Kim Novak: Reluctant Goddess Hardcover – 1 Mar 1986
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Brown's text often purports to describe Novak's private thoughts and intimate conversations. These passages must be taken with a grain of salt since he provides no attributions or explanations for how he could know such details. Clearly, the book was mostly written as he tore through the archives of the Motion Picture Academy's Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. When Brown notes that Novak has been largely ignored despite her superstar status, the reader senses he is being more the opportunistic hack than the dutiful film scholar in throwing together this book.
Nor is there any critical delving into Novak's films. Her essential contribution to VERTIGO, her most enduring film achievement, is glossed over as just another of her movies. The author devotes much more space to gleefully depicting the behind-the-scenes melee that occurred while making OF HUMAN BONDAGE, probably her worst film. Brown falls for Hitchcock's complaints about how he was stuck with Novak (true, he wanted Vera Miles) and as a director he found Novak totally inadequate. The well-worn (pun intended) episode of Novak's initial refusal to wear the gray suit Edith Head designed for her in the film takes up most of Brown's attention in discussing Hitchcock's masterpiece. But no director in Hollywood history was ever shrewder at assessing exactly what hidden qualities he could bring out in a leading lady than Hitchcock, and how to use those qualities to precise effect on screen. Hitchcock got exactly what he wanted from Novak in VERTIGO. Her performance is a vital element of the film's effectiveness as a hypnotic psychological thriller assessed by many critics the world over as the greatest movie ever made. Never mind, Mr. Brown, what dismissive, ungrateful stuff Hitchcock said about Novak. He said it about all his leading ladies, even Grace Kelly in the end. The only one he didn't disparage was Shirley MacLaine.
Still, Brown's writing style is lively and engaging. What emerges is as much a stereotypical portrait of Hollywood at the end of the studio system as of Ms. Novak herself. Nearly everyone--Columbia studio head Harry Cohn and his lackeys, Novak's family, her many suitors, directors, co-stars, fans, and particularly the gossip columnists of the day--comes off as shallow and idiotic. As for Novak herself, what set her apart? How did she succeeded on screen as the world's biggest film star of the latter 50's if all she had going for her was the typical Hollywood build-up? Lots of failed starlets had that and disappeared quickly from view. Why not Novak? What did she have that was unique? You won't find a clue in this book. It is a picture of Hollywood culture at the time almost more than of the titular subject herself.
never thought about the problems associated with the making of a movie like