I Used To Be In Love—Kim Novak
Yes, I meant it,” Kim Novak said as she sat sipping minted ice tea in the living room of her Malibu beach house. “I used to be in love. Am I now?” she sighed wistfully. “No, not now— and it makes life emptier. Each love brings happiness—as well as hurt, and sadness, when it ends. But, I think . . . I feel each has brought me a greater knowledge of love and myself. I’m slow to learn what it really means, I know. I’ve stumbled—of ten. Others haven’t always been kind in what they’ve said about my failures, but perhaps—even despite this—it’s been worth it.” She gazed for a moment through a window at the sea, reflected blue from the bright summer sky. Was she thinking perhaps of her loves? Mercurial Frank Sinatra, whose elusiveness has dashed many a girl’s romantic hopes. Mario Bandini, gallant and faithful, but asking that she give up so much for his way of life. Multimillionaire Aly Khan, who is noted for his charm but not his dependability. And Mac Krim, her ever-present help in time of need, her best friend.
“Specifically, what about the men in your life?
“Have they helped, as well as hurt?” she was asked.
“Yes, in many ways,” she answered hesitantly, drawing her gaze back from the sea. “Like helping me to grow up and understand what life is all about, like teaching me some of the male virtues of courage and forthrightness and being competitive in an all-competitive world.
“My father was one of them,” she said. “He is a gentle, quiet man with definite personal convictions and beliefs. He taught me the immense importance of strong family ties and family unity. When I was a little girl, he used to tell my sister and me the Aesop fables, each with its particular moral. One of his favorites was The Four Oxen and the Lion,’ and I like it, too, because it was all about courage in the face of danger. He always stressed the moral here, which was United we stand, Divided we fall. ‘That’s the way it is with us,’ Father said. ‘Whenever you have troubles bring them here, into the family. We will help you. Together we can meet any problem, big or small. Always remember that.’
“Another thing I learned from my father was to love nature and animals. He used to take me for long walks in the woods and tell me wonderful stories about all the creatures there and how they grew up and lived. And also why. One day we were walking together and I kicked at a clod of earth and there was a big, fat earthworm wriggling indignantly because I had disturbed it. I lifted my foot to step on it, but Father stopped me. Then he explained how worms aerate the soil and open up passages for irrigation. He said this is of vast importance to all kinds of agriculture. ‘All of God’s creatures are good, honey,’ Father said. ‘And all of them are to be loved.’ And so I learned a basic fact. That everything in this world has a special job, even an earthworm.”
Kim walked across the room, moving lithely, sleekly, like a mannequin. She sat down, curling one foot around the chair leg. She leaned her chin on the knuckles of one hand and smiled.
She thought for a moment. “Then, there was a boy in school,” she said. “His name was Ted. The teacher assigned him to help me with my handwriting and my math. We stayed after school together nearly every day. On Saturdays when I worked at the dime store he came to see me and stayed to buy phonograph records. We were together a lot—too much, my mother said—and I guess we had a crush on each other I don’t think my math or handwriting improved very much during those months, but I did learn an important lesson from Ted: Prayer and a pious spirit are not a sign of weakness but of strength.
“You see, I had grown up in the Catholic Church. I had studied all the religious tenets, but I didn’t understand them very well. I was a little confused and so I sort of lost interest and drifted away. And then I met Ted and he brought me back again. Not by preaching or urging me. Just by setting an example and living it and believing it.
“Ted was a very strong boy. Strong in body—he was an excellent athlete—and strong in principle. He was quite religious and went to church every day. And after a while I began going, too. At first I must admit that I went just to be there with Ted. But then, in time I began to feel about it just as he did. He showed me that a strong man need not be ashamed of prayer, for this is not a confession of weakness but only a privileged communion with God.
“Some people were kind. Some weren’t,” she continued. “Hollywood is a pretty big place, you know. Some of it looks like a small town, but I guess you could say it’s a metropolis. So I did meet some phonies. And some wolves too, the way any girl does. But most everyone was nice to me, and friendly. One night I took a cab to a business appointment and asked the driver to wait. When I got back, he handed me a gardenia corsage. There was a florist nearby and he had walked over there and bought it.
“ ‘What’s this for?’ I asked him in surprise.
“ ‘No special reason,’ he said, grinning at me ‘I just wanted you to have it.’ ”
Kim sipped her tea drink. “I met lots of people like that People who were kind and helpful. Just good human beings.
“Take my agent, Louis Shurr, for example. You’ve heard that long and untrue story about how he was supposed to pluck me off my bicycle on a Beverly Hills riding path, and I won’t bore you with any more about that. But I would like to mention one piece of good advice he gave me. One time I asked him about a gown I was planning to wear to a premiere, whether it was too low cut.
“ ‘Kim,’ he said, ‘in this town only one thing is important. That’s talent. When you have it, you can wear a burlap sack and get away with it. But when you don’t have it, going to a premiere like Lady Godiva on a white horse wouldn’t help you to get a job. So just concentrate on improving your acting talent, and don’t worry about anything else.’
“And since I learned that lesson, I’ve been able to save a lot of energy by not fretting over unimportant trifles.
“But of course that’s only part of the story,” she went on. “It’s one thing to discover that talent is the main ingredient, but it’s something else to be sure that you have it. I needed lots of self-confidence, but it just wasn’t there at first. all I could feel was complete inadequacy. Then Max Arnow at the studio helped me with this. Here was a man who had handled some of the greatest star talents in Hollywood, and he had confidence in me. Me! Marilyn Novak from Chicago! He believed in me implicitly! ‘Take my word for it,’ Max told me, ‘you’ve got the spark. It’s there! Now just work on it.’ And that meant everything to me. It didn’t produce an immediate miracle, but it certainly did a lot for my morale.
“Benno Schneider taught me the fundamentals of dramatic action and reaction. ‘Acting is not putting on an act,’ he drilled into me. ‘It is bringing out, on cue, the emotions that lie within you.’ That was a basic fact I had to learn.
“From Dick Quine, who directed my first picture, ‘Pushover,’ I had my early lessons in theatrical timing. Dick also convinced me that an actress must not become too self-sufficient. She must be willing to accept help from others when they are capable of giving it.
“On this same picture,” Kim said, “Fred MacMurray was an object lesson in how to avoid stress. He was so carefree and relaxed. This had a definite influence on me. I think he did it deliberately. Fred is such a kind, considerate, thoughtful, intelligent man. He could see that I was very tense. And I believe he set the opposite example in a deliberate effort to
give me a helping hand. He was wonderful.” She gave a short laugh. “I was petrified making these first pictures! The whole thing was just too fantastic. It was like walking through the Looking Glass or a trip to the moon. I couldn’t get it through my head that I was really being starred in movies opposite fine actors like Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power and Bill Holden. I kept waiting for the time when I’d wake up and stop dreaming. I kept looking over my shoulder for the man who would tap me on the arm and say, ‘The joke’s over, girl. Now you can pack up your bags and go home.’ ”
She brought one foot up, clasping her arms around her knee. “Everything was pretty complex, at first,” she said musingly. “Hollywood isn’t a simple, straight-line proposition. It’s a big mixed-up jungle of a place, and sometimes the sweetness and light gets pushed aside by the dog-eat-dog policy.
“On every movie set there are maybe a hundred people, and from them you constantly get a dozen different reactions. Some of them like you, and root for you and help you. And some of them resent you, and you know they’re hoping you’ll fail on your face. There are the blase who have seen stars come and go, and the cynics who don’t believe in anything. And there are quite a few who just have jobs and don’t give much of a hoot one way or the other. So in the midst of all that you’ve just got to be scared, if you have any feelings at all.
“So it wasn’t always fun and games,” she said, looking out of the corner of her eye and smiling a little wryly. “Every time I did a scene I was scared right down to my toes. I could feel it tugging at the nerve ends across my shoulders. It was right there in the pit of my stomach until I thought I’d have to be sick. And was on some occasions.
“I never got over being scared. I learned to live with it. I grew up a little and began to know my trade. I found out that acting is a craft as well as an art. And I had some help . . . especially from my directors and other actors.
“Otto Preminger was an example. Before I went to work in ‘The Man with the Golden Arm,’ I had been warned about him. ‘Otto’s a very impatient man,’ they said. ‘Be careful of him. He’ll be tough to work with.’ And then I was even more scared.
“But I needn’t have been. Otto was just the opposite of what had been said. He had great patience with me. We had flareups, yes, but he was good for me. I came to admire his daring and his sense of adventure. He was willing to experiment, take chances. And he taught me to have the courage of my own convictions. When our picture was finished I knew that I had moved a step ahead through my association with Otto. And after that I tried to learn something from everyone I worked with.
“But I never got over being scared,” she went on. “For a long while I worried about this. It didn’t seem right to me. Then I talked to some of our top actors and read about others. I learned that they all got that feeling at the pit of their stomachs before a performance, every last one of them. And I recalled the remark of James Cagney as he watched a couple of newcomers on the set: ‘They don’t have sense enough to be scared. Because they just don’t realize how tough this business is.’ ”
Kim shrugged. “So now I know I’ll always be scared. But it doesn’t bother me any more. Because I have learned that being scared is just part of being a good actress.
“My personal life—and the men in my personal life . . . Mac Krim, Frank Sinatra and Mario Bandini? I’ve learned from them too.”
Her eyes grew thoughtful. “When I speak of Mac, I am inclined to paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” she said. “How has he helped me? Let me count the ways. Then where do I begin? He has been like the Rock of Gibraltar. I don’t know what I would have done without him. He has given me kindness and sympathy and deep understanding. I have been able to take ray troubles to him at any hour of the day or night, and he has given me courage. He’s still trying to teach me patience. ‘How do you learn this?’ I have asked him many times. ‘Help me. Teach it to me, please.’
“And he has said, ‘The only way to learn patience is to practice it. So relax. Take it easy. Forget your troubles and let them drift away from you. Don’t worry about anything.’ ”
She smiled. “Which of course is easier said than done. But I try. And since Mac is a very patient man, the type who will never have an ulcer, perhaps someday I shall learn.”
She sat motionless, concentrating her thoughts. “I admire Frank Sinatra very much,” she went on. “And I learned many things from him. It was exciting to watch him work in ‘The Man with the Golden Arm,’ He was so quick, so intense. On the set they used to call him One-Take Sinatra. He worked very hard and I admire people who do this. Then I had some dates with him and I saw his other side—the gay, fun-loving Frankie. And he urged me to let down a little and enjoy life. He firmly believes that living should be fun, and he loves to see others have a good time too. And after a while I think some of this—not much, but a little—rubbed off on me.
“One night Frank took me to a premiere. I was scared of all the noise and the crowds. I wanted to turn back. Frankie took my arm and said, ‘Relax, honey. all these people are your friends. You’re beautiful and they’ll love you. So hold up your head and go in like a pillar of fire.’
“And that’s when I began to learn that stardom carries with it some obligations as well as privileges. The obligation to live up to what people expect of you. To act like a star always, off-screen as well as on. And to do this no matter what.”
She grinned wryly, tilting her head back. “Do you know about being a star?” she asked. And then answered her own question. “A star must be gay, quick-witted, tireless, even-tempered, adaptable, charming and well-groomed at all times. She must never have a cold or a stomach ache. She must never get tired or lose her sense of humor. She must never display a temper. And she must never—heaven forbid!—speak harshly of anyone no matter what the provocation. If she does . . . voom!” Kim brought her hand down in a quick chopping motion. “Off comes her head!
“Of course I had read a lot about Frank. Who hasn’t? And some of it wasn’t very nice. Well, that had happened to me, too—the not-so-nice things in newspapers and magazines. And so we talked. And Frankie gave me some big-brother advice. ‘Shrug it off. Roll with the punches,’ he said. ‘When you’re on your way up there’s always somebody who’ll try to knock you down. And like the man said, you can’t please all the people all the time. So don’t worry about it. Just do your work and be honest with yourself, that’s the important thing.’ ”
Kim sat down again. “Well, that was good advice. And I’ve tried to live by it ever since. But it hasn’t always been easy.
“Before I started ‘Jeanne Eagels,’ some people said I couldn’t do it. They said I wasn’t right for it, or ready for it; that it was too big for me. And that baffled me for a while. Because this was the big challenge, the main chance. This was really a starring role in every sense of the word. And I wanted to do it, you’ve got to understand that. But for a while I wasn’t sure.
“Then I found out that a lot of people believed in me and had confidence in my ability. And that made me want to be worthy of that confidence. One of these was George Sidney, who directed ‘Jeanne Eagels.’ We had worked together before in ‘The Eddy Duchin Story.’ He understood me and I knew I could depend on him.”
Then, hesitantly, “I still feel, in spite of the not-so-nice reviews that I did a better job in that than in my other movies up to that time.” Then her face brightened. “I’ve just completed ‘Vertigo’ for Alfred Hitchcock. It’s by the same writer who did the French chiller ‘Diabolique.’ I won’t tell you what it’s about because that would spoil it for you. But it was a challenging experience, working for such a distinguished director as Mr. Hitchcock.”
But first things first, she was reminded; what about her current picture, the one she’s working on now?
“‘Bell, Book and Candle’?” She smiled a Mona Lisa smile, and then, in her husky contralto—“I play a witch who casts spells and things. Dick Quine is my director. Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs are in the cast. They’re such fun to work with. If I ever learn to relax and enjoy myself during the actual filming of a picture, maybe it will be through their good influence.”
“There’s one subject we haven’t talked about, Kim,” she was reminded, “Mario Bandini.”
She smiled and sighed. “So much has been printed in the papers. Too much, perhaps. But I will tell you this. Mario introduced me to a way of life I had never known before. In my world you worked hard and went from one picture right into another. This was Hollywood for me and I guess you might say my horizons were—limited. When I first went to Europe I found out how exciting other places could be. I saw Rome and Paris and Venice through Mario’s eyes. He is a man of great knowledge and refinement and he sensed how eager I was to understand these things. I think I do now, a little, and I’ll always be grateful.”
Suddenly she laughed. “I was just thinking,” she said, “how simple love used to be when I was young. Then, I used to fail into it regularly and out of it reluctantly. I fell in love with dark-haired men, and some with light hair, too. Usually it was music that turned the magic key. I’d hear the sound of flutes or the melody of the night wind or maybe a popular song and there I’d be—up to my elbows in love.”
She brushed a hand through her short, bright hair. “And there was always a special tune that was our song. With a boy named Pete it was ‘Make Believe’ and with Tim it was ‘I Kiss Your Hand, Madame.’ And there were several others. Of course it wasn’t the real thing, it was just being in love with love. But it was wonderful just the same. My grandmother used to worry that I was overdoing it. ‘There are only so many boys,’ she’d say to me. ‘Don’t use them up too fast, honey.’ ”
Again she turned to the window and the view of the sea, deep green in the late afternoon sun. “Can love ever be that simple again? I wish I knew.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1958