Novak turned her focus from modeling to acting after 'Columbia Pictures' scouted her while she was auditioning for “extras” in two ‘RKO’ films.
'Columbia Pictures' chief Harry Cohn saw enough potential in her to be the next Rita Hayworth, the superstar of the 1940s, or Marilyn Monroe, the star of '20th Century Fox.' Cohn, with the intent to groom her into a sex-symbol, wanted to change her name to ''Kit Marlowe,'' as he believed Novak's Polack name would not be accepted in the industry.
Novak, however, wanted to stay away from being stereotyped and thus argued to retain her real name in the industry. The two reached a compromise and zeroed in on "Kim Novak."
Kim Novak made her first major film appearance in the 1954 noir crime drama 'Pushover' (as 'Lona McLane'). She had a brief but significant role in the black-and-white romantic comedy 'Phffft' (as 'Janis'). Both the films were box-office successes and earned her immense acclaim.
Co-starring with Guy Madison, Novak played 'Kay Greylek' in the 1955 heist film '5 Against the House.' The film, however, did not perform well at the box office. She won a 'Golden Globe Award' and secured a ‘BAFTA’ nomination (for the “Best Foreign Actress”) for her performance as 'Marjorie "Madge" Owens' in the superhit romantic comedy 'Picnic,' adapted from William Inge's play.
She was cast as 'Molly Novotny,’ opposite Frank Sinatra, in 'The Man with the Golden Arm,' the film adaptation of Nelson Algren's novel of the same name. Her performance in the film was noticed and praised.
Novak was cast to play real-life pianist Eddy Duchin’s wife, Marjorie Oelrichs (opposite Tyrone Power as Duchin), in the biopic 'The Eddy Duchin Story.' The two did not get along with each other on the sets. Thus, Novak almost quit the project. However, she changed her mind at the last moment.
The film's huge success was largely attributed to her TV commercial for ‘No-Cal’ diet soda. Her next project, 'Jeanne Eagels' (1957), was again a biopic on the heroin-addicted ‘Broadway’ star Jeanne Eagels. Novak played the titular role, opposite Jeff Chandler. Unlike the previous biopic, this one received negative reviews. Jeanne's family even sued the makers for the way she had been portrayed in the movie.
Novak (as 'Linda English') shared screen space with Rita Hayworth and (once again) with Sinatra in John O'Hara's 1957 musical adaptation of 'Pal Joey.' Although the film was a box-office success, Novak's performance received mixed reviews. Nevertheless, she still managed to retain her stardom, which led to the release of her next magnum opus, Alfred Hitchcock's noir psychological drama 'Vertigo.'
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Novak was overwhelmed to be cast in the film (alongside James Stewart), as she could relate to the character. However, she was going through a difficult time back then, as she was on strike, demanding a salary hike. Her new contract was subsequently altered, and she received a salary hike. Following this, Novak began shooting for 'Vertigo.' Hitchcock encouraged her to make several creative contributions to the film.
Even though the film initially opened to mixed reviews, with time, it became a cult classic. It is now regarded as one of Hitchcock's best works. Novak's double role (as 'Judy Barton' and 'Madeleine Elster'), too, was well-received, though she herself was not satisfied with her performance.
The Novak–Stewart pairing was seen on screen again in the box-office hit 'Technicolor' romantic comedy 'Bell, Book and Candle' (1958). The movie starred Novak as 'Gillian "Gil" Holroyd' and Stewart as 'Shepherd "Shep" Henderson.’
Her next project, the acclaimed drama movie 'Middle of the Night' (1959), is one of her favorite films. Her performance (as 'Betty Preisser') in the movie is also one of her best.
She co-starred with Kirk Douglas in the romantic film 'Strangers When We Meet' (1960), directed by her then-fiance, Richard Quine. Her last film was the British comedy–mystery 'The Notorious Landlady' (1962), in which she played the landlady 'Carlyle ''Carly'' Hardwicke.'
Even though her house was saved in the Bel Air fire of 1961, Novak suffered a considerable financial loss. However, she decided to step into production later. Novak signed an independent contract with producer Martin Ransohoff and 'Filmways Pictures' for five films. The team's first project was the 1962 romantic comedy 'Boys' Night Out,' which featured her in the role of 'Cathy.' The film crashed at the box office. Following this, the contract had to be terminated, as Novak and the other participants eventually walked out due to clashes related to creative inputs.
After the debacle of the British adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's drama 'Of Human Bondage' (1964), she starred in the sex comedy 'Kiss Me, Stupid.' ‘Kiss Me, Stupid’ was commercially successful, but Novak's performance (as 'Polly' the ''Pistol") was heavily criticized. Thus, this marked the beginning of her career's downfall.
Novak then appeared as 'Moll Flanders' in the historical comedy 'The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders.' The movie was a mild box-office success.
The following year was tough for her. Within a year, she had lost her home in a mudslide and had gone through a divorce. It was not a great year for her on the professional front either, as an injury got her replaced in the mystery movie 'Eye of the Devil.' By the end of the year, Novak wanted to quit Hollywood.
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Novak eventually turned toward her other passion, painting. She simultaneously pursued songwriting, too. Some of her folk songs were recorded for Harry Belafonte and 'The Kingston Trio.'
She, however, made a comeback on screen with the 1968 drama film 'The Legend of Lylah Clare' (1968), in which she again played multiple roles ('Lylah Clare'/'Elsa Brinkmann'/'Elsa Campbell'), similar to her double role in 'Vertigo.' Sadly, the film was a box-office disaster, earning her the worst criticism of her career till then.
After a gap of 4 years, Novak returned with appearances in a lot of TV movies. She appeared in the horror anthology film 'Tales That Witness Madness' (1973) and then starred as 'Gloria Joyce' in the TV movie 'The Third Girl from the Left.'
Subsequently, Novak was part of a couple of flop films, too, playing quite brief roles in some of them. Some such films were the ‘ABC’ movie 'Satan's Triangle,' 'The White Buffalo' (1977), and 'Just a Gigolo' (1979). Her only relatively successful project during that period was the 1980 British mystery–thriller 'The Mirror Crack'd' (as 'Lola Brewster'). It was her only film appearance in the decade.
In the 1980s, she also appeared as 'Billie Farnsworth' in the TV movie 'Malibu.' From 1986 to 1987, she played the secretive 'Kit Marlowe' in 19 episodes of the ‘CBS’ primetime soap opera 'Falcon Crest.' She turned down the offer of appearing in the following season of the show, as she was busy with her autobiography, tentatively titled 'Through My Eyes.'
Novak's final leading role was that of 'Rose Sellers' in the 1990 British–German drama film 'The Children.' The movie received good reviews. Her last film appearance was that of the terminally ill 'Lillian Anderson Munnsen' in the 1991 thriller 'Liebestraum.' Reportedly, Novak had a difficult experience filming the thriller due to her constant clashes with director Mike Figgis.
In 1995, she was featured on the list of the ''100 Sexiest Stars in Film History'' curated by 'Empire' magazine.
The negative experience she had had during the filming of 'Liebestraum' made her turn down an offer from French director Claude Berri. She was also considered for a remake of 'Bell, Book, and Candle,' but the project never materialized. Novak thus decided to end her tiresome journey in Hollywood and retire.
She did a solo show of her paintings at the 'Butler Institute of American Art' in 2014 and also exhibited her paintings at the 'Strahov Monastery' the following year.
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Novak got married to Richard Johnson, a Shakespearean actor from England, on March 15, 1965. She had started dating him while filming 'The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders.' They had an amicable divorce in April 1966 and remained as friends after that.
She then met Dr. Robert Malloy in 1974. Dr. Robert was the vet of her horse. The two got married 2 years later. She has two stepchildren from Robert’s previous relationship.
Novak has also dated Sammy Davis, Jr., Ramfis Trujillo, Michael Brandon, Wilt Chamberlain, David Hemmings, and Porfirio Rubirosa.
Novak bought her Big Sur house while filming 'The Notorious Landlady.' She now spends her time raising horses and painting. She learned pastel painting under the tutelage of artists Harley Brown and Richard McKinley.
On July 24, 2000, her Eagle Point house was destroyed in a fire. Along with that, she lost all her memento, her artwork, and the only draft of her autobiography.
In October 2010, Novak was diagnosed with breast cancer. After going through a complete course of treatment, she is now fully recovered.
In 2014, she shocked everyone after making an appearance at the 86th 'Academy Awards' ceremony. The media mocked her for the cosmetic surgery that she had undergone to fix her face, which had made her unrecognizable. The whole incident had a profound impact on Novak.