Welcome to Vintage Paparazzi.

My Sister Kim Novak

When my sister Kim got off the plane at Chicago’s Midway Airport, dozens of fans seemed to appear out of nowhere, crowding around her for autographs.

I hardly had a chance to embrace her—there were so many people crowding around her. But it was different once we left the airport and the city behind us, and headed for the suburb where I live with my husband and two children on an eight-acre farm.

Something curious happened on that hour-and-a-half long drive, something I couldn’t explain at first. But now that I look back, it provides the key to a question about my sister that has bothered me for some time: When I welcomed her at the airport, when we walked down the ramp and got into the parked car, I had called her Kim. After we were alone for a while I slipped back into calling her by her real name—Marilyn.

It’s funny, I thought to myself. I called her Kim when I visited her in Hollywood, too, and when I write to her, and talk to her on the phone. Why the sudden switch?

And then I realized that it wasn’t I who was different, but my sister. Yet she is not a twin personality, not a movie star one moment and a plain little girl the next. She is just as glamorous and fascinating at home as on the studio set. It’s the constant pressure, the publicity, the attention that makes her seem different in my eyes and in her own, and has led to an entirely erroneous conception of Kim in the eyes of her fans as well.

No doubt some of it can be blamed on over-anxious writers and columnists who don’t always bother to check their facts, who are more interested in Kim’s romances—both real and imaginary—than in her as a person: who misinterpret, fabricate, expand to where Kim worries about telling even the simple truth—for fear it may be misinterpreted.

But much of the different attitude is self-imposed.

Kim has always been ambitious, eager, anxious to do her best. And it shows—in her worries, her sensitivity, her tenseness. I never knew just how tense she could get till I went with her to the dentist one afternoon. When his assistant put a hand on her shoulder to calm her while the doctor gave her a shot of novocaine, Kim shook her hand off and burst out, “I can’t stand anyone to touch me!” Then she broke into tears because she hadn’t meant to hurt the woman. . . .

This could never happen to her here in Chicago, where she is relaxed, understanding, and thoroughly patient.

Take the day before Christmas, when I happened to walk into the living room just as my oldest boy, Billie, who is five, kissed her hand while Kim was lying on the couch. She blinked her eyes sleepily and slowly raised herself up. “Ah . . . my Prince Charming,” she exclaimed. “Thank you . . . thank you . . . thank you!”

“Billy . . . really,” I called out. “If your aunt Marilyn wants to take a rest you shouldn’t disturb her . . . you were told not to wake her. . . .”

“Who’s taking a rest?” my sister laughed. “We’ve been playing Prince Charming for the past hour and a half, haven‘t we, Billy?”

My son nodded enthusiastically. I don’t know when he’s had so much fun.

Kim’s whole relationship to Billy shows how much different she is here than in Hollywood. He has seen very little of his aunt since he was born, yet he not only took an immediate liking to her but formed a deep and sincere affection as well. He follows her around the farm like a puppy dog—and she loves it. Needless to say it isn’t because he is in awe of her position. At his age he doesn’t have the slightest idea of what a movie star is.

His feelings are more than reciprocated by Kim. She took him for long walks in the snow, roasted marshmallows for him over the open fire, and once, when I suggested we play a game of canasta in the afternoon insisted, “Impossible. I’m too busy!”

“Busy . . . out here in the country?” I wondered out loud.

She smiled mischievously. “I have a date to-play traffic. . . .”

The date was with Billy as the two of them set up a traffic court in the living room where they played with remote-control cars. And Kim didn’t participate like an indifferent grown-up pacifying a child. Her imagination made the game as real to her as to Billy. . . .

In fact I am convinced this make-believe attitude is the key to her professional success. She doesn’t study her parts like a student. She lives them. She always has.

Kim’s early drama

I can still see her as a twelve-year-old, when her girlfriend Francine came over to play house. The two of them got along splendidly till they disagreed on the number of rooms they were cleaning, or something like it. Each got more and more excited till Kim finally lost her temper. “If you don’t like it, we don’t have to play together any longer!”

“All right,” Francine retorted, “I might as well go home. . . .”

Kim got up from the floor and dramatically pointed at the front closet. Then, in the best Shakespearean tradition, “There is your coat, Francine . . .” and as she turned a little, “. . . and there is the door!”

As usual, a few hours later she felt so sorry for her behavior that she walked all the way to Francine’s house to apologize and ask her forgiveness. For the next two weeks she went out of her way to make up to her . . . till they had another argument and she threw her out of the house again just as dramatically! Fortunately they always made up quickly.

The biggest difference in the Hollywood Kim and the Chicago Marilyn is one of insecurity. She has always needed self-assurance, but never the amount she requires now.

I remember when she was in high school, and took a course in typing. At the outset she was about average—and that worried her. “I’ve got to be better. I just have to be perfect,” she insisted whenever she came back from class, then sat up half the night practicing—till she became tops at it. Since she had no intention of becoming a secretary it shouldn’t have mattered that much. But it did—which makes it easy to see why she has become so engrossed in her career. It means everything to her. And that includes every aspect of it, not just acting in front of the cameras.

Kim is not a vain person. Yet to an outsider she might have given just that impression at a premiere I attended with her during my latest trip out to California.

Although she looked radiantly beautiful when we got ready to leave the house, she was seriously worried when she turned to me. “Arlene, do I look all right . . .? I mean, really?”

“Of course you do,” I assured her. “I’ve never seen you look more attractive. . . .”

I had to keep telling her this on our drive to the theater and practically throughout the evening as well. Not because she wanted compliments, but because she knew she was expected to be glamorous, and feared she might disappoint someone. Anyone.

I found this insecurity to be even more pronounced in her relationships with her Hollywood associates.

I have heard her described as haughty and distant, and having gotten big-headed by her success.

It isn’t true. Honestly, it isn’t. And I am not talking with the prejudice of a sister. Yet I can see why some people feel that way. Occasionally Kim is short-tempered, flares up, once in a while breaks into tears. But these outbursts only cover up her insecurity built up and expanded by the pressure and expectations of her phenomenal rise to stardom.

I was on the set a number of times when she appeared in Pal Joey. She was the only performer who had never danced before. All the others were professionals.

One day someone made a remark about Kim’s being slow in catching on. Kim blew up. Yet she wasn’t angry at the man—only at herself. She told me so at home that night, when no one else was around to hear her. And the next day she apologized to her surprised critic who had probably forgotten all about the incident. . . .

How Kim draws the line

This attitude even holds true toward her friends and acquaintances. She always feels people are nice to her primarily because she is Kim Novak. As a result she has built a wall of isolation around her that few have been able to scale. To some degree this attitude was even apparent in her last visit with us, in Chicago.

We had open house and invited a lot of relatives and old friends we hadn’t seen in a long time.

To my amazement, she was charming to some, rather aloof to others. I didn’t know where she drew the line—till I asked her, after everyone had left. “That’s simple,” she replied sadly. “I could tell who came just because I’m in pictures and who was glad to see me, Marilyn, again.”

“But how?” I gasped.

“Those who barely said hello to you and ignored the rest of the family were obviously impressed only by what I had done these past two years,” she explained. “But the ones who were as attentive to you as to me, they were my friends. . . .”

To a certain extent, Kim’s relationship to others has always consisted of a mixture of wanting to please, of striving to be liked, and a fear that she wasn’t accepted for herself. Particularly where boys were concerned!

Once she passed the stage where she considered them pesty and a nuisance—mostly when they were still pulling her long pigtails—she grew into the awkward stage where she noticed them all right but began to feel uncomfortable with them because she was so tall for her age. Curiously enough, her quiet, introvert-like attitude made her much more popular than she realized. She was a good listener, agreeable, a wonderful sport. . . .

One day we went on a double date with two boys who invited us for dinner to Chinatown. Kim and I knew very well why they had picked the place. Not because they were fond of chow mein, but because the food was more reasonable than at any other restaurant in town.

When they picked us up, my date suggested we walk to Chinatown—a two-hour hike if we kept up a good pace. “We’d love to,” Kim insisted before I had a chance to say anything.

She knew they had made the suggestion to save money. Just how broke they were became still more obvious when they offered to order for us, insisting they were well acquainted with all the specialties. Their choices were the cheapest items on the menu.

When Kim’s date suggested we hike back again, I was ready to protest. I would have gladly paid the bus fare for all of us, but Kim—fearing they’d be embarrassed—agreed so enthusiastically that I had no choice but give in. After a four-hour walk that night both of us were so exhausted we couldn’t get up till noon the next morning—luckily not a school day.

Kim had her first real big crush when she was fourteen, to an equally quiet, highly intelligent boy in her class. Theirs was never the typical high school romance with Cokes and dances, jukeboxes and moonlight rides. Instead they would sit on the front steps together in the evening and talk for hours, or write poems to each other. . . .

The kind of wife she’ll be

With few exceptions, all her crushes since then seem to be with the same type of person. I think when she gets married she will pick a quiet, sensitive, intelligent man. . . .

And she will make a. wonderful wife. First of all, she loves children, which is evident in her wonderful relationship with my boys, Billy and two-year-old Scott. The way she played with them, the care with which she selected their Christmas and birthday presents, the money she put into their bank accounts.

I can tell by the love for her own home, the joy she draws out of furnishing it, her pleasure in deciding on the color schemes, the dinner parties she hopes to give some day—by all her hopes and aspirations.

It is apparent by her interest in cooking—which is anything but conventional.

She never cooks from a recipe book. That would be dull! Instead she dreams up concoctions which must sound strange, to say the least.

This dates back to the time we were both little and played house together. Or rather, on Kim’s urgings, restaurant.

Invariably she was the cook and waitress, while I ended up being the customer. When I tried to order she would never give me a menu. She simply described the specialty of the house.

In those days I used to giggle when she suggested salad dressing with cocoanut flakes, or steaks marinated in wine. But when she grew old enough to experiment in the kitchen, she fixed just that and many more dishes like it—and they tasted excellent! Her biggest weakness is still garlic, which goes into just about everything but the coffee. . . . I just hope that her husband-to-be is fond of strong seasoning.

His only real problem will be Kim’s lack of punctuality. And this time I can’t blame Hollywood for it! If anything, the necessity of being on the set at a certain time has tended to improve her.

When she was a teenager, her boyfriends who came over for dates would spend the best hours of their lives waiting for her. I especially recall one handsome young fellow—I think he went to Northwestern University—who came to pick her up for the first time. “It’s nice to meet you,” Mom greeted him. “Make yourself comfortable.” Then she looked around for some magazines and finally handed him a whole batch. “I hope you like these. . . .”

He looked puzzled. “But I have a date with your daughter at seven!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t she here?”

“Of course she is,” Mom assured him. “She is getting ready. . . .”

He turned out to be one of the lucky ones. He had to wait only forty-five minutes! The next time he brought along his own book.

All considered, Kim has remained the same person in more ways than she has changed. She is as generous as ever, even if she now shows it more in material things than she used to. When she was little and wanted to do something special for me, she’d lay out my clothes on the bed before I went on a Saturday-night date. Today she gives me wonderful and expensive presents, like the leather coat and the single clear pearl beautifully mounted on a gold chain she brought me from California.

She is the same child about opening gifts that she used to be. From the moment she stepped into the house on her last visit she kept telling me she simply couldn’t wait till Christmas morning to open her packages, and when she did, tore them open with all the enthusiasm of a six-year-old.

Physically, she is as brave as ever. I remember how we used to go skating together on the nearby pond. Because Kim had weak ankles, she fell more easily and more often than the rest of us. She never complained.

And she doesn’t complain now when she is flying, even though her eardrums—punctured when she was little—bother her terribly when she has a cold. Yet she won’t even comment on it, no matter how miserable she feels.

Unfortunately, she is still as easily hurt as she used to be. If there is even a slight misunderstanding during a dinner conversation, she will freeze, say nothing. And the heavy silence will continue till she has worked things out in her own mind. She just cannot overlook the problem.

Fortunately, she doesn’t carry a grudge. As quickly as she gets into a mood she can throw it off again. Maybe that’s why she is so successful on the screen. I don’t know. I am not a professional. But sometimes I wish that for her own sake she were a little less imaginative, a little less successful, and a great deal happier. . . .



You can see Kim in BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE for Columbia.