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Movie stars have been a part of our lives for so long that most fans think they know them well enough to consider them close friends. But what the public sees on the screen and what the star is like off-screen are often two completely different things. Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival offers viewers a glimpse into the private thoughts and feelings of Kim Novak in a revealing, personal and, at times, highly emotional interview hosted by Robert Osborne for the third annual TCM Classic Film Festival.
One theme repeated throughout the interview is fate. Novak speaks of it as the guiding principle of her life. When Osborne asks her directly, "Do you believe in fate," she says that she not only believes in it but believes if you have to knock hard on a door to open it, it wasn't meant for you to go through. This leads directly into the amazing story of how her movie career started, coming on the heels of a fateful cross-country trip modeling for a refrigerator company at trade shows. The tour involved Novak and two other models singing songs and looking pretty in front of refrigerators, moving from town to town. When the tour came to an end, in San Francisco, one of the two other models suggested they go down to Los Angeles, get some rooms and go see how movies were made.
As fate would have it, the first movie set they could get onto happened to be The French Line (1953), starring Jane Russell. The movie needed more models for a big production number and Novak and her friends got the job. The choreographer for the number, Billy Daniel, recommended her for a screen test and, needless to say, it was a success. Before she made her way back to Chicago that same year she had already played a small supporting role in Pushover (1954) with Fred MacMurray.
Of course, getting into the movies meant losing out on an art career. Novak discusses how she loved to paint (and, in fact, had a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago) and still turns to it every day for solace and comfort. But the movie career beckoned and soon she found herself in one movie after another until 1955 brought her breakout role in Picnic, starring William Holden and directed by Joshua Logan, the same director who had helmed the Broadway production. According to Novak, Logan wanted Janice Rule to reprise her role from the stage, the role that went to Novak in the movie. It created tension at first but as the two learned what each other wanted from the role, she was able to win him over.
But those are the undisputed facts. The two main things one looks for in a celebrity interview is the inside scoop on other stars and behind the scenes revelations. Novak doesn't disappoint and proves herself one of the most generous stars in the firmament. If you're looking for mudslinging from Kim Novak, you've come to the wrong place. Even for the infamous Harry Cohn, Novak has nothing but praise. She tells Osborne that Cohn felt awkward being nice to people only because he felt it would diminish his authority and when she brought him fudge one year during the holidays, he was speechless but clearly moved.
Of Jimmy Stewart, her costar twice in the same year, Vertigo and Bell, Book and Candle, both in 1958, she says simply, "He was my favorite person in the world," and when she leaves this one, he's the first person she wants to see on the other side.
She also dismisses notions of difficult directors and says that while others may have had problems with Otto Preminger (The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955), she certainly didn't. She had also heard that Alfred Hitchcock was difficult to work with but found him to be delightful and felt working on Vertigo was the best experience she ever had in the movies.
Of course, not everything worked out well. One of the wonders of this interview is how freely Novak expresses her emotions in front of a captivated audience. When she talks of her father's mental illnesses, as well as the bi-polar disorder that she takes medication for, she becomes emotional and open, speaking of the difficulties of loving a man who could never say "I love you" back and who hurt her deeply at times (he walked out of the premiere of Vertigo). And she seems to hold no one at fault but herself for any difficulties she may have had on movie sets, though she does explain that many people misunderstood her mental difficulties for coldness (she would go to her trailer between takes rather than mingle with cast and crew because she had a deeply felt need for solitude when she felt herself becoming melancholic).
Perhaps the most surprising thing of all in the interview is how comfortable Novak has become with life, herself and the movies. She lives with her husband, a veterinarian, in Oregon, isolated in the woods, surrounded by nature and the animals she loves. She hopes to show her paintings off one day but doesn't know if she'll ever have the courage to do so. Still, painting gives her so much joy it doesn't matter if she ever does. And in Robert Osborne she has the perfect person to bring out the best in her and make her feel at ease talking about ups and downs of her career and life. When Osborne thanks her at the conclusion for being so open and heartfelt, she gives him a kiss and a hug and the audience applauds one of the kindest and most gracious stars in the business. It's good to finally meet her.
Host: Robert Osborne
Director: Sean Cameron
Produced by: Anne McGill Wilson
Director of Photography: Patrick Stewart
Editor: Dan Monro
By Greg Ferrara