Kim Novak: 1950s Movie Star with Hidden Bipolar Disorder

Novak's undiagnosed bipolar disorder made her stardom difficult.

Kim Novak Photo Call
Actress Kim Novak in 2015. Matej Divizna/Getty Images

Kim Novak, an actress who became a star in the 1950s and played an iconic role opposite Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 classic thriller Vertigo, actually had bipolar disease and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which she kept hidden until 2012.

Still, these illnesses impacted her career and may have contributed to largely ending it several years after Vertigo premiered. She has worked only sporadically since the early 1960s and is now active in mental health philanthropy.

Kim Novak: Career and Bipolar's Effects

Kim Novak was born on February 13, 1933, into a working-class family, and grew up in Chicago. She began modeling part-time in her teens, and when she won a beauty contest at the age of 20, Kim (then Marilyn Pauline Novak) was hired to tour the country as "Miss Deepfreeze" for a refrigerator company.

Eventually settling in Los Angeles, she was screen-tested by Columbia Pictures, where president and production chief Harry Cohn, known for both his ruthlessness and his successes, renamed her Kim Novak and gave her roles that showcased not just her looks but her talent as well.

The 1955 film Picnic catapulted Kim to stardom, and her next movie, The Man With the Golden Arm (where she played opposite Frank Sinatra) cemented her as one of the most popular actresses of the time. Success followed success, including Vertigo.

Yet in 1966, stressed and depressed, she left Hollywood, and from then on she worked in movies only sporadically.

After appearing in almost 20 films between 1954 and 1965, Novak appeared in just 11 films, one short and, briefly, one TV series from 1966 to 1990. In 1976 she married equine veterinarian Robert Malloy, and since then has lived — mostly quietly — on a ranch in Oregon.

Headlines on Music from The Artist

Controversy erupted in January 2012 when Novak took out a full-page ad in Variety which read, in part:




The film could and should have been able to stand on its own without depending upon Bernard Herrmann's score from Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO to provide it more drama. Much of VERTIGO's music was written during, not after, filming - that was the way Hitchcock worked. The Love Theme was woven musically in with the puzzle pieces of the storyline. In my opinion, the combined efforts of the composer, director, Jimmy Stewart, and myself were all violated.

At the time, some in Hollywood and elsewhere called Novak's ad and criticisms "bizarre." In addition, some advocates for victims of sexual assault called her language and comparison to rape extreme and unfounded.

In March 2012, Novak issued another statement to clarify the reasons she was so outraged about the use of music from Vertigo in The Artist (which won an Academy Award for best original score in spite of the fact that not all of the score was original).

"It was very painful. When I said it was like a rape, that was how it felt to me," she said. "I had experienced in my youth being raped, and so I identified with a real act that had been done to me.

I didn't use that word lightly. I had been raped as a child. It was a rape I never told about, so when I experienced this one, I felt the need to express it."

Bipolar Disorder

In April 2012, after leaving her hand prints and foot prints in concrete on Hollywood Boulevard (a signal honor for actors and actresses), Kim Novak was interviewed by Bob Osborne, the host of Turner Classic Movies. In front of a small live audience, she revealed for the first time that she has bipolar disorder, and that it played a role in her decision to leave Hollywood so long ago.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Kim as saying, during the interview, that her father suffered from depression and there was a great deal of conflict at home during her childhood.

She also said she wasn't diagnosed with bipolar until much later in life.

Now, she indicated, she takes medication. But since her condition wasn't diagnosed during the early days of her career, she wasn't being treated then. "I go through more of the depression than the mania part," she said.

She said she turned to painting and other visual arts as a creative outlet. Kim told Osborne that she "plans to hold an exhibition of her paintings for the first time next year, and will devote the proceeds of any sales to mental health philanthropies."


Harry Cohn. Turner Classic Movies.
Kim Novak 'rape' comment about 'The Artist's' music opens old wounds. Entertainment Weekly. 6 March 2012.
Kim Novak. AstroDatabank. 27 Jan 2002.
Smith, Grady. Kim Novak slams 'The Artist' for using 'Vertigo' theme; 'Artist' director Michel Hazanavicius responds. Entertainment Weekly. 9 Jan 2012.
Keegan, Rebecca. Kim Novak says she's bipolar, regrets leaving Hollywood. Los Angeles Times. 13 April 2012.

More About Kim Novak and Her Films:

  • Movie Review
  • by William Inge