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Tippi Hedren branded him evil, but as Vertigo is voted best film ever, its star Kim Novak tells David Wigg the director was nothing but a gent

- David Wigg The newly restored version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo is in cinemas now and is also available on Blu-ray.

Veteran act ress Kim Novak’s Hollywood career is a glorious catalogue of classic movies from Pal Joey and Picnic to The Mirror Crack’d and Alfred Hitchcock’s psychologi­cal thriller Vertigo. She loved working there but living there wasn’t so much fun, and so she moved out at the peak of her career. ‘You had to actually live in Hollywood if you wanted to work there,’ she says. ‘ The studios had all the power and they wanted to control us so we were expected to virtually live on the job.’

As befitted a star of her stature, her home was a magnificen­t mansion in the hills. ‘One day it rained so hard, my house started to slide down the canyon. It was being pushed by a wall of mud, and I had to move everything out as fast as I could. I had to quickly decide what was important and what wasn’t. I realised the furs and the jewels and the clothes didn’t matter so I left them all behind. I just took the pictures off the walls and my own paintings and loaded them all onto a bus the studio had sent to help me, along with my dogs, my birds, my Siamese cat and all my other pets. Then I stood and watched as my home – with all the furs, jewellery and designer clothes inside – slid away.’

It was the last straw. A year earlier the woodland around her house had caught fire. Almost alone – her neighbours had been told to evacuate the area – she connected her hose to the swimming pool pump and sprayed water everywhere. ‘The wind changed and the flames crept towards me, which was terrifying, but eventually the fire was brought under control. It was the mudslide, though, that finally convinced me I should move away from Hollywood. After the house crashed down, I bawled my eyes out. Then I drove to the beach, tore off all my clothes and ran into the ocean. I was laughing by then because I’d decided I’d never live there again.’

That was 1965, and as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars she was still very much in demand. Moving out was regarded as rebellious by some old studio hands, but she says there were no repercussi­ons. These days, Novak lives on a 240-acre ranch in Oregon with her husband of 37 years, Dr Robert Malloy, a retired vet, along with five horses and a herd of llamas. It’s a long way from Hollywood – and the heady fame she enjoyed.

However, although long retired, she’s back in the spotlight. The British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound magazine polled more than 1,000 movie critics worldwide to nominate the most outstandin­g film of all time – and Vertigo, which she made in 1958, came top, pushing Citizen Kane, the winner for the past five decades, into second place. Now Vertigo is to be re-released here. At the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where the movie was screened as a tribute to her career, the audience stood and applauded as the credits rolled. Ironically, Vertigo received lukewarm reviews when it was originally shown.

The film centres on Novak’s complex double- character Madeleine. James Stewart plays the private detective assigned to follow her by her husband who believes she’s possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmothe­r. The detective eventually falls in love with her. ‘I feel bad Jimmy and Hitchcock aren’t still here to acknowledg­e it and feel the pride. It was a brilliant movie, but it’s a shame it never got its recognitio­n when they were still alive.’

When we meet her hair is still blonde and those unmistakea­ble green eyes, heavy with mascara, still have a sparkle to them. She’s 80 now, but looks years younger. She says she’s shocked by the way Hitchcock has been portrayed as a sexual predator, with a fixation for blonde actresses, particular­ly Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren (who called him ‘evil and deviant’). ‘I never had a problem with him.’ she says. ‘He wasn’t that way with me. I found him to be quite proper. I mean, his wife was usually there on set. When she wasn’t, he didn’t act any differentl­y, but was just a decent man and a strong director.’

But Novak couldn’t always get her way with Hitchcock. When she was shown the grey suit and black shoes her character was to wear in Vertigo, Kim didn’t like them. ‘I told Hitch that the

‘Some people get lost in the Hollywood


clothes for the film were lovely, but that I didn’t think mine suited me. He nodded and just said, “I see,” as I rambled on. At the end, he said, “You’ll wear the grey suit and you will wear the black shoes. Thank you for discussing it with me, but I am the director, my dear.”’

There was never any shortage of leading roles for her and she made over 30 big studio films – acting with stars like Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson and William Holden – before she decided she didn’t like the scripts she was being offered any more. And while it lasted, she didn’t have any problems with the fame that came with being a blonde screen siren. ‘I knew none of it was real – fame is a fad. One day something’s in, the next it’s out. What’s real is when I’m at home riding my horses. But some people don’t realise that and they sadly get lost in the Hollywood bubble.’

She never set out to be an actress. ‘I was in college in Chicago in 1953 and during the summer I modelled for Thor washing machines and refrigerat­ors. I was given the title Miss Deep Freeze. Then a talent scout saw me and I began to be given acting roles.’

She still occasional­ly receives movie offers, but says, ‘I’ve left all that behind me now. The problem was they had me pigeon- holed. They wanted me for some glamorous movie that offered nothing more in character but I wanted to be taken seriously. I’m not complainin­g, though. If I hadn’t had so much good luck, I don’t know how I ever would have got along.’

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