Before the counterculture became a thing, it’s safe to say that Kim Novak was a minor embodiment of the future movement. Discontented with how Hollywood was run in the 1950s, Novak fought for her rights and her principles. Whether the issue was her pay rate, the content of a film, or the man she was interested in, Novak was willing to take a stand against any bullies she came across. Even if she didn’t always win the confrontations, her bravery was a foreshadowing of things to come. If you’d like to learn more about this gifted actress and enduring figure, enjoy our list of facts about Novak!
Kim Novak Facts
1. A Star is Born
Marilyn Pauline Novak was born on February 13, 1933, in Chicago, during the Great Depression. She was the daughter of Joseph and Blanche Novak, a freight dispatcher and a factory worker, respectively.
2. Stage Name Showdown
When Kim Novak first came to Hollywood, she fought a hard campaign against Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, to keep her name as it was. In a statement that has aged less-than-gracefully, Cohn urged her to change her name from “Marilyn Novak” to “Kit Marlowe” because “Nobody’s gonna go see a girl with a Polack name!”
Novak held firm, however, scathingly correcting Cohn that her parents were Czech rather than Polish. Ultimately, a compromise was reached where Novak kept her surname but changed her first name to Kim because there was already a famous actress with the first name “Marilyn” at the time—yes, that Marilyn.
3. Forgive the Pun (Please)
During Novak’s final semester at Wright Junior College, she took significant time off to travel the country. This was because Novak had got her first gig as a model, going to trade shows and posing for a refrigerator company. We just hope that she didn’t get a cool reception on her first day!
4. The Rest is History
While she was modeling for said refrigerator company, Kim Novak got the kind of career break which most actors only dream of getting. When she arrived in Los Angeles on her country-wide tour, Novak became a film extra when she found the time. After appearing briefly in two films, an agent noticed her. She signed her very first film contract with Columbia Pictures, with whom she was associated for most of her acting career.
5. Finding an Heir to the Throne
One reason why Novak was pursued by Columbia Pictures was that they were looking for a new star. Their previous female star had been Rita Hayworth, but her career had floundered by the 1950s. Additionally, Marilyn Monroe was earning millions for 20th Century Fox, and Columbia hoped that the blond Novak would do the same for them.
6. Wear Something Green
Kim Novak wasn’t without a sense of humor on film sets. During the production of Kiss Me, Stupid, one scene required her to wear a rhinestone in her navel. On St. Patrick’s Day, however, Novak surprised and amused the cast and crew by replacing the rhinestone with an emerald.
7. The Spirit of Kindness
Speaking of Kiss Me, Stupid, Kim Novak also gave the cast and crew of that film production a nice break out of the goodness of her own heart. It was just after a really long and rough day of filming when Novak surprised her co-workers by providing sandwiches and homemade cookies for them as a pick-me-up.
8. That Co-Worker You Hate
One of Novak’s least favorite film projects was the 1956 music biopic The Eddy Duchin Story. Novak had a terrible time during production because of the differences between herself and her co-star, Tyrone Power. Although they had to play love interests in the film, things were so toxic between Power and Novak that Novak considered quitting the production.
9. Foreshadowing of Things to Come
From an early age, Kim Novak showed a lot of promise with visual arts, particularly painting. In fact, her skills earned her a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. However, she turned the opportunity down for Wright Junior College instead. Of course, as we’ll see, Novak wasn’t finished with painting after that.
Novak’s work on Vertigo was hindered by her relationship with the film’s director. Although Novak later described Alfred Hitchcock as having behaved gentlemanly—a sentiment that Tippi Hedren likely wouldn’t have shared—she also admitted that he never made her feel welcome on his film set. One reason for that was because Hitchcock had never wanted Novak in the film in the first place.
His original choice, actress Vera Miles, was unable to take part due to pregnancy. After the film’s initial underwhelming release, Hitchcock blamed Novak, even though she was hailed as one of the best parts of the film.
11. Mental Journey
By contrast, Kim Novak had nothing but praise for her Vertigo co-star, Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was highly supportive of Novak, despite Hitchcock’s behavior, and brought her as involved in his acting preparation as possible. This involved them holding hands after the scene had been cut and helping each other come down from the emotional highs they reached during filming.
Novak later said that she “learned a lot about acting from him.”
12. Finding Kim
Like many stars of classic Hollywood, Kim Novak has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If you want to visit it, you should go to 6332 Hollywood Boulevard.
13. Does That Count as Method Acting?
During the production of Picnic, a scene required Kim Novak to cry onscreen. Just before they were set to film that scene, Novak asked the film’s director, Joshua Logan, to pinch her, explaining “I can only cry when I’m hurt.”
14. Esteemed Colleagues
One famous figure with whom Kim Novak was closely associated during the 1950s was Rat Pack superstar Frank Sinatra. They starred in three films together, all of which were successful for them both. Sinatra also helped Novak have a secret, controversial relationship with another member of the Rat Pack.
15. Far-Reaching Consequences
Speaking of Novak’s work with Frank Sinatra, the first film they worked on together was the 1955 drama The Man with the Golden Arm. The film was highly controversial at the time, as the film is a harrowing account of addiction. At the time, the Motion Picture Association of America had very strict rules about what sort of subject matter was allowed, and they refused to give this film their seal of approval.
Incredibly, cinemas defied the MPAA and showed Novak’s film anyway, feeling that it was an important film with an important message about addiction. The MPAA not only back down, they even revised the production code rules. This paved the way for more films and more controversial topics to be portrayed onscreen from then on.
After the success of The Man with the Golden Arm, Kim Novak returned to the subject of addiction with the biopic Jeanne Eagels. Depicting the tragic life of silent film star Jeanne Eagels, the film was prepared as a starring vehicle specifically for Novak. Unfortunately, her mostly fictionalized portrayal of Eagels infuriated the real Eagels’ family so much that they sued Columbia Pictures.
17. They Love Me! They Really Love Me!
Novak continues to inspire all kinds of people, whether they’re actors or fashion designers. Alexander McQueen named his first It Bag after Novak in 2005. Renee Zellweger dressed up as Novak’s character from Vertigo in a 2008 Vanity Fair photoshoot. Nicole Kidman, meanwhile, outdid them all by writing a letter to Novak herself, wherein she stated, “You are an icon whose screen presence is unmatched, and yet you’ve lived your life with dignity and authenticity, and the courage to follow your heart wherever it takes you.”
18. Random Tribute
During her Hollywood career, one of Novak’s philanthropic gestures was to give money back to the education system. In her case, she donated funds to a school in the Santa Monica area. In honor of Novak, the fictional school in the TV show Popular named one of its rooms after her.
19. That Could Have Been Worse!
In 1965, Novak married English actor Richard Johnson. Unfortunately, their marriage lasted less than two years. However, there apparently weren’t any hard feelings, as the two remained friends afterward.
20. Middle of the What?
Despite the fact that Vertigo went one to become one of the most beloved classics of all time, Novak didn’t consider it her best work, nor even her favorite film to work on. Instead, she named Middle of the Night as her favorite film. Written by Paddy Chayefsky and co-starring Fredric March, Novak believes that she gave her best performance in that film.
Of course, while Middle of the Night was a success when it was first released, it has since faded into obscurity, the opposite situation with Vertigo.
21. Change of Scenery
In the 1960s, following a natural disaster—more on that later—Kim Novak moved away from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. She moved to the much sleepier California region of Big Sur, where she devoted less time to acting and more time to her first love of painting.
22. Partners in Work and Love
Another profession that Kim Novak took up in Big Sur was raising horses and llamas. This stemmed from Novak’s love for horseback riding and snowballed from there. This was actually how she met her second husband, equine veterinarian Robert Malloy. The couple married in 1976 and are still together as of 2019.
23. Rubbing Shoulders with the Greats
One of Novak’s lesser-known skills was writing song lyrics. Though she pursued it more as a hobby than a career, some of her songs were picked up and sung by professional musicians. These include the folk band The Kingston Trio and Jamaican-American music star Harry Belafonte.
24. Living Like a Leech
If there was one person who benefited from Novak’s acting career, it was Columbia head Harry Cohn. Cohn loaned her out to Universal Pictures for the film Vertigo. While Novak was making $750 per week for this acting job, Universal was paying Columbia, and thus Cohn, $2,500 for the privilege of having Novak in their film.
Years later, when Novak was made fully aware of just how badly Cohn had ripped her off, she remarked: “He screwed me every way he could . . . of course except for the one way that counts.”
25. Brief Reunion
Despite her differences with Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Vertigo (the director spent a week filming a single shot of Novak looking at a painting), Kim Novak ended up reuniting with him for his television series The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Novak appeared in the pilot of this series, though unfortunately, this revival didn’t last nearly as long as the first Alfred Hitchcock Presents series had done.
26. Commercial Project
Speaking of The Eddy Duchin Story, Novak made history by her involvement in the film production. In order to promote the film, Novak appeared in diet soda advertisements, which also promoted her new film. It was one of the first times in Hollywood history that an actor appeared in soda commercials as part of their film ad campaign—and she certainly wasn’t the last!
27. Fighting for Your Worth
Even while she was working on Vertigo, Kim Novak was in the middle of a bitter dispute with Columbia Pictures. At the time, Novak was being paid $1,250 per week, far below what other film stars were getting at the time. When Harry Cohn refused to listen, Novak went on strike, refusing to go to the film set and publicly stating “I don’t like to have anyone take advantage of me.”
Eventually, Cohn conceded to Novak’s demands and her new contract paid her more than twice the previous salary’s amount.
28. Who Knew Fire Leaves One Enlightened?
For years, Novak was working on an autobiography in her spare time. However, in 2000, Novak’s home in Oregon caught fire. Although Novak, her husband, and all their animals escaped the accidental blaze, Novak lost a lot of her mementos from her film career, as well as the computer which contained her autobiography draft. Interestingly, Novak took this disaster as a sign that she shouldn’t bother with an autobiography.
29. Iron Woman
In 2006, the elderly Novak suffered a serious accident when she was horse-riding. Her injuries included a punctured lung, nerve damage, and several broken ribs. Luckily, Novak was able to bounce back, making a full recovery within that same year.
30. Last Hurrah
By the late 1980s, Kim Novak was interested in making a comeback to film if she received the right script. She subsequently accepted offers to act in both The Children and Liebestraum. However, both these film productions proved difficult for Novak, as she furiously clashed with the directors on both productions over creative differences.
In the end, it proved for little, as The Children was never distributed and Liebestraum was a flop. As of 2019, Novak has never returned to film acting.
31. It Speaks to Me
The reason why Kim Novak was interested in doing the film Vertigo was that she identified so much with the character she portrays. It would take too many sentences (and spoilers) to reveal what happens in Vertigo, so we’ll focus on Novak’s reaction to it. As far as she was concerned, she was fighting a daily battle to retain some of her own identity while producers and directors pushed her to look and sound like their ideal woman onscreen.
This kind of pressure and struggle, as Novak later claimed, was recreated perfectly in Vertigo, even if it was a completely different context.
32. That’s it, I’m Out!
Allegedly, one reason why Kim Novak walked away from film acting in the 1960s was out of frustration with her own fading star power. Prior to that decade, Novak had been offered roles to accept or refuse. Beginning in the 1960s, however, classic Hollywood’s studio system was failing, meaning that Novak had to audition for roles.
The aggravation of having to do so soured Novak to her acting profession.
33. The Bad Boy
Arguably the most controversial of Novak’s romantic partners was Ramfis Trujillo. For those of you unaware, Trujillo was the spoiled playboy son of Rafael L. Trujillo, who was the dictator of the Dominican Republic. For a time, he and Novak had a fling while Trujillo was living it up in Hollywood. We won’t go over the entirety of Trujillo’s much-storied life, but it’s safe to say that he was not a pleasant man.
We can see why Novak’s association with him was brief!
34. Stop This Sham!
In 2012, The Artist was released into theatres, serving as a pastiche of the silent film era. Despite the critical and commercial praise which it received, Novak was quick to point out that the film used music from the soundtrack of Vertigo, and she was deeply upset about it.
35. Apples and Oranges?
When she made her criticism of The Artist public, Kim Novak came under fire for comparing the plagiarism to rape. Novak attempted to explain herself by referring to a horrific event from her youth where she was subjected to a sexual assault that she “never reported” to her regret, and so she was motivated to make the comparison because “that was how it felt to [her].”
36. Lucky Lady
In 2010, it was reported that Novak was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Thankfully, the report was highly positive that Novak would survive, stating that she was “in fantastic physical shape and should recover very well.” This prediction proved correct that same year after the treatment was completed.
37. The Bad News…
In 1966, Kim Novak was caught in a terrifying disaster. Her house in Bel Air was swept away by a vicious mudslide that struck the area. Not only did Novak lose all her possessions, but she also spent her entire savings on fees to bulldoze her property.
38. And the Silver Lining
Despite the disaster which the mudslide inflicted on Novak, she managed to take it in stride. By that point, she’d had enough of Hollywood anyway, and she considered the loss of everything she owned as a chance for a fresh, clean slate. From there, she moved to Big Sur, and the rest is history.
39. Look Who it is!
For decades after her heyday, Kim Novak avoided the spotlight as much as she could, living quietly and refusing almost all interviews. Occasionally, she’s broken her rule of isolation, such as when she did an interview with film critic Roger Ebert looking back at Vertigo, or when she attended the Academy Awards in 2014. Unfortunately, Novak’s changing looks provoked cruel comments, with many fans remarking that her plastic surgery seemed botched.
40. Passion Awoken
The most famous relationship that Novak had in her lifetime was undoubtedly the one with famed music star and Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. Seeing him perform at a Chicago nightclub in 1957, Novak was introduced to Davis that same night, and their chemistry was impossible to miss. However, Novak later stated that her connection to Davis “wasn’t a romance so much as a friendship with a beautiful man. He was so sweet and good…”
41. Refusing to Budge
Unfortunately for Kim Novak and Sammy Davis Jr., they met during a time before interracial marriage was even legal throughout the United States. Even their innocent meet-up in that Chicago nightclub was enough to fuel the gossip machines as fast as possible. When Davis attempted to apologize to Novak for putting such pressure on her from the public and her studio, Novak invited him to dinner instead!
They proceeded to have a very private relationship, visiting each other as discreetly as possible. Novak later reflected, “…something inside of me rebelled when I was told not to see him. I didn’t think it was anybody’s business. If he had been a bad man, a dangerous man, then the studio might have had reason—but simply because he was black?”
42. Ugly Ultimatum
One person who really didn’t like the news of Kim Novak’s relationship with Sammy Davis Jr. was Columbia boss Harry Cohn—and he went to absolutely disturbing lengths to keep them apart. Notorious for his domineering nature and his racist attitude, Cohn was quick to use violence and threats to keep Davis away from Novak.
Cohn even once used mob connections to send a vicious message to Davis: if he didn’t marry a black woman in 48 hours, mob goons would break both his legs and blind him! Davis found someone willing to perform a sham marriage, Novak drifted out of his life, and they only met sporadically after that.
Their last meeting was when Novak visited Davis on his deathbed in 1990.