By Paul Freeman [1987 article]

The third annual “On Screen: A Celebration of Women in Film” recently reached a peak of excitement with the presentation of a tribute to Kim Novak at San Francisco’s Pagoda Theater.

Novak radiated not only old-fashioned Hollywood glamour, but sincerity and dignity, as well.

Following clips of her mesmerizing performances in such film classics as “Vertigo,” “Picnic” and “Bell, Book and Candle,” congratulatory telegrams from such luminaries as James Stewart, Kirk Douglas and John Huston were read.

A large, adoring crowd rose and cheered as Novak entered, looking sensational in a low-cut black gown with a red and silver sequined jacket. It’s truly incredible how little her face and figure have changed since shot shot to stardom in the mid-’50s.

In her low, breathy voice, Novak recalled her most cherished fruit of stardom: a trip to Europe with her parents. ”I had been there once before, but when you’re being looked at all the time, you’re not seeing anything. When I went back with my mom and dad, it was beautiful to show them things, to make it possible. My being a movie star suddenly meant something.

“My mother and father weren’t the kind to always say, ‘I love you’ or ‘You’re wonderful.’ In fact, I never heard that. But, at the same time, I could feel a certain sense of pride that they had. I felt so good that I was able to share this trip with them.”

With extraordinary poise, Novak explained the reason for her sentimental mood. “I just lost my dad two days ago. I was thinking that it was so sad that he couldn’t have lived to be here to see this.

“Then I thought that, in his wheelchair, as ill as he was, he wouldn’t have been able to make the trip anyway. But now, I just feel that he’s hovering right over us and that feels really good.”

Novak can rely on her spirituality for inner peace. “My father raised me in a way in which God has been important to me. I’ve been influenced by my God. I pick things up, signs, and I feel that the way is being shown to me somehow.”

Coming from a working-class background in Chicago, Novak began as a model. When she was offered an acting contract by Columbia Pictures, she took a fatalistic approach. “I had a strong sense of destiny, that it was pre-determined, that it was meant to be.”

Under the thumb of Columbia mogul Harry Cohn, Novak struggled to become more than an object or an image, to maintain her sense of self.

“My parents told me you should be proud of who you are. They said, ‘You can learn from people in the industry; listen to what they try to teach you, but hold on to what you really believe in. Don’t let them change that.’

“In the ‘50s, the emphasis was so much on how you looked. It was all so glossy and slick. I really didn’t feel I was a part of that time. I was always crying out, ‘Hey, look beyond the facade! I’ve got something to give!’

“People like Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger wanted you to bring something of yourself to the role. But, so often, people just wanted you to stand there and look pretty. That made it very difficult.”

The enigmatic sex symbol stunned the industry by walking away from all the trappings of stardom and moving to a Carmel ranch in 1966.

“I felt trapped. I was at a standstill. I hadn’t been able to bring something of myself to my work for a while and that really bothered me. So I needed to pull away, to gain perspective in my life.

“My husband is a veterinarian. We have beautiful shared experiences. It’s a great opportunity for me. It’s the best role I’ve ever played.”

Novak made quite a splash by returning to Hollywood for a recurring role in TV’s “Falcon Crest.” She doesn’t know when she’ll accept another part.

“I don’t like planning ahead in my life. It’s just a matter of what fits in at the time.

“It’s important for me, every now and then, to do something in acting, because it’s a way of gauging my growth as a person.

“It’s wonderful that I’m able to balance my life, working now and then. I enjoy it that way. I just don’t want to lose my sense of values. I have to keep my priorities in order.”