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Why Kim Novak Quit Her Acting Career And Said Goodbye To Hollywood

Kim Novak made Hollywood sit up and take notice when she starred with Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece Vertigo, a movie often regarded as the director’s best film. But within a few short years following the movie’s release, Novak announced that she was retiring from acting. 

Over the next three decades, Novak rarely appeared on the silver screen, and seemed to have walked away from the shimmering allure of Tinsel Town. In 1991, she left the world of acting and Hollywood behind. Turning her back on a lucrative and exciting career wasn’t an easy decision to make, but there were reasons for it.

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Before The Cameras Rolled

Kim Novak, born Marilyn Pauline Novak on February 13th, 1933, spent much of her childhood in Chicago, Illinois. She attended William Penn Elementary, Farragut High School, and Wright Junior College. After receiving two scholarships to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Novak joined the youth group, Fair Teen Club.

The youth group leader urged Novak to enter the Miss Snow Queen beauty pageant, which she won. The pageant win helped to launch Novak’s modeling career, which included touring with the Thor refrigerator company. One of the tour stops included RKO Studios, where Kim was eventually scouted and selected to be an extra in two films, Son of Sinbad and The French Line. As a result of her work as an extra, Novak signed on to a long-term contract with Columbia Pictures in 1954.

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Action

Media mogul Harry Cohn, who ran Columbia Pictures, noticed Novak’s work as an extra and felt she could be the next big star, the next ‘it’ girl, in the movie industry. From that point on, she was groomed to become a major box office draw, one that could attract legions of movie theater goers  — and line the pockets of Columbia Pictures’ executives. 

Novak’s first box-office success came in the 1955 film Picnic. Her performance earned her the Most Promising Newcomer Golden Globe Award. After that, the quest was on to mold her into nothing less than a megastar.

Between 1956 and 1958, Novak appeared in a number of successful films; by 1958, she was considered a sensational box-office draw and a fan favorite. With her performance in the movie Vertigo, her stardom was sealed.

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Kill The Lights

Novak’s disillusionment with holiday began to steadily mount as movie executives, including Cohn, attempted to exercise increasing control over her professional and personal life. Her relationships were scrutinized and criticized, most notably when she was dating entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. 

Cohn was incensed that Novak would date a black man and believed that being part of an interracial couple would irreparably damage her career and box office appeal. The word in Hollywood was that Cohn hired Mafia hitmen to threaten Davis with serious physical harm if he didn’t end his relationship with Novak, which he subsequently did.

In 1966, Novak sustained painful injuries after falling off a horse, including broken vertebra, and lost her house in a disastrous California mudslide. At that point, she decided she was through with Hollywood’s golden promise, which was beginning to look increasingly tarnished. After her Bel Air home was destroyed, she moved to a home in Big Sur, leaving Hollywood in the rearview mirror.

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Roll The Credits

A mere ten years after she had become the No. 1 box-office star in the world, Kim Novak quit acting, for the most part, and began focusing on her true passions: writing poetry and painting. One of her poems was eventually turned into a song recorded by Harry Belafonte. Novak would occasionally accept an acting job here and there, including the 1973 film The Third Girl from the Left, and the 1979 movie Just a Gigolo.

Novak credited her love of painting with helping her regain control over her personal and professional life, and find joy in day-to-day living. In 2021, the Butler Institute of American Art published a book of her artwork titled Kim Novak: Her Art and Life. She has cited the influence of Alfred Hitchcock in her painting style, noting that her artworks are suffused with mystery.

Novak asserted in a 2020 interview, “Art is what saved me.”