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Kim Novak - Star of the Month
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Kim Novak Profile

Stardates: Born February 13, 1933, in Chicago, Ill.
Star Sign: Aquarius
Star Qualities: Exquisite face and voluptuous body, air of dreamy vulnerability. Star Definition: "She has the quality of Monroe and Dietrich and that is remarkable because she was a studio-created star." - Billy Wilder
Galaxy Of Characters: Marjorie Oelrichs Duchin in The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton in Vertigo (1958), Betsy Preisser in Middle of the Night (1958), Polly the Pistol in Kiss Me, Stupid (1964).

If there's a tinge of lavender on the star at 6336 Hollywood Boulevard, it's not discoloration. It's just a reflection of the screen goddess honored at that point on the Walk of Fame. Kim Novak began her career as The Lavender Girl, a distant, aloof sex goddess whose image fell somewhere between Marilyn Monroe's and Grace Kelly's, and never mirrored Novak's true personality. At her best, she was a simple, sensitive individual with a surprising gift for combining comedy and pathos. She looked like every man's most romantic dream, but her eyes suggested something deeper than the sex object Hollywood was trying to sell.

Often referred to as the last great studio-created star, a label she rejects, Novak came to Hollywood in the early '50s, at the height of Marilyn mania. The Chicago native, born Marilyn Pauline Novak in 1933, got into modeling in high school after her mother enrolled the once-gawky, painfully shy adolescent in a girls club run by a local department store. As she grew into a beautiful young woman, Novak found modeling the most reliable source of income. A tour promoting appliances as "Miss Deep Freeze" led her to Los Angeles, where she continued modeling and landed unbilled roles as set dressing in The French Line (1954) and Son of Sinbad (1955). Billy Daniels, who choreographed the former, introduced her to talent agent Will Melnick, who put her on a diet and sent her to test at Columbia. When she didn't know what to do with her hands in one scene, director Richard Quine suggested she lean back and rest her arms on the top of a fake mantelpiece. The move accentuated her figure and helped win her a starlet contract at $100 a week.

Under the guidance of studio head Harry Cohn, Columbia built her up as their answer to Monroe. To give her a touch of distinction hairdressers added a lavender tint to her blonde hair that won her the title "The Lavender Girl." Cohn also tried to rename her Kit Marlowe, but she insisted on keeping her family name. Since Marilyn was already taken, they compromised on Kim. Cohn then cast her in her starring debut, as a bank robber's girlfriend involved with crooked cop Fred MacMurray in Pushover (1954). Quine directed again and made her inexperience an asset, often letting the camera make love to her from a distance. Cohn then canceled plans to borrow another Monroe contender, Sherry North, to play the dumb blonde involved with divorcé Jack Lemmon in Phffft! (1954), and Novak's surprisingly effective comic performance almost stole the film from Lemmon and leading lady Judy Holliday. When she scored again as a nightclub singer in 5 Against the House (1955), it proved she had arrived as Columbia's fastest-rising star.

Then she landed her most challenging role yet, Madge, the small-town beauty queen in Picnic (1955). Director Josh Logan didn't think her a strong enough actress and insisted on a series of tests. Frustrated with her lack of emotion, he instructed Aldo Ray, substituting for leading man William Holden, to "get some emotion from her any way you can, short of rape." That convinced him he could work with her, though on location in Kansas he had to punch her to get her to cry on cue. Whatever misgivings he may have had, however, she scored strongly in the role. Critics felt she held her own against such powerhouse co-stars as Rosalind Russell and Betty Field, and her erotic dance with Holden is now considered a screen classic.

Back in Hollywood, she continued to grow as an actress in dramatic roles such as the bar girl in love with Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and Tyrone Power's doomed first wife in The Eddy Duchin Story (1956). But when the studio cast her as drug-addicted stage star Jeanne Eagels (1957), she was clearly in over her head in relation to the demands of the role. Nor did the critics forgive her attempting to play the famous stage and silent film legend (The Letter, Jealousy [both 1929]). Nonetheless, by 1956 she had become the most popular actress on screen, and the replacement for Rita Hayworth as Columbia's top star.

Novak landed her most famous role in 1958, when Vera Miles' pregnancy forced her out of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Novak's performance as the shop girl forced to transform herself into a suicidal society woman won raves, even though the film was not among the director's most successful at the time. Contemporary critics and audiences, however, have elevated it to classic status, with many calling it Hitchcock's masterpiece. In 2007, members of the American Film Institute voted it the ninth greatest film of all time. Novak loved the experience, praising Hitchcock for letting her develop her own interpretation of the character.

Back at Columbia, she scored another strong dramatic role as a young office worker in love with elderly clothing manufacturer Fredric March in Middle of the Night (1959), then re-united with director Quine for a tale of modern adultery, Strangers When We Meet (1960). Although she didn't get along with leading man Kirk Douglas (insiders dubbed the film Stranglers When We Meet), she and the recently divorced Quine became close. Columbia had objected to most of her previous romances, particularly a fling with Sammy Davis, Jr. that allegedly ended when Cohn had him threatened by gangsters, but the studio was behind a match that would bring together their top star and top director. They even offered the couple the $250,000 Bel Air Canyon home that had been built for the film. But after making one more picture together, the Jack Lemmon comedy The Notorious Landlady (1962), the two drifted apart.

With the '60s, Novak began faltering at the box office. Her image as an aloof love goddess fell out of style but attempts to re-package herself as a romantic comedienne in Boys' Night Out (1962), which she produced through her own company, or a serious dramatic actress in the third version of Of Human Bondage (1964), failed miserably. Ironically, one of her best performances, as small-town floozy Polly the Pistol in Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), was also one of her biggest flops - and a huge disappointment for the director too. Way ahead of its time, the film was condemned by the Legion of Decency and misunderstood by critics. More recently, film scholars and critics have found the tale of a trollop hired to impersonate a fledgling songwriter's wife in order to seduce a big singing star (Dean Martin) a surprisingly romantic and even touching story, with Novak at her best as the self-deprecating hard-luck girl.

After a three-year break from acting and a short-lived marriage to British actor Richard Johnson, whom she met filming The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), Novak returned to the screen for The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), a Hollywood exposé with more than a passing resemblance to Vertigo. As a young actress cast to play a deceased movie star, she put her vulnerability to good use, but she wasn't happy with the campy tone taken by MGM's publicity campaign, nor with the fact that the scenes in which her character was possessed by the dead German star were post-dubbed by another actress. With the film's failure, followed by the disastrous The Great Bank Robbery (1969), she once more left the screen. Although she returned to work sporadically, most notably as a temperamental movie star in the Miss Marple mystery The Mirror Crack'd (1980) and the ironically named Kit Marlowe on a season of the primetime TV soap opera Falcon Crest, Novak has spent most of her time on her Malibu estate, devoted to a growing menagerie of dogs, horses and llamas. In 1976 she married Dr. Robert Malloy, and the two have stayed together for over 30 years. Her last public appearances were made to publicize the 1996 restoration of Vertigo. Reporters who interviewed her found a woman at home with herself, probably because she had learned to become herself, and not some Hollywood image of glamorous aloofness.

by Frank Miller

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