FORGET THE FORGETTABLE films, and never mind the pannings by disenchanted critics, because the ultimate "screen test" for a genuine Hollywood star probably has less to do with on-camera tryouts and readings than with the personal fond memories of moviegoers over generations. And on that score, Natalie Wood clearly enjoyed -- and deserved -- high standing. Miss Wood, who died the other day, captured her first hearts while still a child, in the seasonal film classic, "Miracle on 34th Street," and until death ended her busy career at the age of 43, she was always the stunning presence in so many films with which people identified for their own reasons.
Even if there is somebody somewhere who never liked "Miracle" and doesn't care if television now serves up a synthetic version without Edmund Gwenn or little Miss Wood, there is bound to have been another film along the way to recall with pleasure: it may be the legendary "Rebel Without a Cause," in which she was the moony teen-ager, reflecting the feelings of so many of her contemporaries as she idolized James Dean; or "Marjorie Morningstar," based on the Herman Wouk novel about a Jewish girl in New York society; or "Splendor in the Grass," "West Side Story," "Gypsy" or "Love With the Proper Stranger." The roles, diverse -- and, yes, demanding -- did keep coming, and so did fans.
They did not all come in mindless adoration of beauty on the big screen; there was talent. As Miss Wood once commented, "Maybe I'm not given credit for being an actress by the press, but the industry takes me seriously. Most directors I know haven't forgotten I'm an actress." They did not, and among them was Paul Mazursky, who directed her in "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," who observed yesterday that "because she was so glamorous, people didn't realize she was as good as she was."