She cut her visit and their relationship short.

Elvis Presley alarmed Natalie Wood when she visited his family home

After Wood’s Rebel Without a Cause co-star Dennis Hopper introduced her to Elvis, she began dating him. While the romance was going well enough for her to fly to Memphis to meet his family, things quickly fell apart. Elvis’ mother, Gladys, was reportedly not a fan of the young actor.

“Natalie wore a very flimsy nightgown around the house,” Elvis biographer Ray Connolly told Closer Weekly. “Gladys was like, ‘Not in my house!'”

According to Wood’s sister, Lana, she wasn’t especially fond of Gladys either. She found the affectionate relationship between Elvis and his mother off-putting. 

A black and white picture of Elvis kissing his mother Gladys' cheek while his father looks on.
Elvis and his parents | Bettmann/Contributor via Getty

“His mother said something like, ‘Come and sit on Mama’s lap,'” Lana said. “They were very affectionate, and it bothered Natalie.”

She had planned to stay in Memphis for a week but ended her trip after just a few days.

“Gladys has wrecked everything,” Natalie told Lana over the phone, per her book Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister. “I don’t have a chance. Get me out of this, and fast.”

Afterward, the romance quickly died out.

“God it was awful,” Wood reportedly told Lana. “He can sing, but he can’t do much else.”

She also disliked the constant attention he received

While Wood had been famous for much of her life, she still found the attention Elvis received astonishing. There was no reprieve from it, even in his hometown. If anything, he received more attention there than he did elsewhere. 

“[It was] like a circus come to town the minute I got off the plane,” she said, per the book Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick. “A mob of people stood outside his house night and day. Someone sold hot dogs and ice cream from a wagon … When we went out on Elvis’ motorcycle, we had an instant motorcade behind us. I felt like I was leading the Rose Bowl parade.”

Natalie Wood found Elvis Presley’s earnestness charming

While her feelings toward Elvis soured quickly, Wood had initially found him charming. Despite his level of fame, he felt like someone she could have met in high school. It was refreshing for someone used to the slick glamour of Hollywood.

A black and white picture of Elvis standing in side profile and Natalie Wood looking up at him.
Elvis Presley and Natalie Wood | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

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“He was the first person of my age group I had ever met who said to me: ‘How come you’re wearing makeup? Why do you want to go to New York? Why do you want to be on your own?'” she recalled, adding, “It was like having the date that I never ever had in high school. I thought it was really wild!”