Novak, Kim (1933—)

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Novak, Kim (1933—)

American actress, known especially for her performances in Picnic and Vertigo. Born Marilyn Pauline Novak on February 13, 1933, in Chicago, Illinois; daughter of Joseph Novak (a railroad employee), and Blanche Novak; attended William Penn Elementary School, Chicago; graduated from Farragut High School, Chicago; attended Wright Junior College, Chicago; married Richard Johnson (a British actor), in 1965 (divorced 1966); married Robert Malloy (a veterinarian), in 1976; no children.

Selected filmography:

The French Line (bit, 1954); Pushover (1954); Phffft (1954); Son of Sinbad (bit, 1955); Five Against the House (1955); The Man with the Golden Arm (1955); Picnic (1956); The Eddy Duchin Story (1956); Jeanne Eagels (1957); Pal Joey (1957); Vertigo (1958); Bell Book and Candle (1958); Middle of the Night (1959); Strangers When We Meet (1960); Pepe (1960); Boys' Night Out (1962); The Notorious Landlady (1962); Of Human Bondage (1964); Kiss Me, Stupid (1964); The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (UK, 1965); The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968); The Great Bank Robbery (1969); Tales that Witness Madness (UK, 1973); The White Buffalo (1977); Schöner Gigolo (Gigolo or Just a Gigolo, Ger., 1979); The Mirror Crack'd (UK, 1980); Es hat mir sehr gefreut (Ger., 1987); The Children (UK-Ger., 1990); Liebestraum (1991).

An unusual combination of classic beauty and earthy sexuality, Kim Novak was one of Hollywood's most popular stars during the 1950s and early 1960s, particularly after her performance as the dreamy young ingenue in the film adaptation of William Inge's Picnic (1956). Ironically, in 1962, just as she was beginning to emerge as a capable dramatic actress, Novak purchased a ranch in Carmel, California, and cut back on her movie work. "I was so insecure then, I just didn't have any control over my life," she later recalled. "The studio told me how to wear my hair and makeup, what clothes to wear, even who I should date to get the most publicity. I constantly resented being made over." Novak made few films after 1969, but found balance in her life by raising and selling llamas, and indulging her love of animals.

Of Slavic heritage on her father's side, Novak was born in 1933 and raised in Chicago, Illinois, where her father worked for the Chicago-Milwaukee Railroad. As a youngster, she was extremely tall and thin, causing her to withdraw, even from her family. To help her daughter, Blanche Novak persuaded her to join the Fair Teen Club, a group for teens sponsored by a Chicago department store. Novak was immediately drafted for the group's fashion shows, and ultimately won a scholarship to modeling school. After high school, she continued to model part-time while attending Wright Junior College, where she majored in art. In 1953, she left college to tour the country as "Miss Deepfreeze," demonstrating refrigerators. When the tour ended in San Francisco, Novak went on to Los Angeles and registered with a modeling agency. Two weeks after her arrival, she was chosen as one of 15 models to appear in Columbia Pictures' The French Line (1954). Singled out for a screen test, she was hired and cast as a gun moll in Pushover (1954), with Fred Mac-Murray. At the time, Variety reported that Columbia was grooming the young blonde as a rival of Marilyn Monroe . Other reports maintained that studio chief Harry Cohn viewed Novak as a possible replacement for his demanding and rebellious star, Rita Hayworth .

In 1955, with only four films to her credit, Novak was selected as the top motion picture discovery of the year by six magazines and by the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood. Her next three films, The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Picnic (1956), and The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), capitalized on the moody and temperamental aspects of her personality, a holdover from the shyness and insecurity of her teen years. "If you've got a woman character who's losing a lover, dying of an incurable disease, going to prison or being swindled out of her life savings, then you need Novak," said one director at the time. "She doesn't have to act. She can just turn on her own worries and frustrations."

Novak's portrayal of Madge in Picnic perhaps best personifies the brooding dreaminess that is inherent in all her performances. Although she later admitted that she felt tremendously inadequate in the role, the critics were lavish in their praise. "Kim Novak … is a joy to behold," wrote the reviewer for The New York Times. "Although the role is not expansive, she manages to convey the confusion and yearning

of a maid who is weary of being called beautiful and is soulfully seeking something more substantial." Director Joshua Logan, who originally resisted casting Novak because of her inexperience, later changed his mind. "She is a sensitive and creative girl," he said. "She is as gifted as she is exquisite and can handle anything from boredom to terror with impact." The actress went on to leading roles inJeanne Eagels (1957), Pal Joey (1957), and the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo (1958), although she remained dubious about her success. "Miss Novak responds to her sudden success as though she were convalescing from a hearty hit on the head with a gold brick," observed Mademoiselle (June 1956). "This moody girl, given to surges of temper, distrusts the glamorous life, is wary of comfort, says she's frightened it will spoil her."

During her heyday, Novak was linked romantically to many celebrities, including two of her co-stars, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. In 1958, she made headlines when a sports car given to her by the son of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo became a topic of concern in the United States Congress. The actress was married briefly to Richard Johnson, her co-star in the British-made The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), from whom she parted on good terms. In 1976, she married veterinarian Robert Malloy, whom she met when he came to her ranch to treat one of her animals. From then on, she made only a few movies, including several German films, and a television movie, "The Man from the South," a 1981 update of an old Hitchcock drama. At that time, she talked to a reporter about her brief but intense movie career. "You know, it's strange," she said. "I wouldn't want to go through it all again, and yet I wouldn't want to change it either. Of course, you only feel that way looking back."


Current Biography 1957. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1957.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

"Kim Novak in her Best Role," in Boston Globe. January 23, 1981.

"Kim Novak is Having Fun at 51," in Boston Globe. February 23, 1985.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts