Lana Wood is best known for playing the suggestively-named seductress “Plenty O’Toole” in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds are Forever. Born in 1946 in Santa Monica, California to Russian/Ukranian emigre parents, Wood (whose real name is Svetlana Nikolaevna Zakharenko) is the younger sister of famed actress Natalie Wood (Miracle on 34th Street). Early on in her career, Wood would often play bit parts in films in which Natalie had major roles, but in the early 1960s her own career began to flourish. Although she had been surnamed Lana Gurdin after her parents legally changed their last name, she assumed her stage name upon landing her debut role in the 1956 movie The Searchers. Since her sister Natalia already been renamed “Natalie Wood” in honor of the iconic director James Wood, her mother requested for “Wood” to be Lana’s last name in the film credits of her first major role.
Eager to step out of her sister’s long shadow, Wood began to pursue television roles, achieving significant success with her appearances on programs such as “Have Gun – Will Travel” (1957) and “The Fugitive” (1963). In 1965, Twentieth Century Fox contracted Wood for “The Long Hot Summer”, a television series in which she played the charming Southern belle popularized by Lee Remick in the 1958 movie by the same name. In 1966, Wood secured a breakthrough television role on the popular prime-time soap opera “Peyton Place”, playing the guileful waitress Sandy Webber for 81 episodes. In 1967, Wood married her “Peyton Place” co-star Steve Oliver, but the marriage only lasted one month before ending in divorce.
After “Peyton Place”, Wood landing several more film roles, including the 1968 film For Singles Only and the grittier 1969 film Scream Free! As her career continued to mature, Wood would begin to develop an on-screen persona that was quite divergent from the polished and demure roles often played by her sister Natalie. Lana’s characters were often unrefined, exemplifying the “bad girl” archetype, and being frequently laced with sensual undertones.
It was no secret that Lana was “well-endowed”, and this caught the attention of famed publisher Hugh Hefner in 1970. Hefner approached Wood about possibly posing for Playboy, and she agreed, appearing in the magazine in April of 1971. This move quickly boosted Wood’s career, and is seen as the main contributing factor for her being cast as “Plenty O’Toole” in Diamonds Are Forever. The iconic role immortalized Wood as the consummate “Bond Girl”, an opportunistic seductress with an innuendo-loaded name who captures the attention of Agent 007. Interestingly enough, Wood’s most famous role would be the one in which she had probably the least screen time of any of her major films; she only appeared for a total of 3 minutes, and met an unfortunate fate in the film by being drowned in a swimming pool. Even Wood herself was somewhat astounded by the brevity of her role; in a 2012 interview with The Daily Mail, Wood remarked that she was “mortified” at her part in the film, and that she was “not a happy camper” due to how many of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
Lana’s personal life has been marred by a series of failed relationships and highly-publicized flings (including one with former cast-mate Sean Connery). She has been married four different times, and there is quite a bit of speculation as to whether or not some of the marriages were ended by annulment or divorce. Her brief marriage to Richard Smedley from 1973-1975 produced her only daughter Evan, with whom she now lives. Following the tragic and somewhat controversial death of her sister Natalie in 1981, Wood penned a best-selling autobiography and memoir entitled Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister in 1984. The book was well-received by the public, but was condemned by critics and family alike as being self-serving and insensitive. After appearing in a 1982 horror film entitled Demon Rage, Wood retired from acting in films and began focusing on a career as a producer. Wood later returned to acting in 2008, and has appeared in a number of movies, short films and television series since that time.
To date, Lana Wood has well over 300 television shows and more than 20 films to her credit in a career that has spanned over 60 years. She is involved in a number of upcoming television and film projects, and continues to play a diverse array of roles. Although her career covers an expansive amount of ground in terms of the characters she has played, she will remain a cult hero to Bond fans all over the world for her role as the sultry and charismatic Plenty O’Toole.