Splendour Captain Recalls Early National Enquirer Tactics

A big complaint of Marti Rulli, co-author of the 2009 book Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, is that many journalists writing about the re-opening of the investigation into the drowning death of actress Natalie Wood have failed to actually read the book. She’s absolutely right on that point.

FishbowlLA has read the book. It is very cleverly structured, extremely well-written and though faithful to a single point of view (that of co-author and former ship captain Dennis Davern), full of details and context that would likely amaze many reporters. For example, how many of these journalists know about Wagner allegedly keeping Davern under the equivalent of house arrest for months on end after the Nov. 29, 1981 incident, forcing the dutiful employee to stay at the Wagner residence and abide by a 10 p.m. curfew?

However, for the purposes of this item, the detail we want to share is a recollection from Davern about the ways in which the National Enquirer tried to get him to spill his story in the fall of 1983. After a snoop posing as a potential buyer of Splendour failed to get Davern to let him photograph the inside of the boat, this wining-and-dining individual — Peter Williams — brought along one evening a leggy, female accomplice. Per the book:

She, too, wanted “business-related” photographs of Splendour’s interior. Dennis refused, but Elizabeth invited him back to her apartment for dinner. “We were on the sofa in her apartment,” Dennis recounted, “and she put her hand inside my shirt… She started to take off her clothes, so I took off mine. We went at it…”

“There was nothing really pleasant about it at all. I felt really disgusted. When it was over, I said, ‘So put that in your newspaper, Elizabeth.’ She says, ‘You’re pretty smart,’ like she tossed me some kind of compliment.”

Two days later, Davern says, he discovered that the apartment did not belong to Elizabeth. Certainly one of the takeaways from the book is that the captain of the Wood-Wagner ship passed on many opportunities to sell his story, including the time a reporter at the docks opened up a briefcase with what Davern says appeared to be upwards of $50,000 in cash.

Read the book, journos. You’ll be amazed.