Notable Oregonians: Kim Novak - Actress
Marilyn Pauline (Kim) Novak was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 13, 1933, Both of her Czech parents were former teachers and her father worked as a railroad clerk. As a young student, Novak's artistic talent was recognized early when she won a scholarship to the prestigious Chicago Art Institute. She modeled teen fashions for a local department store after graduating from high school and later attended a modeling academy on scholarship. Novak also worked as an elevator operator, sales clerk, and dental assistant before landing a job touring the country as "Miss Deepfreeze" to promote a refrigerator manufacturer's products.
While touring in Los Angeles, she was cast in an uncredited cameo in a 1954 Jane Russell film. A talent director saw her and brought her to the attention of Columbia Pictures studio chief Harry Cohn, who offered her a long-term contract. Cohn envisioned Novak as the Columbia Pictures version of blonde bombshell actress Marilyn Monroe. In order to avoid confusion with Monroe, Novak changed her first name from Marilyn to Kim.
Her career quickly took off. She captured the attention of both audiences and critics with her first role as a femme fatale with Fred MacMurray in the 1954 film noir Pushover before starring with Jack Lemmon in the comedy Phfft the next year. Novak's star continued to rise with her roles opposite William Holden in the Academy Award-winning drama Picnic and with Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955. By 1957, she was on the cover of Time magazine and was a top Hollywood box office draw.
Novak's most memorable work was in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo with James Stewart. While the film was not a big box office hit, it is now considered by many critics to be one of the best films ever made. She played the dual roles of the elegantly mysterious blonde Madeleine Elster who became the object of Stewart's obsession and the bookish brunette look alike Judy Barton who was remade by Stewart in Madeleine's image. Novak's acting brought out both her seductive qualities and her internal conflict about the sexual nature of her image and the way that others manipulated it.
By the early 1960s, her career was hampered by a string of mediocre films, although she did act in Billy Wilder's cult classic Kiss Me, Stupid and a remake of Somerset Maugham's drama Of Human Bondage in 1964. Perhaps more interesting than the film roles she accepted during the period are the film roles she rejected, including parts in classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Hustler, Days of Wine and Roses, and The Sandpiper. Novak continued to act in films and television off and on over subsequent decades but never regained the prominence of the 1950s. Her last feature film was released in 1991.
After a brief marriage in the mid-1960s, she married veterinarian Dr. Robert Malloy in 1976. They purchased a historic home on 43 acres near the Rogue River in southern Oregon's Sams Valley in 1997. The house was destroyed by fire in 2000, resulting in the loss of the only draft of her autobiography. Retired from acting since 1991, she and her husband raise horses and llamas. Novak continues her artistic endeavors with watercolor and oil paintings, sculpture, stained glass, photography, and poetry.