TCM Classic Film Festival: Kim Novak Battles the Bullies
Kim Novak came to the TCM Classic Film Festival to introduce Bell Book and Candle—but when she arrived at The Egyptian Theatre on Saturday night, she had much more pressing matters on her mind. “I know you’re all here to enjoy the movie—and I love it, it’s one of my favorites,” she began haltingly, one hand clinging to the mike and the other fluttering slightly around her face. “But I want to talk about the elephant in the room.”
We leaned forward, knowing what was coming—and wishing she’d never been trampled by that marauding elephant. Novak was referring to the hate heaped upon her after her Oscar appearance, when virtual torch-wielding mobs attacked her from one end of the internet to the other, both for her looks and her slightly shaky delivery. She said she wanted to stand up to those who had bullied her—and she urged the rest of us to do the same in our own lives.
It’s impossible to see Kim Novak and not be aware of how vulnerable she is. And when she was hit by such vicious blowback, it sent her reeling—at first. “I just wanted to hide under the bedcovers,” she recalled. “But I knew I had a commitment to come here… I realized that it was important for me to address it and I told my husband, I said, ‘I’m gonna talk about it because… I’m gonna make a point that we’ve gotta stand up to these bullies.
“We have to be stronger than they are and say, ‘We’re not gonna take it any more!’” Without ever raising her voice, she was so powerful it gave me chills. Suddenly this truly fragile woman whom a breath might wither was Howard Beale in a flowing turquoise scarf and silk pants suit.
“It’s important to work out, to speak out, and to act out. Because if we keep it inside, it’s going to fester and that’s when you have problems,” she added, stretching her arms out to the audience gathered around her. “It’s healthy if you let it out. Don’t keep it inside. You can’t do that.”
Then she smiled and laughed a little, maybe a bit taken aback by the force of her own words. She turned to TCM host Robert Osborne—who clearly adores her and was hovering so protectively he almost knocked over the small table between them—and said, “We can talk about the fun things in the movie, and it was so rewarding, so great… but thanks. Thanks.”
“Well thank you! And it’s what makes you, you!” he reassured her.
“The thing that I did wrong, and you have to admit when you do something wrong… and I can admit it, it’s like confession, which is good for the soul,” Novak smiled, “and I’m gonna confess it to you guys because I feel like I’m at home with you… but when I went to the Academy Awards, I was dieting, trying to lose a few pounds before I went on, and it’s a hard audience.” (And a thoroughly unappreciative one, which stayed firmly seated when the screen icon took the stage. And let’s not even try to contemplate what kind of crowd would drive a perfectly lovely 81-year-old woman to feel the need to diet.)
“I want to do right by them, in front of them and all, that’s my toughest audience… so what I did, doggone it, is I took a pill before I went there to relax, you know?” she explained as we all nodded. “But I did it on an empty stomach, so when I got there I was kinda like, ah, in a haze, you know? And I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t take anything bad, but it made me sort of groggy… you know, you do the wrong thing sometimes when you try too hard.
“But you’ve gotta be strong and say that you’re nervous… there’s nothing wrong with being nervous,” Novak continued. “I would have been better off coming out and saying, ‘Gee I feel nervous in front of all you guys and I wanna impress you…’”
At some point I lost track of the standing ovations, whoops and cheers that washed over Kim Novak that night. What I do know is that after the Oscars, I had made up my mind that no matter what was going on opposite her at the Festival—even if they’d resurrected the cast of The Wizard of Oz—I was going to see her and cheer her on. And clearly everyone else in the full house at The Egyptian felt the same way.
On the opening night of the Festival, I had run into her in the Grauman’s Chinese Theater ladies’ lounge. (Where every woman winds up eventually. Because after a giant concession-stand soda, a lady’s nose suddenly gets awfully shiny.) I introduced myself and told her how fabulous she looked (still hoping she had not heard any of the post-Oscar nastiness) and how excited we all were that she was there. She clutched my hand in both of hers and said, “Are you coming on Saturday?” There was genuine fear in her voice, as if she were worried that no one would show up. I pulled out my program with the event circled and said, “Oh yes, at 6:15!!” She seemed so relieved, she was near tears.
Now, after that night at The Egyptian, I keep thinking of something she said as Judy in Vertigo:
“Couldn’t you like me, just me, the way I am?”
Is it okay if we love you instead?