For years, Carmel residents have pointed to a rocky outcropping jutting into the ocean in the Carmel Highlands, saying “Kim Novak used to live there.” She left the beloved home she called “Gull House” nearly four decades ago—but some people leave a lasting impression through their time in a place, much like Clint Eastwood’s short stint as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Novak adored Gull House and it’s easy to understand why. A distinctive, simple-yet-elegant stone edifice perched on the rocks above the endlessly churning sea, it features unobstructed ocean views. There is only one other home visible from the property now, and when she lived there, there were none, affording ultimate solitude to an actress who was disillusioned with fame and its pitfalls. Novak came here to escape the loss of privacy that comes with being a top-tier movie star; she came to this breathtakingly beautiful locale to allow the chilly Pacific to wash away the trappings of Hollywood fame.
Novak’s film career was meteoric. After roles in a few mostly forgotten films beginning with 1953’s “The French Line,” she scored a stunning career coup, starring opposite one of show business’ biggest names, Frank Sinatra, in “The Man with the Golden Arm,” just two years later.
“I went right to the top,” she says. “I had no experience, and I think that was good because I was real, in a time when Hollywood was anything but real.”
By “real,” she explains that she wasn’t a trained thespian. “I’m appreciated more as an actress now than then. I was a re-actor, responding to a script or my co-actors. There was a part of me in every role. I would be that character as if she were born in me.”
A string of ever-bigger productions with A-list cast members followed that debut: “Picnic,” the film adaptation of William Inge’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play opposite William Holden; “The Eddie Duchin Story,” with Tyrone Power; and “Pal Joey,” with Sinatra and Rita Hayworth.
What followed was the film that would put the name Kim Novak on the Hollywood map (and on a star in the sidewalk at 6332 Hollywood Boulevard): “Vertigo,” directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart. Set mainly in San Francisco, a few scenes were filmed around the Carmel area, including near Point Lobos. It’s well-documented that Hitchcock could be hard on his players, but Novak didn’t experience any of that. She did, however, have issues with Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, the man who “discovered” her.
Cohn had a reputation as a tyrant, but he had made several young women into big box-office attractions, including Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe.
When Marilyn Novak, a 20-year-old beauty walked into his office, he knew he had his next star. One problem: there was already a Marilyn in Hollywood. To avoid any confusion with Monroe, he dictated that Marilyn Novak would henceforth be known as “Kit Marlowe.” She might have been new to Hollywood, but Novak was no pushover. As she wrote in her new book “Kim Novak: Her Art and Life,” “I did win my fight over identity. I wouldn’t allow…Cohn to take my Bohemian roots away by denying me my family name. Novak. I stood my ground and won my first major battle.”
She also succeeded in changing “Kit”—a name she despised—to “Kim.” In a tongue-in-cheek nod to that clash, in the 1980s, the character she played in the hit television prime-time soap “Falcon Crest” was named Kit Marlowe.
“The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Vertigo” are both in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
On February 13, 1933, in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, Joseph and Blanche (née Kral) Novak welcomed the birth of their second daughter, naming her Marilyn Pauline. The family was of Czech descent and Joseph put food on the table through his work as a railroad clerk. By all accounts, Marilyn and her sister Arlene enjoyed a typical Midwestern childhood, though she was quite shy as a young girl. Her well-known love of animals began early in life.
“My sister and I would go out looking for injured birds and animals to help bring them back to health,” Novak recalls. “We put a sign in our window reading, ‘Bring Stray Pets Here.'”
Though she was an indifferent student—”I daydreamed so much…always looking out the window”—Novak was gifted with a natural talent for drawing, an artistic outlet she has pursued to this day.
“One thing I excelled at was art,” she says. “As a little girl, I would go to the railroad station with my father and sketch the people passing through.”
Despite her lack of interest in schoolwork, her talent landed her a scholarship to the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago.
“I wanted to be an artist. That was my love then. Later, when I was making movies, I would draw sketches in my scripts to help me develop my characters and I would paint on the weekends.”
She says she still has the “Vertigo” script containing her sketches for the characters of Madeline Elster and Judy Barton “somewhere” but is in no hurry to go looking for it.
Novak held a series of jobs in Chicago, including elevator operator and dental assistant. She won a beauty contest (“Miss Snow Queen”) and was encouraged to try her hand at modeling. Finding success in that endeavor, she landed a gig touring the country as “Miss Deep Freeze” for a refrigerator company, ironic, since she later came to epitomize the “icy blonde” Hitchcock prototype.
Like so many before her, she decided to try her luck in California, traveling the well-worn path to Los Angeles. She signed with a modeling agency and was soon offered a small film part that led to a contract with Columbia Pictures.
In 1962, Novak’s sister Arlene was visiting the set while Kim was filming scenes for “The Notorious Landlady” (costarring Jack Lemmon and Fred Astaire) on the coast south of Carmel. Deciding to wander around the neighborhood, Arlene came upon a house with a for sale sign out front.
“She said ‘I’ve seen a house you’ll love,'” Novak recalls. “We walked over. That day was heavy with fog, but just as I neared the house, it lifted, and the bright sun revealed the whole place. There had been a huge storm the previous year and most of the windows were boarded up. I walked around the place on its catwalks. It was beautiful, everything I loved, high ceilings, stained glass, a bathtub that looked out on the ocean. In fact, that bathtub had a big rock in it, tossed in by the storm.”
The film company returned to Hollywood the next day, but the small stone house on the promontory stayed on Novak’s mind.
“I called the Realtor and bought it over the phone without going inside,” she says. “Gull House became my hideaway while still living in LA.”
After a mudslide destroyed her Bel Air home, Novak decided she was done with Hollywood and made Gull House her main residence. “I loved it there. The ocean would crash right on the windows.” She soon had a menagerie keeping her company.
It was also an ideal place for her to indulge her love of creating art; an unparalleled location in which to paint.
“I had a goat named Creature, and Warlock, a Great Dane,” she says. “I loved piling them into my Jaguar convertible and taking them down the coast to Nepenthe, a lovely Big Sur restaurant. They knew me there and expected me to come with the guys. We would relax on the patio and have a White Russian. Sometimes Umi the racoon came too.”
Disputes with zoning authorities concerning her goat led the actress to move to a larger, animal-friendly property near Jacks Peak in Monterey.
“Also, I could now have my horses with me,” she says, “especially Nur Jahan (“Light of the universe”), an Arabian stallion and the love of my life.”
By this time, Novak also had a llama and a Siamese cat.
“I could ride into the park and in the hills surrounding my home.”
The move proved fortuitous in another, more personal way.
“I was breeding horses then. A mare was birthing and having problems. It was late, and I called a new veterinarian I didn’t know. Bob Malloy came over at midnight and I invited him in after he saw to her. I made a fire from wood I had cut myself and offered him chili, which turned out to be his favorite food. He had two bowls. We chatted and found we had a lot in common.” They began dating and married in 1975.
The couple later moved to Oregon where Malloy continued his veterinary practice. Novak became his “unpaid assistant.” Most importantly, she devoted more and more time to painting. “When I’m painting, I get to be producer, director and the cast,” she says. “It comes directly from my heart and soul.”
Novak’s soulmate passed away last December after 44 years of marriage. She now lives alone in a house on the Rogue River in Oregon that she designed herself. Well, not completely alone: she still has plenty of animals to keep her company. Painting has proven to be a vital part of the grieving process for her.
“I like to start early in the morning. All night long, I dream things I want to express. Some days, I can’t wait to get to my studio and I’m barefoot at the easel first thing in the morning when I’m inspired.” The work consumes her on occasion. “Occasionally I’ll get to the studio in the evening, start working and find myself still painting when the sun comes up.”
Novak’s colorful paintings, many that include “hidden messages and images” attracted the attention of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. That museum staged an exhibition of her work in 2019.
The institute wrote on its website, “Novak’s artwork, Impressionistic and surrealistic, has a dynamic effect where surrealism meets traditional realism. It has a strong appeal in its essence of the ethereal as the artist employs the unique qualities of the pastel medium to render a sense of altering states.”
The exhibit became the inspiration for “Kim Novak: Her Art and Life,” a compilation of her paintings and poetry. It also contains reminiscences and never-before-seen personal photographs from her Hollywood years.
“Many times, I’ve been asked to write a ‘tell all’ about my time in Hollywood, but I really have no interest in that. This book gave me the chance to tell my story, share some of my poetry and my favorite paintings.” Copies are available at butlerart.com.
Unlike many actors that get caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle, Kim Novak has succeeded in putting all that behind her and living a healthy life full of the things she loves most, including her Oregon surroundings.
“Living here on the Rogue River is comparable to living at Gull House by the sea. But there is lots of open land where I can ride my horses. I almost feel guilty that I live such a good life.”
Giclee prints of Novak’s art are available. Learn more at kimnovakartist.com.