What Makes Her A Star?
IT WAS EARLY MORNING, the sun scarcely above the horizon, when Kim Novak came out of the Columbia dressing room where she’d spent the night. Yawning, she checked in at the wardrobe department, climbed out of her sweater and slacks, into one of the glittering gowns designed for her title part in “Jeanne Eagels.” She stood still for the boring job of having a costume fitted, until a pin pricked through. “My, you’re fidgety today,” the wardrobe woman said amiably, and to her amazement she heard the once shy and gentle actress explode.
“I’m not fidgety!” Kim announced. “I’m temperamental!”
Accounts of that incident—some of them exaggerated and distorted—went around Hollywood fast. As short a time as a year ago, nobody would have dreamed of saying a harsh word about Kim, quiet and soft, that lovable white kitten of a girl. Now the stories have started, about quick brush-offs to the press, an alleged air of self-importance, emotional storms, set delays,
They’ve started because Kim is now a star. Remember, “Jeanne Eagels” gives Kim her first real leading role. For all the publicity she’s had, all the awards—Photoplay’s Gold Medal, Hollywood Foreign Correspondents’ Golden Globe, Boxoffice Magazine’s Top Ten—she has never before been asked to carry the whole weight of a major movie on her slender shoulders as title-role star.
The experience has had a powerful and lasting impact on her. “Kim disappeared during the filming,” Mac Krim says. “She became Jeanne. Now it’s nice to have Kim back as Kim—if it’s true, of course. It’s not proven yet . . .”
According to co-star Jeff Chandler: “As a person she’s unpredictable—warm and effusive one day, cold and withdrawn the next. It’s a difficult part she’s been playing—violent, beautiful, tragic. Before I worked with her, I thought it called for the most experienced actress available.”
For an actress as comparatively new as Kim, the performance became an ordeal, thrusting beyond the confines of her professional life to touch her deeply as a person. The signals were all against her to begin with. George Sidney, director of “Jeanne Eagels,” says, “The press has always been counter to her roles—before she does them. They were sure she couldn’t play a society girl in ‘The Eddy Duchin Story,’ or a bar girl in ‘The Man with the Golden Arm,’ or a small-town girl in ‘Picnic.’ Then they were sure she shouldn’t attempt ‘Jeanne Eagels.’ I believed she could. I stuck my neck out.”
So did Kim. Meeting the challenge, she threw herself into the part with whole-hearted concentration. “On Jeanne Eagels,” Kim explains, “I had more notes—filed and cross-filed—than I could hold. The notes folder was bigger than the script! I learned my lines early, so that each morning I could pore over my notes to get the feeling for the scene ahead, not just the words of the dialogue. Jeanne’s favorite songs were ‘Elegy’ and ‘The Prisoner’s Song.’ Every morning on the set, we’d play a Caruso recording of Elegy.’ I learned to sing it in English. Before the death scene, I read and reread a poem written about Jeanne, tender and sad. ‘God made thee with broken wings . . .’ ”
For Kim, preparations began six weeks before shooting, with daily and nightly dancing and drama lessons. When the movie went into production, she found herself on demand for all but three scenes in the entire script. She would be called each morning never later than five, to be at the studio by six. After hairdressing, wardrobe and makeup sessions and her breakfast, she’d step before the cameras at eight-thirty. At six or seven in the evening, her working day supposedly over, she had her hair washed and set, ate dinner, studied lines and notes for the next day’s shooting. She never got to bed before one a.m. Saturdays, she worked with her secretary, Norma Kasell, taking care of the mail, personal and household shopping, all the invitations for appearances and endorsements. Sundays, she rehearsed with the script girl.
Just once, nature staged a rebellion. Kim was staying that night at the Malibu beach house she rents from her singing teacher, Harriet Lee—a lovely cottage with wide windows, furnished in Early American style, with a huge fireplace. The sound of ocean waves soothing her, Kim went to bed after midnight. Her telephone service called at four-thirty a.m. to give her a brusque reveille. Kim answered—and slipped easily off to sleep again, leaving the phone dangling from the hook. Her next awakening was more urgent. Outside her window were two big men, tapping on the pane and shining a flashlight on the sleepy star. The sheriff’s sub-station in Malibu had been contacted; the law was on hand to get Kim to the studio on time.
When a girl has been working under such pressure, is it at all surprising that she should give way to flare-ups of temperament? What is surprising is the fact that Kim could frankly admit the lapse. Temperament, after all, is emotion unleashed. For weeks, Kim had been living with her emotions, letting torrents of feeling pour out before the cameras. To quote Mac Krim, “The emotional and physical strains were murderous.”
But the part had a strange effect on Kim. “I got upset and nervous,” she confesses, “yet basically I was calmer than I’d ever been. I was more in control of myself. Mac came on the set quietly one day and watched me do a dramatic scene. He was amazed at the change in me,” she adds proudly, like a young child.
“I was,” Mac admitted. “During the filming of ‘Picnic’ Kim had been a frightened little girl. Suddenly, in ‘Eagels,’ she was handling herself like a Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck—with authority and confidence.”
“Mac watched me walk out of the scene and smile and talk to people. I never could do that before. I couldn’t shake off a deep emotion I’d just played. He says it was progress for me.”
Mac with his comparisons, Kim with her confidences are describing the same person: a young actress who had attained the stature of a star. For a while she seemed to Mac a stranger. And needing someone to understand the actress, Kim, she began seeing John Ireland, who was separated from Joanne Dru. In spite of rumors, this was no romance. If it hadn’t been actor Ireland, it might have been any other sympathetic and attractive actor that Kim happened to meet. At this time in her life, she was thoroughly involved in her work. She needed someone who had shared and could understand her professional problems. Perhaps, too, she was a little glamour-struck. The Number One dressing room on the Columbia lot was now hers. Convinced for the first time that she was an important part of this magical world of acting, she may have wanted to be with someone who was also a part of it. But the phase passed.
As shooting neared its close, the momentum picked up, and the stresses began to show. “I remember,” Jeff Chandler says, “Kim was unhappy one whole day because she wanted to wear a certain dress to the Photoplay award dinner and the studio wanted her to wear another. I don’t know who won—but the next day she was happy as a lark.”
The Gold Medal actually had an even stronger impact on Kim. “It meant more to me than anything else has. It was my first big award, and my father was there to see me receive it. It meant so much because I was chosen by the people who read Photoplay and see the movies. They are the critics I want to please. Of course, with my free-floating anxiety, the minute I knew of the Gold Medal, I thought ‘Where do I go from here?’ ”
The week after the Gold Medal banquet, Kim’s birthday came around, and the cast tossed a gay on-the-set party for her. There was a huge cake. There were flowers, all lavender or purple, naturally: violets, lilacs, tulips, iris, gladiolas. Just for fun, director Sidney gave Kim’s dad an extra’s role in a crowd scene. The next day, Kim’s parents celebrated their wedding anniversary,. and this time Kim ordered the cake, with an inscription reading: “Happy Anniversary to the new star, Joe Novak.”
It was too much. It came all at once: the absorbing, exacting role; the Photoplay Gold Medal; her birthday; her parents’ anniversary; the award from Hollywood’s foreign correspondents, telling Kim that she was famous and beloved from North to South America, from Europe to far-off Asia.
Suddenly, the picture was finished. For the last time on the set of “Jeanne Eagels,” the voices echoed “Cut! Cut! Cu-u-ut!” And the last take was over. Kim had learned to work as a star, living in utter concentration with the Jeanne Eagels role. Now, she felt, a new test confronted her: learning how to live with herself, the star. Facing the fact that she was no longer little Marilyn Novak, shy, unsure, groping to find herself, she began to glow. She became Kim Novak.
In the middle of that last morning—a working day!—Mac Krim heard a familiar voice on the phone. It was Kim. For a moment he couldn’t believe this. “Let’s put on blue jeans and go bicycling or horseback riding,” she suggested happily. “You’ll have to leave Jeanne Eagels home,” Mac warned. She promised. “While she was doing ‘Jeanne Eagels’ there was no fun in Kim,” Mac explained later. “She was exhausted all the time. When I met her that evening, though, she’d already gotten Jeanne Eagels off her shoulders and was ready to be herself again.”
But is it that easy? If you ha ve been working with such intensity, if you have been swept up in new honors, new experiences, can you go back, just like that, and be your old self? Kim herself was wise enough to realize that she couldn’t. “First,” she said, “I’m going into a hospital for a complete rest.” And so she did, checking in at Cedars of Lebanon, though she postponed the step until a few weeks after shooting ended. “I’ve been having headaches. I can’t sleep. For the first time in my life, I’m aware of my health. When the doctor suggested the hospital, he got no argument from me. Columbia has put off ‘Pal Joey’ long enough for me to get good and rested again. After the hospital, I want to go to my beach house and walk beside the ocean, take long walks along the beach, picking up driftwood, watching the surf. It fascinates me. I can stare for hours, always expecting something to come up on the beach with it. The sound of the ocean will take care of my nerves.”
Beyond this time of rest, Kim has more definite plans for her life. Mostly, she plans to enjoy it! “I haven’t had much time to do anything but work, but I certainly intend to be a little more social now. I don’t mean running out to big parties, not that sort of ‘social.’ I like small dinners, riding, movies. I intend to learn to relax. I’ve taken my health so for granted. I’ve always presumed I’d be able to snap back after working the way I have. Now I’d like not to have to snap back, but to learn to take it a little easier as I go along.
“Tonight I have a date with Mac. We’ll probably go to see a double feature and have a late dinner. Tomorrow night, I have a date with the doctor who gave me this ring. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s pure purple at night, but during the day it looks like an emerald.”
Around her delicate wrist, there’s a charm bracelet that bears a record of her Hollywood life. “This tiny little Oscar is my first picture. This one is from Norma Kasell, for being one of the Top Ten in Boxoffice awards. These two little dancers are from Josh Logan for ‘Picnic.’ This gold medal is from George Sidney, for ‘Jeanne Eagels.’ The one with the calendar on it is for my birthday. This is the world with pearls in it—the-world-is-my-oyster sort of thing. Who gave me that? . . . Uh, yes . . . This little gold book I gave myself. It has my favorite quotation in it: ‘To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’ ”
Honesty, self-awareness, enthusiasm—qualities like these sometimes lead Kim to speak too revealingly of herself. But the same qualities have led her to stardom. “Where do I go from here?” With all her sensible plans, Kim can’t answer her own question. She goes next into “Pal Joey,” in a role that has been especially built up for star Novak, to put her on an equal footing with star Rita Hayworth. Opposite both actresses is Frank Sinatra. In the past, he has aroused Kim’s personal interest, and this sidelight suggests fascinating developments.
George Sidney, who worked with Kim so closely on the Jeanne Eagels film, can’t make any precise forecast of her future, either. “How far she will go, no one knows.” And he adds, with a director’s appreciation of the suspense angle, “Who can tell how Kim will end up?”
YOU’LL ENJOY: Kim Novak in Columbia’s “Jeanne Eagels” and “Pal Joey.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JUNE 1957