Kim Novak explains why she left Hollywood: 'I felt like I was losing myself'

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EXCLUSIVE: Kim Novak, who was once hailed as the number one box office star, said goodbye to Hollywood at the height of her career in 1966.

After a mudslide destroyed her home in Bel Air, Calif., the actress and Alfred Hitchcock muse packed up her remaining belongings and headed to a cliffside dwelling along the wild coast of Big Sur. It was there where she focused on her first love — painting. 

For years, many wondered what became of the former screen siren who appeared alongside Frank Sinatra, James Stewart and William Holden, among others. But the 87-year-old has been pursuing her lifelong passion for art away from the glaring media spotlight. She currently resides in Southern Oregon surrounded by the animals and nature she longed for during her reign at the studio.

Kim Novak has released a new book titled ‘Kim Novak: Her Art and Life.’
(Matej Divizna/Getty Images)

This week, she has released a new book titled “Kim Novak: Her Art and Life,” which features her work from over the years, as well as personal reflections. Novak said it’s the book that “I have always wanted to write.”

Novak spoke to Fox News about her love of creating art, leaving behind Hollywood, the most important lesson she learned from Hitchcock, how she felt about being a sex symbol and more:

Fox News: What inspired you to release a book like this one now?
Kim Novak: You know, I feel good about it. I really do. I’ve always been asked to write a Hollywood tell-all. My response has been “No thank you.” I tried it once and lost the book in the [2000] fire. Now, I just wanted to share what was important to me. And I like having my own words out there in telling my story. And my art is in here, which is really what it’s all about. 

‘Vertigo / Vortex of Delusion’ – Pastel painting by Kim Novak depicting the essence of the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film ‘Vertigo’ in which she starred with James Stewart
(Kim Novak)

Fox News: When did you first realize you had a gift for painting?
Novak: I think I’ve always known. I was not very good at school. But the only thing I was good at was art. I won two scholarships to the Art Institute in Chicago. Art has always inspired me because it was something I could excel at in school.

Art has always opened up a whole new world to me and I’ve done it ever since. I wanted to grow up and be a great painter. But then I got detoured in Hollywood. And it kept me. It took me back for a while. Now, I’m happy to focus on my art. 

Fox News: As a movie star, were you ever worried about losing your way as an artist?
Novak: Oh yes. But even while I was acting, I used to draw the characters I was going to play. I would sketch who I was going to become. That’s how I got to know my characters. And it was wonderful because I got to know them from the inside out.

Kim Novak, an Alfred Hitchcock muse, appeared alongside Frank Sinatra, James Stewart and William Holden, among others.
(Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

And it’s even better when a movie director appreciates what you’re doing and how involved you are in becoming a character. Some directors just want to tell you what to do, what to say. And it’s definitely not the way I like to work. 

Fox News: Why did you leave Hollywood?
Novak: I felt it was getting dangerous. I just felt like I was losing myself to all the characters and into the Hollywood scene. I suddenly became aware of that. Then I didn’t want that to happen to me.

I felt like I needed to stay by myself. I had that same feeling for a while and I actually wanted to leave a couple of years before [I finally did]. And then the mudslides came. I lost my house. I lost everything. I thought, “This is the opportunity to make my move.” I took it as a sign.

Impressionist painting of a woman walking down a railroad track with a suitcase in her hand, accompanied by this poem, also by Kim Novak: ‘Finding my way to find myself, by myself, in my own way, To be seen and be heard for keeping my word; And at the end of the day, fly off like a bird!’
(Kim Novak)

I already had a house in mind. I did a movie with Jack Lemmon [“The Notorious Landlady”]. I saw a house for sale and I bought it the day before I left. I had never been inside the house. I just walked around it. It was right by the ocean. I just felt that this was meant for me. And I finally did it. I rented a car, packed up and took off. I just had to do it. Art has always been my safe haven in Hollywood and I had yearned to get back to it. It saved me from being a total failure in school. So it has always rescued me.

Fox News: Take us back to that very first morning when you woke up and realized you weren’t in Hollywood anymore.  What did you feel at that moment?
Novak: Liberated. Totally liberated. I thought, “Wow, I’m going to live my dream and not for someone else.” It was wonderful. My cat was purring, the birds were singing, the waves were crashing – we were all just content.

The first thing I did when I woke up was to get all my art equipment, set up my easel and look out the window. I thought to myself, “This is paradise.” Hollywood offers money and prestige, but nothing ever compares to that feeling I felt that morning.

Retired actress Kim Novak sketching a portrait of an unidentified girl as a pet blue jay stands on her arm.
(Charles W. Bush/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Fox News: In your book, you wrote about being “dazzled and disturbed” to see yourself as a sex symbol. What did you mean by that?
Novak: Well, it was exciting to put on glamorous clothes and see yourself in the mirror looking like that. But it was scary too. It was like, “Do I really want to be that? What would my parents think? I don’t want to fall in love with that person.” I didn’t want to love myself solely because I was an image of glamour.

I didn’t want to put on all these glamorous clothes and rely on that to be myself. I didn’t want to rely on being beautiful. Now, it’s wonderful. I don’t have to be young and I don’t have to be glamorous. I’m just creating. I’m creating something and not just looking at myself.

James Stewart (1908 – 1997) and Kim Novak in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo.’
(Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Fox News: What’s your favorite memory from filming “Vertigo”?
Novak: All my favorite memories involve Jimmy Stewart because he’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. I was still pretty new to Hollywood at the time. But he was such a great help. He made me feel completely calm and welcomed.

Kim Novak has never forgotten her first love – painting.
(Courtesy of Kim Novak)

He gave me the confidence to keep going and working. And I felt encouraged to continue my art. I was already painting my character in the script. And that got me to understand my character’s point of view very much. It touched me very deeply.

Fox News: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from Alfred Hitchcock?
Novak: How to appreciate a mystery. I don’t know if I always felt that way, but he certainly brought it out of me. I remember one time, I asked him about my character because there was something that just didn’t make sense to me.

He said, “That’s a mystery. That’s what a mystery is all about.” A lot of times he did things that really weren’t explainable. Meanwhile, I was always trying to rationalize things so that it made sense to me. But now, I appreciate a mystery. I now like to put a mystery in all my paintings.

American actress Kim Novak with British director and producer Alfred Hitchcock on the set of his movie ‘Vertigo.’
(Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Fox News: Which painting was the most difficult for you to revisit in this book?
Novak: I don’t find it difficult when I paint. I mean, certainly, I struggle to get a feeling out of my chest. It’s like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I try to look for that light, especially if I’m depressed or just not feeling good. I look into the darkness until I see the light. And light, to me, is painting. It’s an outlet for me to release an idea, something I’m excited about, or whatever it is that’s making me upset.

Art is the light at the end of the tunnel. It always was. I’ve used my art to get in touch with who I am. It has always been my saving grace. Otherwise, I think it would have been very difficult for me to go through Hollywood. It would have been stressful. But I had my outlet. And it became less stressful.

In her new book, Kim Novak admitted she felt ‘dazzled and disturbed’ to see herself as a sex symbol.
(Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Fox News: What’s life like for you today?
Novak: It’s really good. However, last month I lost my husband. My soulmate. So that’s been tough. But the first thing I did was paint. Some people said, “Oh my God, how could you do that so soon?” But I had to. It was my way to communicate with him. It made me feel like I was right next to my soulmate again. Art has just been the answer to everything for me. I’m feeling very inspired these days. I’m letting out all of these feelings and not holding on to them anymore. 

‘Life is But a Dream’
(Kim Novak)

Fox News: Is there anything about Hollywood you miss or regret?
Novak: Yes of course I have regrets. But I also feel everything happens for a reason. I felt unfulfilled in Hollywood so I walked out. I think I did it to save myself. But sometimes I wonder, “Was I being fair? Did I follow through enough on it? Was I a quitter?” But when I truly look at it, I was saving myself.

I still get lots of fan mail and people always ask, “Why can’t you go back and make one more film?” I guess it is a regret that maybe I didn’t follow through enough with what I was trained to do, what I learned about filmmaking. But I just needed to do it my way.

Fox News: In 2014, your appearance was scrutinized when you attended the Oscars. How do you feel about social media in 2021?
Novak: You know, I think social media is good. But taking anything to the extreme isn’t good. I think it’s gone a little overboard. But on the other hand, it’s wonderful that people are able to voice their opinions and feelings.

Kim Novak currently resides in Oregon surrounded by nature, her animals and art.
(Matej Divizna/Getty Images)

I just think it’s gotten a little out of hand. It’s like a pendulum swinging back and forth. There was nothing like it before and now it’s too much. I think it’s time to swing it back a little bit. I think extremes of anything are dangerous and not healthy.

Fox News: What was it like working with Frank Sinatra?
Novak: It was like night and day. When I worked with him on “The Man with the Golden Arm,” he was so wonderful. He was like a mentor to me. He would bring over books and things for me. But then when we were on “Pal Joey” he was difficult and not helpful. I was so excited to do this musical and take on some dance numbers. I worked hard on them. Constantly rehearsed. 

And right before the shoot, Frank came. We ran through the routine while he sat and watched. When we were done, he said, “Well, I’ll do this, but I’m not going to do that.” And all of our routines that we worked so hard on? We couldn’t do them. He just didn’t want to do them. I didn’t understand why he was being so difficult.

American actors Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak on the set of ‘The Man with the Golden Arm,’ directed by Austro–Hungarian-American Otto Preminger.
(Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Looking back, I now understand he was in character. This was a guy who was cocky and only thought of himself. That was the character. But I didn’t think of it that way back then. I just thought, “God, what happened to the person who was so gentle, sweet and magnetic? Now he’s just moody.”

He went through a lot of mood swings. I went through mood swings too, but I was not diagnosed [with bipolar disorder] yet. So I wasn’t taking any medication to help me. But I had my art. Whenever I felt frustrated, I would just start drawing or painting. That’s how I got through my whole life really.

Fox News: What do you hope audiences will get from your book?
Novak: I’m hoping people will think of me not just as a movie star. I want to be remembered for more than just playing other characters they might have liked – or not liked. That’s not me.

Kim Novak has a released a new book that features her artwork, as well as personal reflections from her decades-long career.

I put myself into them. They’re good stories. But… I want to be remembered for the art I created. It captures all my feelings, all of me. They’re not just landscapes, they’re experiences I’ve gone through. They’re my dreams. I’m hoping I’ll be remembered not necessarily as just an artist, but as a special human being with something to offer.

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