Natalie Wood’s Gardenias

This is a story about the scent of gardenia and two actresses.

The actresses are Barbara Stanwyck and Natalie Wood. The year is 1946. Ms. Stanwyck is one of the highest paid women in America. Ms. Wood is eight, already a three-year veteran of Hollywood.

They are on the set of The Bride Wore Boots. And Ms. Stanwyck is wearing Jungle Gardenia, a perfume of gardenia, balsams, and musk made by Tuvaché.

Ms. Wood compliments Ms. Stanwyck on the perfume – what she says exactly is lost to history. Ms. Stanwyck responds by gifting her a bottle. A small, kind gesture.

Ms. Wood wears Jungle Gardenia for the next 35 years. At home, at work, through two marriages, two divorces, one remarriage. Anytime someone compliments her on the scent, she could just respond with a thank you.

But she doesn’t. Instead, she gifts them a bottle. And Ms. Stanwyck’s small, kind gesture on a movie set back in 1946 is multiplied across people and geography and decades.

While many things are lost to history, this kindness will not be. It will be expanded and outstretched. It will become immortal in the often quiet, often gentle way things paid forward do.

You can accurately say that perfume only has a shelf life of three to five years. You couldn’t accurately say that about kindness, though.

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