Kim Novak

Classical Hollywood sex goddess, blond and buxom, who owed her initial success to her physical allure, but developed into a capable (and at times first-rate) actress. The daughter of a Slavic railway worker, Novak made an inauspicious entry into show business, touring the country as "Miss Deepfreeze" and pitching refrigerators. She also modeled and, as a clotheshorse in the Jane Russell starrer The French Line (1954), was spotted by Columbia prexy Harry Cohn, then looking for a sexy star to replace the "difficult" Rita Hayworth. (Cohn's failure to sign Marilyn Monroe some time earlier may well have been the impetus behind his massive effort to groom the husky-voiced blonde for stardom.) She made her Columbia debut in Phffft! (1954), and played a femme fatale that same year in Pushover Despite her (initially) limited talents, Novak became a box-office attraction; she worked hard and delivered credible performances in the likes of The Man With the Golden Arm, Picnic (both 1955), Jeanne Eagels and Pal Joey (both 1957), among others. By that time she was Hollywood's #1 draw, and her extracurricular relationships with Sammy Davis, Jr., Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra filled newspaper gossip pages.

In 1958 Novak appeared in her two most enduring pictures, both costarring James Stewart: Alfred Hitchcock's obsessive, sinister Vertigo (in a "dual" role as Stewart's suicidal girlfriend and as a lookalike molded in the dead woman's image) and Richard Quine's Bell, Book and Candle (as a fetching witch). She acquitted herself well in 1960's soap opera Strangers When We Meet two 1962 comedies, Boys' Night Out and The Notorious Landlady and tried, valiantly but unsuccessfully, to do justice to the role of the vulgar waitress in the 1964 remake of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage She showed a cunning sense of humor in Billy Wilder's notorious Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), and essayed a "female Tom Jones" in The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965). Personal problems and changing audience tastes sent her career into a tailspin later in the decade, and her highly touted comeback feature, The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), failed to generate much enthusiasm. She has worked in film infrequently since then, appearing in The Great Bank Robbery (1969), Tales That Witness Madness (1973), White Buffalo (1977), Just a Gigolo (1979), The Mirror Crack'd (1980, still glamorous playing a bitchy actress), and, in a pair of interesting character parts, in The Children (1990) and Liebestraum (1991). She has made occasional TV appearances over the years, starring as an aging showgirl in The Third Girl From the Left (1973), toplining an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" revival in the 1980s, and joining the regular cast of "Falcon Crest" for its 1986-87 season. She was married at one time to actor Richard Johnson.

Copyright ©1994 Leonard Maltin