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What happened to '60s movie star Kim Novak at the Oscars in 2014 was a reminder of why she'd greatly reduced her roles since then. Donald Trump, not yet the official Republican nominee for president, tweeted, "Kim should sue her plastic surgeon!"
The star of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is quick to acknowledge that she could've looked better.
"You know when you get insecure and you think somebody can help you? I didn't want a facelift or anything like that, so I went to a doctor and he put some fat injections in my face," Novak said in a new interview with The Guardian. "That was the stupidest thing I could have done. First of all, I didn't need it, because I think my face is too round anyway. But it filled out my cheeks so I looked different."
She also "took a Valium on an empty stomach" because she was trying to lose a little weight.
But the harsh criticism was part of the reason the 88-year-old's last acting credit was in 1991.
"I thought: 'I'm much too vulnerable for this town. I take things to heart too much,'" she said.
"It's exciting to dress up in gorgeous clothes and to feel sexy and to look sexy. It's wonderful, but it's a trap," Novak warned. "You become satisfied with that being enough, then later in life it isn't enough. So many people, once they got older and were no longer looked at for their beauty, just fell apart."
The actress, who now lives in Oregon, is open about this, as she is with her mental health issues through her advocacy work. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder herself in the early '00s, which she attributes to multiple factors.
"I inherited my mental illness from my father, but the rape must have added to it," Novak says of an assault that she endured early in life. "It was in my early teens by multiple boys in the back seat of a stranger's car."
The Chicago native began modeling at home and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she signed with Columbia Pictures. She recalled the studio's president, Harry Cohn, calling her fat. She wasn't. And she saw people change because of Hollywood. It wasn't exactly incentive to stay.
Take, for example, Frank Sinatra.
"I had a relationship with Frank, yeah. He was a very sexy guy," Novak said. (She adds that she did not have a romantic relationship with Sinatra's Rat Pack pal and her good friend Sammy Davis Jr., despite his feelings for her.)
Novak also worked with Sinatra on two movies, which left her with two very different impressions of him.
"If I'd only worked with him on the first movie, [1955's] The Man With the Golden Arm, I’d be bragging about how wonderful he was," she said. "He could be kind and gentle — and he could be cocky, not wanting to listen to anybody but himself."
The two teamed up again in 1957, for Pal Joey.
"The real Sinatra was a very sensitive person. But he was affected by people putting him on a pedestal, so he let that simple, beautiful side of him go," Novak said. "You can get lured into loving yourself too much. That's why I left Hollywood. I didn't want to get into all of that. I didn't want to lose myself. I needed to leave to save myself. I like who I am, even with the suffering you go through, even with the fact that when you're vulnerable you feel everything so intensely."
One person who did handle fame well was Jimmy Stewart, Novak's co-star in Vertigo, which consistently ranks among the best films of all time.
"He lived in the midst of all that vanity and was never tainted by it,” Novak said of Stewart, who also co-starred with her in 1958's Bell Book and Candle. "Most leading men enjoyed the glamour of it all. So many times we would sit after the scene was over and we'd take off our shoes and put our feet up on the table and not even talk. We'd just hang out, because we were both real. It was hard for me to believe that somebody could live in Hollywood for so long, right in the middle of Beverly Hills, and stay real. He deserves a big trophy just for that; one that says: 'I was real.' I'd like that same trophy."
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