“Kim Novak, the rebellious soul of Hollywood”, on Arte: the fights of a free star with a strong character


Kim Novak in “Cold Sweats” (“Vertigo”), by Alfred Hitchcock, in 1958.


For a career in Hollywood in the early 1950s, Novak is not a highly recommended name. Not glamorous enough, not American enough, too Eastern European connotations. In this ruthless universe, where glory, money and machismo mingle, those who want to shine must accept everything, even to change their identity. One example among others? The divine Rita Hayworth (1918-1987), born Margarita Cansino.

Read also the interview (in 1997) with: Article reserved for our subscribers Kim Novak, actress

But in this year 1953, during her first camera test and facing the tyrannical Harry Cohn (1891-1958), all-powerful boss of Columbia who spotted her and wanted to make her the rival of a certain Marilyn Monroe (1926 -1962, born Norma Jeane Mortenson), Fox star, the young Marilyn Novak, 20, has no intention of changing her name, too proud of her Czech origins.

Harry Cohn may insist, but she resists him. And will finally keep the right to keep his name while agreeing to change his first name and let himself be dyed platinum blond, a necessary step to feed the supposed male fantasies of the time. Kim Novak, who never dreamed of being a movie star but wanted to be a painter, won a fight. There will be others.

This documentary rich in comments from the interested party retraces the career of an extraordinary woman

This documentary rich in filmed archives from the 1950s and 1960s, and comments from the interested party, 90 years old today (she was born on February 13, 1933) and one of the last stars of the great Hollywood era still in life, traces the career of an extraordinary woman. Raised in a working-class neighborhood of Chicago, on a scholarship from the Art Institute, where she was destined to become a painter – which she would succeed after having, without regret, left Hollywood behind –, Kim Novak will always keep control over her career and his destiny.

“I wanted to show my soul”

Film noir, comedy, Novak can do it all and his first steps in front of the camera are noticed. THE New York Times will write: “Kim Novak is the most delicious dish that the public has had the pleasure of tasting this season. » In 1955, the dreaded Otto Preminger (1905-1986) offered him his first major role in The Man with the Golden Arm. Novak’s career takes off: European tour, celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival. But Columbia confines her to roles that mainly exploit her physical beauty. And it does not please him: “I didn’t want to be a sex symbol, I wanted to show my soul”she recalls.

He will have to wait until 1958 and his meeting with Alfred Hitchcock to finally be offered a role that matches his talent. In Cold sweat, Novak enters the legend of cinema. But the struggle continues. Paid ten times less than her male colleagues, the star demands to renegotiate her contracts. “I felt strong enough to win this fight”, she says. Mad with rage, Harry Cohn suspends her… before giving in and multiplying his salary by four!

Read the review (in 1959): Article reserved for our subscribers “Cold sweats”, where reason wanders

In 1957, she met Sammy Davis Jr at a party. Love at first sight, but in 1950s America, a blonde actress with a black man, however rich and popular, is not done. A huge scandal breaks out, end of the idyll.

By founding his own production company, Kim Novak confirms his status as a free star. But his great passion remains painting. In 1966, a landslide caused the collapse of his villa in Los Angeles. It’s the click: the beautiful 33-year-old bachelor leaves Hollywood and finally becomes a painter. “On a canvas, you are simultaneously the actor, the producer, the director! »she summarizes.

Kim Novak, the rebellious soul of Hollywood, documentary by Jessica Menendez (Fr., 2022, 52 min). Available on demand on Arte.tv until May 10, 2023.


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