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Novak, Kim


Nationality: American. Born: Marilyn Pauline Novak in Chicago, Illinois, 13 February 1933. Education: Attended Farragut High School, Chicago; Wright Junior College, Chicago; Los Angeles City College. Family: Married 1) the actor Richard Johnson, 1965 (divorced 1966); 2) Dr. Robert Malloy, 1977. Career: Model in Chicago, then with the Caroline Leonetti Modeling Agency in Hollywood; 1954—film debut in The French Line; Columbia contract led to publicity build-up as a sex symbol; 1961—formation of production company Kimco; 1970—acted and sang her own composition in the TV documentary This Land Is Mine; 1986–87—in TV series Falcon Crest. Address: c/o William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


The French Line (Lloyd Bacon) (as Paris model); Pushover (Quine) (as Lona McLane); Phffft! (Robson) (as Janis)


Picnic (Logan) (as Madge Owens); Five against the House (Karlson) (as Kay Greylek); Son of Sinbad (Nights in a Harem) (Tetzlaff) (as daughter of the 40 thieves); The Man with the Golden Arm (Preminger) (as Molly)


The Eddy Duchin Story (Sidney) (as Marjorie Oelrichs)


Jeanne Eagels (Sidney) (title role); Pal Joey (Sidney) (as Linda English)


Vertigo (Hitchcock) (as Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton); Bell, Book and Candle (Quine) (as Gillian Holroyd)


Middle of the Night (Delbert Mann) (as Betty Preisser)


Strangers When We Meet (Quine) (as Maggie Gault); Pepe (Sidney) (as herself)


Boys' Night Out (Michael Gordon) (as Cathy); The Notorious Landlady (Quine) (as Carlye Hardwicke)


Of Human Bondage (Hathaway, Forbes, and Hughes) (as Mildred Rogers); Kiss Me, Stupid (Wilder) (as Polly the Pistol)


The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (Terence Young) (title role)


The Legend of Lylah Clare (Aldrich) (as Elsa Brinkmann/title role)


The Great Bank Robbery (Averback) (as Lyda Kabanov)


"Luau" ep. of Tales that Witness Madness (Francis) (as Auriol Pagaent); The Third Girl from the Left (Medak—for TV)


The Celebrity Art Portfolio (D'Anjolell—short)


Satan's Triangle (Roley—for TV) (as Eva)


The White Buffalo (Hunt to Kill) (J. Lee Thompson) (as Poker Jenny Schermerhorn)


Just a Gigolo (Hemmings) (as Helga)


The Mirror Crack'd (Hamilton) (as Lola Brewster)


Malibu (Swackhamer—for TV)


Es Hat Mich Sehr Gefreut (as "Musikerinnen")


The Children (Tony Palmer) (as Rose Sellars)


Liebestraum (Figgis) (as Mrs. Anderssen)


By NOVAK: articles—

"The Legend of Kim Novak," interview with J. Calendo, in Interview (New York), June 1972.

"Fiction and Feelings," interview with Bruno Villien, in Films (London), May 1981.

Interview in Vanity Fair (New York), October 1995.

"Kim Novak," interview with G. Fuller, in Interview, November 1996.

"Couldn't You Like Me the Way I Am?," interview with Gerhard Midding, in Filmbulletin (Winterthur), February 1997.

"Dizzy Heights: The National Alf," interview with Tom Charity and Brian Case, in Time Out (London), 16 April 1997.

On NOVAK: books—

Fritch, Charles E., Kim Novak: Goddess of Love. The Fascinating Life Story of the World's Most Desirable Woman, Derby, 1962.

Kleno, Larry, Kim Novak on Camera, San Diego, 1980.

Brown, Peter Harry, Kim Novak: The Reluctant Goddess, New York, 1986.

On NOVAK: articles—

Current Biography 1957, New York, 1957.

Haspiel, J. R., "Kim Novak, Yesterday's Superstar," in Films in Review (New York), February 1978.

Ciné Revue (Paris), 7 February 1980 and 23 April 1981.

Lippe, Richard, "Kim Novak: A Resistance to Definition," in cineAction (Toronto), no. 7, December 1986.

Lurie, Rod, "The Last Temptation of Kim Novak," in Los Angeles Magazine, September 1990.

"Kim Novak," in Film Dope (London), July 1992.

"Kim Novak," in Stars (Mariembourg, Belguim), Spring 1993.

Grob, Norbert, "Kim Novak: Die Frau mit dem goldenen Haar. Filme-Stories-Anekdoten," in EPD Film (Frankfurt/Main), April 1997.

Porter, B., "Newham Welcomes Novak," in Film Journal (New York), June 1997.

Champlin, C., "'Vertigo' Returns in Novak Retro," in Variety (New York), 10/16 February 1997.

Martini, E., "Dal regno dei morti," in Cineforum (Bergamo), June 1997.

* * *

Kim Novak has often been disparaged as the last star manufactured by the studio system. In 1953, when Harry Cohn realized that Columbia's reigning sex goddess, Rita Hayworth, was becoming too rebellious, he supposedly decided to "create" a replacement. He selected Novak and, having her groomed and promoted through a huge publicity campaign, cast her in several films meant to display her sex appeal. Cohn's investment actually offered Novak an opportunity: she achieved stardom by developing an individualistic screen persona, and through her own accomplishments as an actress.

Whatever Cohn's intentions may have been, Novak did not conform to the sex goddess concept. This is apparent in her first starring role, in Richard Quine's Pushover. Cast as a femme fatale, she undermines the implications of the character's destructive sexual appeal by projecting an extreme vulnerability. In Mark Robson's Phffft! her unease at playing a Marilyn Monroe-like dumb blond is very apparent. In Picnic and The Man with the Golden Arm she sensitively portrays characters who resist being treated merely as sex objects, and Jeanne Eagels remains interesting, despite George Sidney's crude direction and a clichéd script, because of Novak's ability to project the subjective identity of the character.

Although her performance as Madeleine/Judy in Hitchcock's Vertigo was considered perfunctory, it is, in hindsight, a remarkable contribution to what is, arguably, the director's finest achievement. Novak's reflective and essentially introverted personality, and undeniable screen presence, are ideally suited to the many nonverbal scenes involving the Madeleine character. Given the film's conception, Madeleine must convey both aloofness and intimacy to be effective, and Novak manages to sustain the resulting tension. The vulnerability implied by Madeleine's intimacy is given full expression in the Judy character, lending substance to a characterization crucial for the film's emotionally devastating climax. Her performance in Vertigo deserves as much acclaim as Jimmy Stewart's.

Richard Quine's Bell, Book and Candle and Strangers When We Meet also gave Novak splendid opportunities. To some extent, her work in the former, where she gives a muted performance in counterpoint to the film's comic aspects, is a variation on her Vertigo role. Again there is a contrast between her appearance and identity, and the question of her ability to deceive the hero into falling in love with an image. In Strangers When We Meet Quine uses Novak's sensitivity to give dimension to a character seeking fulfillment of emotional needs.

Novak's comic timing is outstanding in Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid. To a typical 1950s Marilyn Monroe role Novak adds a self-awareness that makes the character more touching and stronger than Monroe could have managed. This trait is again evident in Novak's portrayal of an aging chorus girl in the made-for-television movie The Third Girl from the Left.

Novak's career faltered in the 1960s and by the end of the decade she had decided to be professionally less active. Nevertheless, Novak has not ceased to be serious about her identity as an actor. Several of the projects she has undertaken, including Tales that Witness Madness, Satan's Triangle, and The White Buffalo, turned out to be inferior works which, aside from giving her exposure, were unworthy of her effort. That Novak undertook these projects suggests that she was having difficulty finding quality material; but, it also may have been that she was uncertain as to what image she wanted to project. In both Tales that Witness Madness and The White Buffalo, Novak's participation is dependent on her status as a star but the films allow her to play character parts.

Novak's early 1980s films, The Mirror Crack'd and Just a Gigolo, also reflect this indecision as to what direction her career was taking. In the former, she is part of an ensemble cast; Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson have bigger parts but Novak and Tony Curtis give better performances. Novak is cast as a vulgar and bitchy 1950s Hollywood star who sees herself as Taylor's rival. She plays the role to the hilt and is extremely convincing as a totally unlikable person. While her characterization functions to enliven an otherwise bland film and Novak demonstrates an ability to play broad comedy, the role offers her no scope. Just a Gigolo is another film with an intriguing star cast. Novak, in a supporting role, again plays an unsympathetic woman—a predatory widow who seduces David Bowie. As in The Mirror Crack'd, Novak here is sending up the sex goddess image that she had been identified with in the earlier stages of her career. (Just a Gigolo was drastically cut after its initial screening in an attempt to make the film more commercial.)

More recently, The Children and Liebestraum provided Novak with strong parts and the two films contain some of her finest work; in fact, her tour-de-force performance in the remarkable Liebestraum should have garnered her an Academy Award nomination. Unfortunately, neither film has received much exposure: Liebestraum because of its highly demanding nature. On the other hand, The Children, which never received a North American release, was heavily cut and reedited in its video version as the distributor had no faith in the film. In The Children, Novak portrays a cultured, reserved widow who has been courted by a man promising love and a commitment; instead, his attention is diverted and she is abandoned. Although The Children is centered on the Ben Kingsley character, Novak's role, which utilizes her skill in projecting vulnerability, is equally relevant to the film's theme of disillusionment and loss. In Liebestraum, Novak plays a bedridden woman dying of cancer who, when reunited with her now adult son, confronts the past in which she killed her husband. In contrast to the demands of The Children, Liebestraum gives her a much more demonstrative character who is physically and emotionally in anguish. Novak, in a series of short, intense scenes, constructs a forceful and compelling characterization. The performance is extremely disciplined; without sentimentalizing the character and her situation, Novak conveys the underlying sadness of this woman's identity.

Kim Novak has not made a film since Liebestraum. As her work has long shown, she is an intelligent, creative actor who has an extraordinary screen presence. Ideally, Novak will be back on-screen.

—Richard Lippe

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