Friday, August 3

Kim Novak

I just finished watching 1954's Pushover, the first starring film made by the astonishingly beautiful Kim Novak.  I can see why cop Fred MacMurray went to the dark side for her.  She was so alluring, so seductive and spoke in that breathless manner popularized by Marilyn Monroe.

Novak rivaled Monroe in some ways.  She wasn't as good of an actress as Monroe but she likely was more beautiful.  Both were super blondes who sold smoldering sex for their studios.  We followed every detail of their lives in every movie magazine of the day.  Oddly enough, Novak's real first name is Marilyn.

A Chicago native, it should come as no surprise that she became a model and it was through that job that led to her first film bit but that secured her a contract at Columbia Pictures.  Rumor has it that she was hired as a threat to temperamental Columbia star Rita Hayworth.  Studios liked backup gods and goddesses in case their stars got severe cases of bigheaditis.  Probably no one, not even loathed studio czar, Harry Cohn, knew what they would have in Kim Novak.  It's unlikely that anyone predicted what a star she would become, including the lady herself.

But a star she indeed did become.  A huge one.  Perhaps if one were mentioning the 50 best actresses of alltime, her name would not be included among them.  When she was at the height of her fame in the 1950s and at the top of favorites polls, her acting abilities were often mocked.  If she wasn't Sarah Bernhardt, she also wasn't just another of the blonde bombshells of the day.  I stand tall (not difficult to do) when I say she almost always turned in very good work.  She had not longed to be an actress and was not perhaps an instinctive one but dare say she turned in some pretty decent performances under the guidance of a good director.  She certainly had a few of them in Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Josh Logan, Delbert Mann, George Sidney and even Richard Quine, who would for awhile be her beau.

She has had the good fortune to have worked with some top leading men in the forms of Jack Lemmon, twice with Jimmy Stewart, twice with Sinatra and also Tyrone Power, William Holden, Jeff Chandler, Fred Astaire, Kirk Douglas.  Not too shabby.  Novak would report, with one exception, that she got on well with her leading men or on her sets but I can recall at the time hearing of a skirmish with this or that actor or director.  In bios of Power and Holden, it was said they didn't quite see eye-to-eye with Novak.  She has publicly admitted to not getting on whatsoever with Laurence Harvey, but then few did.  They apparently more or less despised one another while making the unnecessary Of Human Bondage (1964).

In the second half of the 1950s she made seven important films... most of which are still highly regarded today and one of which is considered a true classic and guarantees her ever-lasting fame.  Let's chat 'em up.

Who could forget Picnic (1955) and that sexy dance scene with William Holden while Moonglow played?  It was based on William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.  She played a smalltown Kansas beauty queen and Holden was a stud drifter who wanted her.  We all completely understood.

She was more or less window dressing in Preminger's very gutsy The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) but she was the lucky one to be a part of such an important film about drug addiction.  It was her first outing with Sinatra, whom she would also date.  The leading female part went to Eleanor Parker.

She was loved and lost by Tyrone Power in 1956's popular The Eddy Duchin Story, about New York's 1920s society orchestra leader and piano player.  Seeing the two of them in love scenes, their faces filling the big silver screen, was a little too much beauty for me.

She stayed in the 1920s motif for Jeanne Eagels (1957), arguably her best role, although not as big and important as these other films.  Eagels was a real-life actress, not remembered by most folks today, who was as famous for her drunken, drug-fueled private life as for anything she did on the screen.  The dreamy Kim got another handsome leading man in Jeff Chandler.  It was her first top-billed role and I thought she nailed it.

She co-starred with Sinatra again in 1958s Pal Joey.  What is interesting about this one is that it also starred Rita Hayworth, the actress Novak was supposed to threaten.  They actually got along famously and had a sexy song and dance number.  Both actresses' singing, however, was dubbed.

And then came Vertigo (1958) which capitalized on Novak's natural allure.  Jimmy Stewart is so tapped out over his lust for her and again we well understand.  Who could have been better in the part of a beautiful wife being tailed by a private dick?  Well, Vera Miles, for one.  Hitchcock had Miles marked for the role when she became pregnant and had to bow out.  Novak owes her a large debt of gratitude.   

I was an usher in a little West Los Angeles theater when Vertigo  arrived.  (An usher... who remembers those?)  I would be briefly in the auditorium and then leave and then be back again and so on.  I would, of course, always gaze at the screen, trying to figure out what was going on.  (I had not actually sat down and watched the film.)  Novak was a blonde.  Then she died.  Then she was a brunette.  Then she was blonde again.  Then she died again.  Whatinthehell is going on?  Not really popular at the time, I eventually figured it out as did the general public and they and critics have elevated this film to classic status.  And the film has been in the news in the past couple of days because a Sight & Sound poll says it has risen to the top of the heap as America's best movie ever.  How could that be, much as I liked it?  I will tell you the best movie ever when I get to my number one film on my 50 Favorite Films posting.  LOL.

Her second film under Richard Quine's tutelage came in the form of Bell, Book and Candle, again co-starring Stewart, a rare comedy for her, and another of her best roles.  She played a witch, previously incapable of true love, but who seems to be losing her powers while falling in love.  She searched for the source of this change, eventually finding it in her Siamese cat, Pyewacket.  So taken by this cat was I that I owned five or six Siamese over the years, most of whom had that name.

She married later in life.  Her dates would often be covered in the papers... Kim and Frank, Kim and Aly and so on, but nothing ever got more attention than when she started seeing Sammy Davis Jr.  She has always claimed that she found him fun and fascinating but they were only pals.  Sammy might have felt differently, but their relationship caused a great brouhaha, both inside the studios and outside the gates.

At the height of her fame, she would trot off somewhere, far from the limelight, where she could relax in a bucolic setting and regroup.  Eventually she would do that for good. 

Novak may feel differently but I think her career petered out after the 50s.  She later made a number of inane comedies and even the dramas usually had something about them that just didn't work.  None of her later films had the prestige of those 50s hits.

There was a campiness about both The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders and The Legend of Lylah Clare that I found kind of fun.  The latter, in which she played a nobody brought in to impersonate a famous, recently-deceased actress, seemed to parallel Novak's own career in some ways.  Neither did very well at the box office and even if she was lambasted in some circles, she is remembered for both roles in a campy sort of way.

In 1980 she teamed up with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock, Hudson, Tony Curtis and the delightful Angela Lansbury in the Agatha Christie whodunit, The Mirror Crack'd.  I dearly love movies like this and I thought it sustained as a thriller of sorts and crackled with bitchy dialogue.  Novak and Taylor had a famous scene worth your taking a look at.  Here it is...

Years ago she said goodbye to the movies.  Despite her fame, she always seemed a rather shy person to me, not very much comfortable with life in the fast lane.  She first moved to Northern California and then to Oregon, where she still lives.  She has a ranch which over the years has included some prized horses and llamas and a veterinarian second husband.  (She is a real animal lover and that's just fine with me.)  She loves to paint and sculpt and has a need to stay creative.  A few years ago she took a bad tumble from a horse but says she has recovered.

I long for her to write her autobiography again.  I know there is quite a story there and I would love to hear it.  Wait.  Again?  Yes, she wrote a great deal of it once but it all burned in a fire.  I well understand not wanting to undertake that all again, but hopefully she will.  After she passes, someone will surely write about her and it may not all be done in a way that she would like.  So, c'mon, Kim, bite the bullet and give it another go.  Tell your truth.

She has said she would work again if a really good script came along.  I wish.

NEXT POSTING:  Favorite Movie #31


  1. Didn't Quine also direct her in The Pushover, her first billed movie?

  2. Yes, Teresa, he certainly did direct her in "Pushover," and also "The Notorious Landlady" and "Strangers When We Meet," although "Bell, Book and Candle" was certainly their most successful pairing. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. I just watched 'Strangers When We Meet' early this morning. It's one of those I like to indulge in every once in awhile. There are several scenes that irritate me though. I don't know if it was bad editing or what, but when Kirk follows Kim out of the Albatross, it was the perfect chance for a great love scene but it evaporates into nothing and the sound is awful, like bad dubbing. What's your take?

  4. I totally agree with you. It seemed to me to be a film of missed opportunities. It had moments of being almost there and then it just fizzled out. I also heard K & K didn't particularly get on so well and that can sometimes make a difference.