Kim Novak says she’s bipolar, regrets leaving Hollywood
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Actress Kim Novak told an audience at the TCM Classic Film Festival Friday that she has bipolar disorder, and sometimes regrets her decision to leave Hollywood in the late 1960s at the height of her fame.
The star of such films as ‘Vertigo,’ ‘Pal Joey’ and ‘Picnic,’ Novak was teary-eyed and emotional when she told Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne before an audience of about 300 people at the Avalon in Hollywood that she suffered from mental illness while making those films.
‘I’m bipolar ... but there’s medicine you can take for this now,’ Novak said. ‘I was not diagnosed until much later. I go through more of the depression than the mania part.’
Novak, 79, is in Los Angeles to have her handprints and footprints enshrined in the forecourt at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Saturday, a sign of the recognition she said she hungered for throughout her life.
In her conversation with Osborne, Novak was introspective, but not maudlin, laughing about a runny nose and fixing her makeup using a hand mirror she had tucked in her armchair.
Though she was once a top box-office draw, Novak was never nominated for an Oscar, and struggled against notions of what kind of roles she should play as an attractive blond in Hollywood. ‘I couldn’t play a beach girl,’ Novak said. ‘I needed something complicated because I was complicated.’
She was branded as difficult, Novak said, in part because she rejected attempts by studio executives to define and control her. At one point, they wanted her to take the name ‘Kit Marlowe’ and wear her makeup like Joan Crawford did; at another, they prohibited her friendship with Sammy Davis Jr., saying it was too provocative.
Columbia Pictures President ‘Harry Cohn said, ‘you can’t see him,’ ‘ Novak said, of Davis. ‘It really bothered me that people would mind our being friends. I guess I was not a person of the times.’
Novak said her father suffered from depression, and her difficult childhood in Chicago prepared her, in a way, for Hollywood.
‘I was used to having conflict in the home, so having conflict on a set ... felt normal,’ she said.
But she ultimately found the emotional pressures of the industry too much to bear, and moved to Big Sur to paint. She has acted sporadically since then, but her career never regained its early momentum.
‘I don’t think I was ever cut out to have a Hollywood life,’ Novak said. ‘Did I do the right thing, leaving? Did I walk out when I shouldn’t have? That’s when I get sad.’
Now Novak lives in Oregon with her husband, an equine veterinarian, and their five horses. She said she plans to hold an exhibition of her paintings for the first time next year, and will devote the proceeds of any sales to mental health philanthropies.
TCM recorded the conversation with Novak, and will broadcast it in the coming months.
— Rebecca Keegan