Tag Archives: James Stewart

Kim Novak

 

Marilyn Pauline “Kim” Novak (born February 13, 1933) is a retired American film and television actress.

She began her film career in 1954 after signing with Columbia Pictures. There, she became a successful actress, starring in a string of movies, among them the critically acclaimed Picnic (1955). She later starred in such films as The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and Pal Joey (1957). However, she is perhaps best known today for her performance as Madeline Elster/Judy Barton in Alfred Hitchcock‘s classic thriller Vertigo (1958) with James Stewart. Novak enjoyed box-office popularity and starred opposite several top leading actors of the era, including Fred MacMurray, William Holden, Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power, Kirk Douglas, and Laurence Harvey.

Novak with William Holden, in Picnic

 

Although still young, Novak withdrew from acting in 1966 at the peak of her career, and has only sporadically worked in films since. She appeared in The Mirror Crack’d (1980), and had a regular role on the primetime series Falcon Crest (1986–87). After a disappointing experience during the filming of Liebestraum (1991), she permanently retired from acting, stating she had no desire to return. Her contributions to world cinema have been honored with two Golden Globe Awards, an Honorary Golden Bear Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame among others. She works as a visual artist.

 

Early life

Novak was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 13, 1933. She is the daughter of Joseph and Blanche (née Kral) Novak. Both her parents were of Czech descent. Her father was a history teacher who took a job as a freight dispatcher on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad during the Depression, and her mother was a factory worker. She was raised Catholic.

She attended William Penn Elementary, Farragut High School, and Wright Junior College. She won two scholarships to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and during the summer break in her last semester of junior college, Novak went on a cross-country tour modelling for a refrigerator company at trade shows.

 

Acting career

Beginnings and breakthrough (1953–58)

While stopping by Los Angeles, Novak was crowned “Miss Deepfreeze” by the refrigerator company. While there, she and two other models stood in line to be extras in two RKO films: The French Line (1954), starring Jane Russell and Son of Sinbad (filmed in 1953, not released until 1955). There she was discovered by an agent, who signed her to a long-term contract with Columbia Pictures. From the beginning of her career, she wanted to be an original and not another stereotype. Therefore, she fought with Columbia’s chief, Harry Cohn, over the changing of her name. He suggested the name “Kit Marlowe”, arguing, “Nobody’s gonna go see a girl with a Polack name!”, but she insisted on keeping her name, saying, “I’m Czech, but Polish, Czech, no matter, it’s my name!” The two sides eventually settled on the name “Kim Novak” as a compromise.

Columbia intended for Novak to be their successor to Rita Hayworth, their biggest star of the 1940s, whose career had declined; also, the studio was hopeful that Novak would bring them the same success 20th Century-Fox was having with Marilyn Monroe. Her first role for the studio was in the film noir Pushover (1954), in which she received third billing below Fred MacMurray and Philip Carey. She then co-starred in the romantic comedy Phffft (1954) as Janis, a Monroe-type character who finds Jack Lemmon‘s character, Robert Tracey, “real cute”. Both films were reasonably successful at the box office, and Novak received favorable reviews for her performances. In her third feature film, 5 Against the House (1955), a gritty crime drama, she received equal billing with Guy Madison. It was only a minor critical and box-office success.

She then played Madge Owens in the film version of Picnic (1955), co-starring William Holden and Rosalind Russell. Its director, Joshua Logan, felt that it would be more in character for Novak to have red hair; she agreed to wear a red wig during filming. Picnic was a resounding critical and box-office triumph, and Novak won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. She was also nominated for BAFTA Film Award for Best Foreign Actress, but did not win. She appeared as a mystery guest on the popular game show What’s My Line? on February 5, 1956, to promote the film’s opening at the Radio City Music Hall. Director Otto Preminger then cast her in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), in which she played Frank Sinatra‘s sultry ex-girlfriend. In a cast which included Eleanor Parker, Novak received praise for being one of the film’s bright spots, and the film was a box-office triumph.

 

Novak’s next project, The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), cast her as Marjorie Oelrichs, the wife of pianist Eddy Duchin, played by Tyrone Power. Because Power and she did not get along during filming, Novak nearly considered backing out of the production, but decided against it. At the time of its release, the film was a critical and box-office hit, with many suggesting that Novak’s advertisements for No-Cal diet soda contributed positively to the film’s success. Offered a choice for her next project, she selected the biopic Jeanne Eagels, in which she portrayed the immensely popular stage and silent-screen actress who was addicted to heroin. Co-starring Jeff Chandler, the film was a largely fictional account of Eagels’ life, and despite its success, Eagels’ family sued Columbia over the way Eagels had been depicted in the movie.

After appearing in a series of successful films, Novak became one of the biggest box-office draws of 1957 and 1958. Columbia then placed her in a film adaptation of Pal Joey in 1957, based on the 1940 novel and Broadway play, both written by John O’Hara. Playing Linda English, a naive showgirl, she again co-starred opposite Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth. Released in October, the film received favorable reviews; Variety called the film “strong, funny entertainment,” although Novak’s performance has generated a mixed reaction, partly because of noticeable lack of on-screen charisma. The movie was a box-office hit and has been considered one of Novak’s better performances.

 

Vertigo (1958)

Director Alfred Hitchcock was working on his next film, Vertigo, when his leading actress, Vera Miles, became pregnant and had to withdraw from the complex role of Judy Barton. Hitchcock approached Harry Cohn to offer Novak the female lead without even requesting a screen test. Though Cohn hated the script, he allowed Novak to read it because he considered Hitchcock to be a great director. Novak loved it, as she could identify with the character and agreed to take part in the film without meeting Hitchcock. At the same time, she was striking for more money from Columbia, and refused to show up for work on the Vertigo set to protest her salary of $1,250 a week. Novak hired new agents to represent her and demanded an adjustment in her contract. Cohn, who was paid $250,000 for Novak to do Vertigo, suspended her, but after a few weeks of negotiations, he relented and offered her a new contract worthy of a major star. She was now receiving $3,000 a week and explained to the press, “I don’t like to have anyone take advantage of me.”

Novak finally reported for work, and according to Hitchcock, she had “all sorts of preconceived notions” about her character, including what she would and would not wear. Before shooting started, she told the director she did not like the grey suit and black shoes she was slated to wear, thinking them too heavy and stiff for her character. Novak later recalled, “I didn’t think it would matter to him what kind of shoes I wore. I had never had a director who was particular about the costumes, the way they were designed, the specific colors. The two things he wanted the most were those shoes and that gray suit.” Indeed, Hitchcock explained to Novak that the visual aspect of the film was even more important to him than the story, and insisted on her wearing the suit and the shoes that he had been planning for several months. Novak learned to make it work for her, as she saw it a symbol of her character. Nonetheless, Hitchcock allowed Novak the freedom to develop the character herself. As she later recalled, “It excites me to work on dual personalities because I think I have many myself. And I think that I was able to use so much of me in that movie. At first I was feeling insecure because I kept saying, “Is this right? How do you want me to play this character?” And Hitchcock said, “I hired you and that’s who I want, what you bring to this role. But what I do expect from you is to stand where I want you to, wear what I want you to and speak in the rhythm that I want you to.” And he worked a long time with me to try to get the right rhythm.” The role took on a personal significance for her, as she felt she went through the same thing as her character when she arrived in Hollywood: From my point of view, when I first read those lines where she says, “I want you to love me for me,” and all the talking in that scene, I just identified with it so much because going to Hollywood as a young girl and suddenly finding they want to make you over totally, it’s such a total change and it was like I was always fighting to show some of myself, feeling that I wanted to be there as well. It was like they’d do my hair and go and redo a bunch of things. So I really identified with the fact of someone that was being made over with the resentment, with wanting to. Needing approval and wanting to be loved and willing, eventually, to go to any lengths to get that by changing her hair and all of these different things. And then when Judy appears, it’s another story and then when she has to go through that change. I really identified with the movie because it was saying, “Please, see who I am. Fall in love with me.”

Novak described Hitchcock as a gentleman, but found the experience of working with him to be strange. “I don’t know if he ever liked me. I never sat down with him for dinner or tea or anything, except one cast dinner, and I was late to that. It wasn’t my fault, but I think he thought I had delayed to make a star entrance, and he held that against me. During the shooting, he never really told me what he was thinking.” The director was actually frustrated to have her instead of Vera Miles, as Novak learned later. “Hitchcock didn’t like having me in his picture and he felt I was ruining it. It was only after the film was finished that I heard how much he thought I’d wrecked his picture. I felt I did a lot of good work in that movie, and I got some of the best notices of my career. But Hitchcock couldn’t blame himself, so he blamed me.” Novak got along well with her co-star, James Stewart, who supported her during filming. “He treated me so well. I learned a lot about acting from him. When we had emotional scenes, he had to prepare himself first by somehow going deep inside of himself, and you knew to leave him alone when he was like that. And when it was over, he wouldn’t just walk away. He allowed himself to slowly come out of it. He’d hold my hand and I would squeeze his hand so that we both had time to come down from the emotion.”

The film was poorly received at the time of its release in 1958, and failed at the box office, but has since been re-evaluated and is widely considered one of the director’s best works. In the 2012 British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound critics’ poll, Vertigo was voted as the best film of all time, displacing Orson WellesCitizen Kane from the position it had occupied since 1962. Novak received mixed reviews for her performance, but she managed to surprise film critics. While Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, described her as “really quite amazing,”] the Variety review noted that she was “interesting under Hitchcock’s direction” and “nearer an actress than she was in either Pal Joey or Jeanne Eagles.” The consensus regarding her performance also changed with time. For example, film critic David Thomson thought it was “one of the major female performances in the cinema” and film director Martin Scorsese called it “extraordinary,” adding that Novak’s work was “so brave and emotionally immediate.” However, Novak was disappointed by her performance when she watched the film in 2013. “I was really disappointed. Both characters were exaggerated. They’ll always remember me in Vertigo, and I’m not that good in it, but I don’t blame me because there are a couple of scenes where I was wonderful.”

 

Career slowdown and other early ventures (1958–65)

In 1958, Novak again worked with Stewart in Richard Quine‘s Bell, Book and Candle, a comedy tale of modern-day witchcraft, that proved to be a box-office success. The following year, she starred opposite Fredric March in the acclaimed Middle of the Night (1959), which she has described as not only her favorite of the films she has been in, but also cites her performance in Middle of the Night as her best. In 1960, Novak starred opposite Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet. Richard Quine was the director, as well as her fiancé at the time. The studio planned to give them the house that was built as part of the story line during the filming as a wedding gift, but their wedding never occurred. Instead, during the last film that Quine and she made together in 1962, The Notorious Landlady with Jack Lemmon, she discovered and purchased her future home by the sea near Big Sur, California. It became her retreat and salvation after leaving Hollywood.

In Bell, Book & Candle

She made an independent five-picture deal with Martin Ransohoff and Filmways Pictures to co-produce, but it proved to be a bad choice due to clashes with personalities over scripts. Their first endeavor, Boys’ Night Out (1962), was unsuccessful. After her Hollywood house survived the big Bel Air fire of 1961, it was finally lost a few years later when it was swept away with most of her belongings in a mudslide in 1966. During the interim, she made W. Somerset Maugham‘s drama Of Human Bondage (1964) with Laurence Harvey in Ireland.

Kiss Me, Stupid followed for director Billy Wilder. Actor Peter Sellers had originally been selected, but he had suffered a heart attack, so Ray Walston took his place. Also co-starring was Dean Martin. The film had problems getting released because of conflicts with the Legion of Decency. Later it was rediscovered and acclaimed for its forward thinking and got rave reviews, particularly for Novak’s performance as “Polly the Pistol.” In 1965, she made The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders in England with British actor Richard Johnson. Novak married Johnson in 1965 and divorced him in the spring of 1966. They remained good friends.

Novak, as Moll Flanders

 

Acting sporadically (1966–91)

By the end of 1966, she was emotionally drained and no longer wanted to live the life of a Hollywood movie star, in the glare of the spotlight with the press criticizing her every move. When the mudslide took her Bel Air home and cost her entire life’s savings in bulldozer fees, she moved away from Hollywood to discover herself anew. From then on, acting became a job and was no longer a career of choice. Novak preferred to concentrate on her first love, the visual arts, often writing poetry to accompany her paintings, and even writing some song lyrics. Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio recorded some of her folk songs in the 1960s.

In 1968, she returned to the screen for The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), starring Peter Finch and Ernest Borgnine, and directed by Robert Aldrich. She played a dual role, portraying a person who becomes possessed by a look-alike film actress who gets made over by her obsessive-compulsive director lover. Robert Aldrich asked Novak to do a German accent for that role, but she felt it was unbelievable and over the top, so she did not want to do it, and he never insisted. At the premiere, Novak was totally shocked to hear her voice had been dubbed by a German actress in many scenes. Aldrich had never told her, nor had he given her the opportunity to dub it herself. She was extremely upset. The last film Novak made in the ’60s was The Great Bank Robbery (1969), opposite Zero Mostel, Clint Walker, and Claude Akins.

With David Bowie

After spending nearly four years she described as a “self-imposed vacation”, Novak agreed to take part in two projects. She returned to the screen with a role in the horror anthology film Tales That Witness Madness (1973). Novak also starred as Las Vegas chorus girl Gloria Joyce, a character with whom she could identify, in the made-for-TV movie, The Third Girl From the Left (1973), with her real-life boyfriend at the time, Michael Brandon. Novak admitted a preference for TV films as she thought they were faster to shoot than features. She described scripts of that time as offensive, saying she disliked the unnecessary sex she found in most of them. In 1975, Novak took part in the ABC movie Satan’s Triangle because she liked the story which dealt in the supernatural. Novak had a small role in The White Buffalo (1977), a Western starring Charles Bronson. She ended the decade by playing Helga in Just a Gigolo (1979), opposite David Bowie.

In 1980, Novak played fictional actress Lola Brewster in the British mystery-thriller The Mirror Crack’d, based on the story by Agatha Christie. She co-starred alongside Angela Lansbury, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Novak did not appear in any feature films during the remainder of the 1980s. Her acting credits during the decade included the ensemble television movie Malibu (1983) and the pilot episode of The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985). Producers of the successful primetime soap opera Falcon Crest offered Novak a role in their series similar to her character in Vertigo. She appeared as the secretive “Kit Marlowe” in 19 episodes from 1986 to 1987. It was Novak’s idea to name her character Kit Marlowe, as it was the stage name that Columbia had wanted her to use when she started in the business. The former Marilyn Pauline Novak wryly described this turn of events as effectively being Cohn’s revenge on her from beyond the grave.

In 1989, Novak appeared along with James Stewart as a presenter at the 61st Academy Awards. Asked in the press room about a possible comeback, Novak said that if someone sent her a script she really wanted to do, with a part she felt she could not turn down, she would be happy to go back to work on the big or little screen. At the same time, Novak turned down plenty of offers for movies, as well as an opportunity to appear in a second season of Falcon Crest, to write her autobiography, tentatively titled Through My Eyes. Novak decided to re-establish contact with her agent and seek challenging roles after she realized she was not satisfied artistically. She said at the time, “I feel that I didn’t live up to what I should have done with it. In other words, I’m glad I made the move away from Hollywood: I don’t regret that. I know that was a major thing and a good thing. But by the same token, it was like unfinished business.” She returned to film with the leading role of Rose Sellers in The Children (1990) opposite Ben Kingsley. A British-German coproduction, the film premiered at the London Film Festival and received good reviews. Leonard Maltin praised the acting and felt Novak’s performance was “excellent”. However, following disputes between the director Tony Palmer and the distributor over editing and music, the film was pulled from release and never distributed.

Director Mike Figgis offered Novak the role of a terminally ill writer with a mysterious past in his thriller Liebestraum (1991) opposite Kevin Anderson and Bill Pullman. Novak loved the script and thought it was going to be an important picture. However, her collaboration with Figgis was tense and the two had conflicts from the beginning. Novak agreed to do the film under the impression she was going to play the whole character, but Figgis felt she was unable to play the flashback role the way he wanted, and hired actress Sarah Fearon for those scenes. The two clashed on the set, as their visions of the script differed and were in many ways diametrically opposed. Although she considered him to be a brilliant director, she felt the story was too personal for him, as it was about his own life, and Novak was playing his mother. She was also unhappy, as she felt he wanted her to act like a puppet. “He wanted what he thought Hitchcock had made over. But Hitchcock didn’t do that. Figgis didn’t know Hitchcock. So he treated me the way he thought Hitchcock must have, tried to manipulate me into doing exactly…I went crazy.” Novak later said she was hurt and distraught, as “It was such a painful thing for me because it took me right back to Harry Cohn and all that time. And back into saying, Look, for god’s sake, haven’t you heard it enough? We don’t want you to do anything. Just be ‘Kim Novak.’ That movie pained me more than any movie in the world could do.” Novak later told Movieline in 2005 she felt she had been “unprofessional” not to obey her director. “I know he thinks I’m a total bitch. That role was fabulous, full of depth. When I interpreted it the way I thought was evident in the incredible script, he said, ‘We’re not making a Kim Novak movie, just say the lines. If you continue to play the role this way, I’m going to cut you out of the movie,’ and he pretty much did that.”

Liebestraum

Novak was supposed to do a comedy with the French director Claude Berri, also starring Peter Falk, and a remake of Bell, Book and Candle with Sharon Stone. Neither film was made, and following the difficult experience with Liebestraum, she has usually cited that experience as the reason for her decision to retire from the film industry. In 2004, she told the Associated Press:

I got so burned out on that picture that I wanted to leave the business, but then if you wait long enough you think, “Oh, I miss certain things.” The making of a movie is wonderful. What’s difficult is afterward when you have to go around and try to sell it. The actual filming, when you have a good script — which isn’t often— nothing beats it.

 

Retirement (1992–present)

Since her retirement from acting, Novak has made only rare public appearances and turned down most offers she received. In 1996, Vertigo was given a restoration by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz and re-released to theaters. Novak loved their work so much, she agreed to make appearances at screenings of the film, something she originally refused when Universal asked her in 1984. She also took part in Obsessed with Vertigo, a documentary retracing the making and restoration of the film. In 1997, Novak received an Honorary Golden Bear Award for lifetime achievement at the 47th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 2003, Novak was presented with the Eastman Kodak Archives Award for her major contribution to film. Prior honorees include Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, James Stewart, Martin Scorsese, and Meryl Streep. During that time, Novak received several offers to do some major films and to appear on high-profile television shows. She made an appearance on Larry King Live in 2004, where she stated she would consider returning to the screen “if it was the right role.” In 2010, Novak was the recipient of a special tribute from the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, where her films were shown at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. She made a rare personal appearance with a Q&A onstage between showing of Pal Joey and Bell, Book and Candle, earning a two-minute long standing ovation upon her entrance.

In April 2012, Novak was honored at the TCM Classic Film Festival, where she introduced a screening of Vertigo. She joined in conversation with Robert Osborne for a Q&A session in which she discussed her career and personal life. The hour-long interview aired on TCM as Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival on March 6, 2013. Novak broke down in tears while discussing Liebestraum. As she nearly sobbed in front of the audience, Novak said, “I couldn’t do a movie after that. I’ve never done a movie after that. I just couldn’t do a movie after that.” The interview was an eye-opener for many fans who had wondered why Novak made so few films. Acknowledging that she never reached her potential as an actress, Novak revealed to the audience that she was bipolar and explained, “I was not diagnosed until much later. I go through more of the depression than the mania part. I don’t think I was ever cut out to have a Hollywood life,” Novak also commented. “Did I do the right thing, leaving? Did I walk out when I shouldn’t have? That’s when I get sad.” On the possibility of acting again, Novak said in another interview, with the fashion website LifeGoesStrong, “Who knows what the future holds? It would take an awful lot to lure me out there, but I would never say never.” Also during the TCM Festival, Novak was honored in a handprint and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. That same year, Novak received the San Francisco Cinematic Icon Award from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.

Novak’s “Vertigo/Vortex of Delusion”
At Cannes

After years of seclusion, Novak started to make public appearances more frequently as she felt her body of work was being more appreciated. In 2013, she was recognized as the guest of honor by the Cannes Film Festival and attended the 2013 Festival, where she introduced a new restored version of Vertigo. She also took part in the festival’s closing ceremony as a presenter, earning a standing ovation upon her entrance. In 2014, she was a presenter at the 86th Academy Awards. That same year, she appeared at the TCM Classic Film Festival, where she unveiled her painting Vertigo / Vortex of Delusion commissioned by the TCM network as part of their 20th anniversary. Novak also introduced a screening of her 1958 movie, Bell Book and Candle, during the Festival. Also in 2014, Novak was invited by Cunard Line to be a speaker onboard during a New York-to-London cruise on RMS Queen Mary 2. She introduced screenings of Vertigo and Bell, Book and Candle, and did a Q&A session with Hollywood expert Sue Cameron, who is also her manager. That same year, Novak appeared with both of her art mentors, Harley Brown and Richard McKinley, for a solo show of her paintings at the Butler Institute of American Art.

In 2015, Novak attended the 22nd Febiofest international film festival, where she received the Kristián Award for her contribution to world cinema and also had an exhibition of her paintings at the Strahov Monastery. She hosted special screenings of Vertigo featuring live performances of Bernard Herrmann‘s score by members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and by members of the San Francisco Symphony at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in 2016. Also in 2016, Novak was invited by Turner Classic Movies to be a guest on their Caribbean Cruise where she sold five of her paintings and was able to raise nearly $7,000 for the prevention of teenage suicide with the auction of a framed giclée of her.

In 2018, Novak joined in conversation with Larry King for a Q&A session at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, in celebration of Vertigo’s 60th Anniversary. That same year, she was the recipient of a special tribute from the Castro Theatre, A Tribute to Living Legend Kim Novak.

 

Honors

Novak was honored in a handprint & footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 2012.

In 1955, Novak won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female. Two years later she won another Golden Globe for World Favorite Female Actress. On February 8, 1960, Novak was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6332 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1995, Novak was ranked 92nd by Empire Magazine on a list of the 100 sexiest stars in film history. Novak was honored with a Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement at the 47th Berlin International Film Festival in 1997 and was presented with the Eastman Kodak Archives Award for her major contribution to film in 2003. In 2012, Novak was honored in a handprint and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. That same year, she received the S.F. Cinematic Icon Award from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for her screen contributions in San Francisco with Pal Joey and Vertigo. Her contribution to world cinema was also rewarded with the Kristián Award she was given at the 22nd Febiofest international film festival in 2015.

Naomi Watts, in Mulholland Drive

Novak influenced many actors, as well as fashion designers with the roles she played. Naomi Watts stated that her character interpretation in Mulholland Drive (2001) was influenced by the look and performances of Novak in Vertigo. Renée Zellweger said that Novak was “pure magic” and dressed up as her character from Vertigo for a photo shoot for March 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. Nicole Kidman wrote Novak a letter saying she was “an inspiration to me and to women everywhere. Your cinematic body of work speaks for yourself, but so does the other side of Kim Novak – the free spirit who left Hollywood to live atop the hills of Big Sur. Kim Novak the painter and llama farmer. 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.”

“The Novak”

In 2005, British fashion designer Alexander McQueen named his first It Bag The Novak, saying, “I’m drawn to Kim Novak in the same way that Hitchcock was. She had an air of uptightness you wouldn’t want to cross.”

 

 

Personal life

Novak’s first marriage was to English actor Richard Johnson. It lasted 13 months, from March 15, 1965 to April 23, 1966. The two remained friends afterwards.

After her engagement to director Richard Quine, much was made of her relationships with Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ramfis Trujillo, the adopted son of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. She dated Frank Sinatra, Richard Beymer, and actor Michael Brandon. A BBC documentary claimed that Columbia Studios chief, Harry Cohn, to end her relationship with a black man, had mobsters threaten Sammy Davis, Jr., with blinding or having his legs broken if he did not marry a black woman within 48 hours.

Novak and Sammy Davis Jr.

In the 1960s, Novak left Hollywood for Big Sur, where she raised horses and painted, making an occasional film. In 1974, she met her present husband, equine veterinarian Robert Malloy, when he made a house call after one of her Arabian mares suffered colic. They have been together ever since, and married on March 12, 1976. As a result of her marriage, she has two adult stepchildren. The couple built a log home along the Williamson River near Chiloquin.

In 1997, Novak bought a 43-acre ranch in Sams Valley, Oregon, which they made into their home. Novak took classes in painting with pastels from artists Harley Brown and Richard McKinley. In July 2000, their home burned to the ground, and she lost all her art and the only draft of the autobiography she had been working on for 10 years.

In 2006, Novak was injured in a horse-riding accident. She suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, and nerve damage, but made a full recovery within a year.

In October 2010, her manager, Sue Cameron, reported that Novak had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cameron also noted that Novak is “undergoing treatment” and “her doctors say she is in fantastic physical shape and should recover very well.” Upon completion of treatment, Novak was declared cancer-free.

In 2014, after Novak’s rare public appearance at the 86th Academy Awards, the media and social commentary indicated she was hardly recognizable, which resulted in speculation that she had undertaken substantial cosmetic surgery. Novak was devastated by the criticism — “It really did throw me into a tailspin and it hit me hard,” and wrote an open letter in which she stood up to all of her Oscar-night “bullies.” Novak admitted that she “had fat injections in my face” as she felt “they seemed far less invasive than a face-lift,” but later regretted it, “So why did I do it? I trusted somebody doing what I thought they knew how to do best. I should have known better, but what do you do? We do some stupid things in our lives.”

Novak continues her creative endeavors today as a photographer, poet, and visual artist who paints in watercolor, oil, and pastel. Her paintings are impressionistic and surrealistic.

 

The Naked Spur

Screenshot 2016-03-23 13.33.08

I thought it might be fun to switch the focus of these monthly blogposts, from actors to films — the sorts of movies the main character in my Mike Montego series of novels might have watched as a kid or young man. They quite literally “don’t make ’em like this” anymore!

We’ll start with The Naked Spur, a 1953 Technicolor  Western film directed by Anthony Mann, starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, and Robert Ryan. Written by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom, the film is about a bounty hunter who tries to bring a murderer to justice, and is forced to accept the help of two strangers who are less than trustworthy. The original music score was composed by Bronislau Kaper and the cinematography was by William C. Mellor. The Naked Spur was filmed on location in Durango and the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, and Lone Pine, California. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay—a rare honor for a Western. This was the third Western film collaboration between Anthony Mann and James Stewart.

 

Plot

In March 1868, Howard Kemp (James Stewart) is tracking Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan), who is wanted for the murder of the marshal in Abilene, Kansas.

On the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Southwestern Colorado, Kemp meets a grizzled old prospector, Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), and offers him twenty dollars to help out. Tate assumes that Kemp is a sheriff and Kemp does nothing to disillusion him.

They trap someone on top of a rocky hill who Kemp is convinced must be his wanted man. Rockslides force a retreat. Looking for a way around the hill, Kemp and Tate meet up with a Union soldier, Lieutenant Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker). He has been discharged from the 6th Cavalry at Fort Ellis in Bozeman and is heading east. Tate questions why Anderson isn’t on the Bozeman Trail. Anderson’s story is that there are some “bad tempered Indians” whose chief’s daughter fell in with a handsome young army lieutenant. Kemp has a chance to see Anderson’s discharge order in which he is described as “morally unstable,” and given a dishonorable discharge.

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Tate tells Anderson that Kemp is a sheriff. With the aid of Anderson, who scales a sheer cliff face, Vandergroat is caught, along with his companion, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh), the daughter of Vandergroat’s friend, Frank Patch, who was shot dead trying to rob a bank in Abilene.

Vandergroat sets Tate and Anderson straight on two facts: that Kemp is no lawman, and that a reward is offered to bring him in— $5000, dead or alive. Tate and Anderson want their shares, to aid Kemp in getting Vandergroat back to Kansas. Lina is convinced that her father’s friend is innocent.

On the trail to Abilene, Vandergroat attempts to turn his captors against each other, using greed as his weapon. He also encourages Lina to use her beauty to divide Kemp and Anderson. When scouting a way through a mountain pass, Kemp and Tate spot a dozen Blackfeet, a normally friendly tribe, far from their normal hunting grounds. They tell the others and Anderson confesses that the Indians are after him. Kemp tells Anderson to hightail it out of there to avoid being captured by the Blackfeet. Anderson thinks Kemp just wants a bigger share of the reward money. He rides ahead, and from his position hidden behind a fallen tree trunk, with his rifle he elects to pick off a chief of the Blackfeet, at the moment Kemp’s group have confronted the Indians and are about to engage them in talk.

During the ensuing battle, Kemp saves Lina from the Blackfeet and she, in turn, helps him when he is shot in the leg. Later, Kemp passes out on the trail and awakes from a delirious nightmare. He thinks Lina is Mary, his ex-fiancée. Vandergroat tells the others that Mary sold Kemp’s ranch, which he left in her safekeeping, while he was serving in the army during the Civil War, and then went off with another man. Vandergroat further reveals that Kemp is determined to buy his ranch back, and that it can’t happen if he splits the reward money with Anderson and Tate.

Lina’s feelings of loyalty to her father’s friend, combined with an attraction to Kemp, confuses her. She has never seen Vandergroat hurt anyone unless it was in a fair fight, but after he loosens Kemp’s saddle cinch and tries to push him off a high mountain pass, Lina’s sympathies for Kemp grow.

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Taking refuge from a storm in a cave, Vandergroat manipulates Lina into distracting Kemp. She tells the rancher of her dream to go to California, where no one knows her and she can make a fresh start. He tells her of his wish to repurchase his ranch. They kiss and this gives Ben a chance to escape. Kemp catches Vandergroat, and Anderson suggests that since the reward is for a “dead or alive” criminal, they should just kill the troublemaker. Tate stops Anderson but, caught up in the anger of the moment and hurt by what he sees as Lina’s treachery, Kemp challenges Vandergroat to a shoot out. The wanted man declines to take part.

Next day, the group comes to a high-running river. They argue about whether to cross or go downstream. Anderson grabs a rope and throws it around Vandergroat’s neck and says he’ll drag him across the river. A fight ensues between Kemp and Anderson, as Vandergroat watches with malicious enjoyment. Kemp finally manages to kick Anderson unconscious. While Kemp and Anderson recover from the fight and Lina searches for firewood, Vandergroat convinces Tate to sneak off with him to find a gold mine, the whereabouts of which Vandergroat has been tempting the old man with. When they depart during the night, he convinces Tate to take Lina along.

Vandergroat and Lina ride double; Tate follows, holding a rifle on them. Ben suddenly yells, “Snake!” and in the confusion grabs Tate’s rifle from him and kills him. He fires two more shots in order to lure Kemp and Anderson to a spot where he intends to kill them. Lina finally sees Vandergroat for what he is.

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Kemp and Anderson discover Tate’s body where Vandergroat has positioned it for an ambush from the high cliff face. Preparing to shoot Kemp, Vandergroat is caught off guard when Lina grabs the rifle barrel, saving Kemp’s life. While Anderson exchanges gunfire with Vandergroat, Kemp removes one of his spurs to aid in climbing up the back of the cliff to outflank Vandergroat. He uses the spur as a combination climbing tool and makeshift piton.

Vandergroat, hearing Kemp, gets the drop on the rancher. However, before he can pull the trigger, Kemp throws his spur into the killer’s left cheek. As Ben reels from the pain of the spur, he is shot by Anderson and his body falls into the nearby river, becoming entangled in the roots of a tree. Anderson lassos a branch on the other side of the river and crosses using the rope. He then wraps it around Ben’s body but is crushed by a large tree stump barrelling down the river.

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Kemp grabs the rope and drags Vandergroat’s body across the river and, in a rage, vows that he will take him back to reclaim his land. Lina pleads with him not to take blood money for bringing Vandergroat in. She says she will go with him, no matter what, marry him, and live with him on the ranch. Kemp realizes what he is doing and his love for Lina makes him stop. He begins digging a grave to bury Vandergroat and they decide to make for California, leaving their pasts behind.

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Cast

 

Production

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The Naked Spur was the third of five Western collaborations between James Stewart and Anthony Mann and also, third of the eight collaborations they did overall. Two previous Westerns included Winchester ’73 (1950) and Bend of the River (1952). The film is notable for having only five actors.

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Robert Ryan, known for his roles as ruthless villains and hard-boiled cops, would work with Mann again in Men in War (1957) and God’s Little Acre (1958). Janet Leigh starred alongside Ryan in the film noir Act of Violence (1948), which was directed by Fred Zinnemann. Ralph Meeker was cast as Roy Anderson, a disgraced Army officer.

Millard Mitchell, who played Jesse Tate, a grizzled old prospector, died at fifty years of age from lung cancer shortly after this picture. This was his next-to-last movie, followed by Here Come the Girls (released October 1953), starring Bob Hope.

The film was filmed on location in Durango and the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, and Lone Pine, California. According to writer and historian Frederic B. Wildfang, during filming, Stewart dedicated a monument in town, marking the area as the “Hollywood of the Rockies.” Production started in late May and ended in June 1952.

 

Reception

The film premiered in the first day of February 1953. That same year, two other films directed by Mann and starring Stewart were also released: Thunder Bay and The Glenn Miller Story.

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According to MGM records the film earned $2,423,000 in the US and Canada and $1,427,000 overseas, resulting in a profit to the studio of $1,081,000. This success ensured three more Stewart-Mann collaborations, including two more westerns. Screenwriters Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom were nominated for the 1953 Best Screenplay Academy Award. In the years since its release, the film has achieved continued success, gaining more critical acclaim now than upon first release. Leonard Maltin has lauded The Naked Spur as “one of the best westerns ever made.”

In 1997, The Naked Spur was added to the United States National Film Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”