She “wasn’t cut out for a Hollywood life;” those are the words of screen legend Kim Novak, who sat down for an intimate interview with TCM host Robert Osborne. Kim Novak: Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival is a fifty minute documentary, filmed last year at the fest, that explores Novak’s childhood, her rise to fame, and her decision to leave it all behind. Of course, the documentary is great publicity for the upcoming TCM Classic Film Festival, and only expands my ire that I won’t be there, but it also lets Novak be candid in her thoughts. It’s worth sitting down for, and hopefully TCM will be replaying it leading up to this year’s fest.
Since it’s an interview with no set plot, I’ll discuss items about Novak I found interesting, or wasn’t aware of before. I had assumed that Novak had a lengthy career, but after her big hits in the fifties her career was scattered. She was a “reluctant superstar” to begin with, but also felt that the right scripts weren’t headed her way. The predominant discussion in the interview swirls around Novak’s studio career, and said studio’s inability to find a place for her. She was continually compared to Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, and in one moment describes how studio heads would say she should look more like those stars. The molding of ingenues to fit established archetypes is nothing new, but you can see it really hurt Novak because she only knew how to be her. Her story is the tale of the actress: “Stand there and be pretty.” Novak felt she was vocal about her distaste for this, but you can see she has some regrets; one of which is whether she left Hollywood too early. She alludes to the last movie she made (according to IMDB, it’s a 1991 movie called Liebstraum) where she didn’t feel the director captured her performance, and the fear that she didn’t stand up to him. It’s obvious this final film holds a lot of pain for her, as evidenced by how she holds back the full story. In the end, she felt that the collapse of the studio system didn’t acknowledge creativity. Novak wasn’t the “beach girl” like Sandra Dee. It’s apparent she wants to throw down the gauntlet and say the scripts were garbage, but she’s a class act throughout and never denigrates anybody.
Underneath, Kim Novak opens herself up to the audience, both in the theater and watching at home. The spellbinding portion of the interview is seeing glimpses of Novak’s life, both past and present. Beautiful pictures of her and her siblings are shown; her early modeling photos play over her voice, as she describes doing advertisements for refrigerators and going to San Francisco where she was discovered. Behind the glossy façade is the story of a difficult childhood, filled with mental illness and marital strife. She doesn’t elaborate on her parent’s problems, and for such a private actress one can’t expect her to divulge every detail. There seems to be a fair bit of pain left, and it comes to a point when Novak details her own struggles with bipolar disorder. If she’s revealed this previously, I couldn’t find anything. If she confessed this, for the first time, to a roomful of strangers than more power to her. She breaks down in detailing her fears and anxieties over being unliked and forgotten which couldn’t be further from the truth as evidenced by all the people who are in the theater. Her strength comes out amongst the tears, and one of her hobbies now is painting. A few of her paintings are included in the photo section and she is a magnificent artist. She mentions possibly doing a showing in the future, and hopefully it goes on tour. Her regret, frustration, fear, and sadness is palpable, and it shows that beneath the glamour is a real woman.
The doc includes clips from all of her major motion pictures, including her earliest movies (The French Line). If anything, the interview should inspire legions of fans, both current and future to watch Novak’s filmography. Novak also sets the record straight on her relationship with Sammy Davis, Jr. A relationship that, allegedly, got her into trouble with the studio due to the laws about interracial relationships at the time. She says that they were never more than friends, but that she was told not to associate with him. She never listened, and felt it was ridiculous that she couldn’t be friends with someone due to their skin color. Currently, Novak lives in a gorgeous house in Oregon, where she’s been married (to a veterinarian) for thirty years! Hopefully, Novak has found the happiness in life that the movies couldn’t sustain. If Kim Novak: Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival reairs on TCM, I advise you all to check it out. You can see celebrity interviews in the flesh by attending this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival which runs April 25th-28th.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.