I Believed: And God Blessed Me—Kim Novak
A few days from now, God willing, a girl with excited, amber eyes and a soft whiff of pearl blonde hair will be waiting eagerly among the crowd in the cold, at an air field near New York—waiting with a Christmas gift for the man who is most important in her life, Mario Bandini.
Her gift will be a very large package, tied with a bright red bow and wrapped in cellophane, so the heart of it—and all the people who are part of it—will show.
The gift: America at Christmas—All the people whose affection and faith made an insecure duckling of a girl—a girl who was so sure she would never be anybody—so sure she would never belong anywhere, into a famous star who belongs to millions today.
It’s important to Kim that the tall, gracious, dark-haired Italian Bandini, so much a part of his country, should meet the people, the country that is so much a part of her.
“Mario’s never been here. I’ll be able to give him the present that I think is the most endearing present you can give: Being able to show someone your own country for the first time,” Kim Novak says in her soft, excited breathy way.
“I wanted him to see America at Christmas—I think Mario can get the best picture of family life here at this time. All across the country this is the family-time—when he can see best how much our families and home life mean to us. And I wanted Mario to see America for the first —time—that way.”
To see America with its heart showing—even a little more.
Their days together will go very fast—too fast perhaps for Kim to show him all the things she wants him to see. All those things, each for its own reason, so important to her.
“I think New York has the flavor of America—and I don’t mean any particular flavor. There’s just such a wonderful feeling about New York before Christmas. The cold, and everybody shopping. The ice skaters and the tall tree in the square. I’d like for Mario to see Central Park, and I want to take him over to Walgreen’s Drug Store at noon and have a soda and let him see the crowd there. The intangible things you can’t understand or know or feel without really seeing.
“I want to make Mario part of my life—as he has made me part of his—
“He showed me where he was born and where he’d lived. I met his family and his friends. I saw the places where he went to school, where he grew up as a child—the little family chapel where he’d always worshipped in their country home.
“I was able to share all this with him, and to know his life. And I want to be able to show him the people and places and things—the little things—that mean my life, too.
“I’d love for him to meet my mother and father and sister and her family, and we plan to spend Christmas with them. I want him to see how we live here. I’d like for him to meet a few of the neighbors I’ve grown up with, show him where I used to take walks when I was a little girl, and go and sit at the train station.
“Mario’s seen pictures of our wish-bone tree, and now I’ll show him the backyard where all my little animals were buried at the old house. I want to take him to the grammar school where I went, and show him where I carved my name on a bench and on the trees. Of course it’s carved with other ‘men’s’ names—” Kim smiles, “but they’re a part of me.
“They’re part of my life—all these things—and it’s important to share them with Mario, so he will understand my life, too.”
At home, in Chicago. Kim’s Mario will meet a girl named Marilyn, a sensitive little girl who lived in the safe world of her own imagination, peopled with animals and flowers and clowns. He’ll see the wish-bone tree where the child who felt herself a misfit wished and longed to be liked—longed to belong to a crowd.
And there—in the Novak home—Mario will meet a little family of clowns still in Kim’s room. The commander is gone, the beloved musical clown who tinkled “Brahms’ Lullabye.” But the others still wait—a little polka dot colony of clowns who listened when she wrote a song of prayer:
“If faith and love be your guide
The Lord will walk by your side. . .”
—and smiled and cried when she sang her prayer over and over and over—to them. . . .
Little clowns who were a sympathetic audience for a shy and lonely little girl, tortured with her own fears of being a misfit, of not being wanted by other children, of being giggled at, because she was “different” from them.
Mario will go back to the old neighborhood where these fears were born in an over-sensitive little girl. Where there were only five of her own religion in the whole school, and none of her nationality. Where a little girl in braids and wearing old-fashioned clothes made by her Czechoslovakian Grandmother Kral felt the resentment of other children and their cruel laughter.
“I was probably dressed better than many of the others, because my grandmother was a fantastic dressmaker, but she dressed us very plainly. At that age all the girls wanted to be girly and feminine, and they would be in curls and frilly things. I’d always be wearing suspenders and my hair in braids. There was nothing wrong with it except—”
Except that an acutely sensitive little girl longed with all her heart to be like the others. And came home from school to pour her heart out to a dog or a clown or a wish-bone tree—
“Nobody in my own home even knew what was wrong with me. I’ve read that I had a complex because my sister, Arlene, was so much more assured and prettier than I. But this wasn’t it at all. Nobody really knew—they had no way of knowing. I was always very introverted, and I never spoke of anything that bothered me. I would just go in and close my bedroom door and be by myself. So that everyone just sort of guessed at what was wrong,” Kim was saying now.
“Arlene went through this neighborhood thing too. But she wasn’t as sensitive as I was. The same thing can happen to two different people and it can affect them in different ways. Everything always affected me so much more. Something somebody else would think was nothing was a tragedy to me.”
Around other children, she felt all thumbs and heavy feet. “It seemed everything I said, everything I did then was wrong. I seemed to be weighed down with this great responsibility that I felt toward myself—even at nine years old—of trying so very hard to be a better person. I wanted so very much to have a gay, carefree fun-time like the others. I’d plan exactly in my mind and in my dreams how I hoped things would turn out. But it never worked out that way. I didn’t know what to do about me or where to turn.”
Kim’s concerned and loving mother, who’d always made religion part of their everyday lives, told her to put her faith in God and He would guide her no matter what was troubling her.
“No one in the world who believes in God, who loves and trusts Him, needs to worry. Have faith, Marilyn, that God will help you and take care of you,” she said.
And so, one night alone in her room, a nine-year-old girl wrote a song of prayer and sang it to a clown’s lullabye. . . .
“I remember I kevt thinking about what Mother had said, wanting so very much to let myself be guided. As I thought about her words, I was listening to my lucky clown music box playing ‘Brahms’ Lullabye,’ and it seemed to be singing my poem to me. I remember almost listening—I guess to my own thoughts—and writing down the words:
Faith and love be your guide
And the angels will bless you.
Always love God,
Always trust God,
Faith and love will be your guide.
Faith and love be your guide—
The Lord will walk at your side.
“And from then on, when something would happen that I didn’t understand, I’d sing them over and over—sometimes silently—”
At Christmas, Marilyn’s was always a happier world, with all of a child’s joy in anticipating what the gaily wrapped packages held in store. “I didn’t like to hurry Christmas and I still don’t,” Kim says now. “Dressing the tree the night before—all the anticipation and the big build-up for the next day—was so important to me.”
And in Chicago this year Mario Bandini will be sharing the same kind of family Christmas, one by tradition and surroundings far different from those in Italy or any he would remember from his boyhood on his grandparents’ immense estate in Naples or at the Bandinis’ country home outside Rome.
With Kim, Mario will experience an American Christmas with all the festive trimmings. He will spend Christmas in a modest but sturdy brick house on Sayre Street, a house perfumed by the aroma of sage and turkey and the clean woodsy smell of the tree in the corner of the living room. A simple living room with a large painted portrait of Kim on the wall that her family loves to look at. It makes them a little less lonely for her.
On Christmas Eve he will assist a glowing Kim in hanging ornaments on the tree, to the musical background of constant carols like “Adeste Fidelis” and “Silent Night.” On Christmas morning he’ll join an excited Kim watching Arlene’s children unwrapping the gifts Santa has brought. He’ll go to the parish church, St. William, for mass, and he will meet Father Frank, a young priest who’s a friend of Kim and her family.
And Mario will get to know—as well as one can in a short while—the people dearest to Kim, those whose first concern is still their daughter’s happiness.
He will meet warm and motherly Blanche Novak, whose father was a Democratic precinct captain fiercely interested in affairs of government, and whose mother immigrated from Czechoslovakia. He’ll meet Joe Novak, claim clerk for a railroad, whose parents were immigrants from Bohemia and who helped homestead the prairies of South Dakota.
And one wintry day he will ride a bus their daughter used to take downtown.
“I want Mario to ride the same bus I used to ride,” Kim says dreamily. “I want him to see the department store where I first modeled for Norma and where I helped her with the shows. It means so much to me. He will understand.”
In an American department store, Kim’s Mario will see the auditorium where on another Christmas season years ago a shy little twelve-year-old attended a holiday party for the “Fairteen Club” and felt herself a welcome part of a crowd for the first time. Where she met Norma Kasell, director of teenage promotion, whose interest opened up a whole new magic world for Marilyn Novak, and whose faith first gave her a chance there.
Marilyn was first persuaded to help with the teenage fashion shows. “All the fun of helping Norma and modeling the fashions gave me a security of belonging. Of being useful somewhere. I was so grateful. And I remember one night when we were working late in the store, when everyone else was gone, I wanted Norma to know what all this meant to me, and I didn’t know how to tell her. So I shared something that was special and personal to me. . . .”
In a deserted department store that night twelve-year-old Marilyn told about her “lucky clown” and sang the poem of prayer that was “guiding” her.
Her power of pretending, the fount of emotion long pent-up inside the heart of a lonely little girl, were to find a medium in motion pictures. And it seemed almost as though she had been guided there too. . . .
“There are people Mario must meet and there’s so much I want him to see,” Kim says eagerly now. So much—in a country where a miracle like her own stardom could happen for an unknown Bohemian girl, a misfit of a girl named Marilyn Novak. “In a way, this is what America stands for, what’s happened to me.”
“I want him to see where I work, to meet the people I work with and know those who’ve helped me so much to get—well—wherever I am. Like Max Arnow, who gave me my start. And Richard Quine, who directed my test and my first movie. Benno Schneider, the drama coach at Columbia, who helped me tremendously. They’ve been guiding friends, all of them.”
Kim wants to take Mario by the YWCA-sponsored “Hollywood Studio Club” where a nineteen-year-old girl, plunged into a fabulous and overpowering new world, kept her musical clown going and tried hard to believe she had a future in motion pictures.
Showing Mario Bandini around the Columbia Studio lot, Kim will take him to the test stage where it all began. A stage inhabited by arc lights and sound booms and other now silent allies, where cameras turned while a girl sat looking into a prop fireplace and told what she wanted out of life. To love and to be loved. And in words that could have been written in her own heart then—and now.
“I want love. But I want the kind that probably doesn’t exist. I want to lose myself completely and recklessly in some unfortunate man, and he to lose himself completely and recklessly in me. I want everything else, and everyone else to become mere shadows. I even want it to be wise and right for us to be like that, instead of foolish. I want circumstances to mold themselves easily to our love, and not our love to be modified and straight-jacketed by circumstances. In other words, I want the moon and the stars. . . .”
The moon and the stars have been hers—professionally. Sparked and sustained by a chain of faith. Faith in a song of prayer. In a few people who proved they believed in her. In the millions of fans who’ve helped give Kim faith in herself. . . .
“I think my self-confidence is gained almost completely through fans,” Kim says warmly now. “And it’s something I’ve grown to need, really. If I get a little blue or depressed—when things happen or don’t happen—I can read letters from them and it’s all worthwhile. If an article is written about me that’s upsetting, I’ll worry and think, ‘What will people believe?’ And then all of a sudden I’ll read the fan letters and they’ll say, ‘We know better, Kim. We know you’re not like that.’ And then it doesn’t hurt me—
“Mario has given me a great deal of confidence as a person,” Kim goes on. “Just knowing that someone who has so much culture and learning could find me interesting. To find that I could offer him as much, in a way, as he could offer me.
“When we first met—I felt inadequate, as you often do in a new relationship, being in a strange country and going out with Mario’s friends and all. But Mario made me feel so much a part of him—and so much a part of his way of life that I felt at home.”
What does she find his most endearing trait?
“I think his scope of understanding,” Kim says thoughtfully.
Becoming a part of her life in Hollywood, Mario Bandini will see a Kim he’s never seen before.
Kim will have just finished a very demanding double role at Paramount in Alfred Hitchcock’s “From Among The Dead” when Mario arrives. When they get to Hollywood after spending the Christmas holidays with Kim’s family in Chicago, as she says, “I’ll be starting ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ at Columbia, and it’s very important for me to be prepared to the best of my ability for that part.
“But I think it’s very important for Mario to see me when I’m working—to see me under those conditions,” Kim says seriously. “And Mario’s involved in motion picture production in Italy. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
Their five months’ separation, since Kim and Mario Bandini said their goodbyes in the Church Of The Sacred Heart high on a hill overlooking Paris, doesn’t seem to have dimmed any of the glow. Mario’s called Kim regularly, no small feat—with Kim moving around all over northern California on locations for “From Among The Dead.”
One night, after calling all over California, Mario finally located Kim in a hotel in the small town of Watsonville.
“He’d been trying to reach me in Beverly Hills, and in San Francisco, and he was so worried. When he finally found me in Watsonville we talked for an hour! Then after we got through talking and hung up, all of a sudden I felt so lonely for him and I called him right back,” Kim laughs. “The telephone operator in Watsonville must have thought I was crazy. But—well—I just felt I wanted to talk to him again.”
Whether Mario Bandini will feel at home in Kim’s country or with the American way of life, she says quietly, “I don’t know. There are people, you know, who really don’t belong anywhere and they can be at home anywhere. But Mario’s so much a part of his own country—I don’t know. There’s one thing though—there won’t be the language barrier with him like there was with me. It was a little hard for me to feel comfortable on occasion over there. But Mario speaks and understands English well.”
Whatever the difficulties in their respective ways of life, Kim Novak and Mario Bandini have the power of faith to bridge those ways. The strongest of bonds—the same faith.
“I think religion is a wonderful thing in binding a relationship and reaching understanding,” says Kim. “When all else fails—when reason and logic and everything else fails—religion is still a holding thing.”
Faith has been a holding thing—in holding the world of Kim Novak together—since a nine-year-old girl, feeling herself a misfit in life and wanting so desperately to be a warm vital part of it, wrote a prayer to sing to a clown—
“If Faith and Love be your guide
The Lord will walk at your side . . .”
The affection and faith of millions of fans have made Kim’s the shiniest star at the top of the tree. Faith has helped give her confidence for her career.
“I don’t think I could take a step without it,” Kim says quietly. “Just the fact of knowing that God is with me, you know. Just asking Him to be with me—gives me the strength.”
Kim believes with all her heart that she’s been guided to her place today. “I think if it weren’t meant to be, He wouldn’t have allowed it.”
Her future? “I never plan what I want to do from here on in my life. That’s my way of life. I believe things are meant to happen, and either they happen or they don’t. haps something else is meant to be.”
She smiled that lovely mysterious smile, and clearly her thoughts were of the coming Christmas—and Mario Bandini. But of this, too, Kim will only say. “I always leave the next day to God.”
—BY DIANE SCOTT
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1958