Kim Novak responds to post-Oscars ridicule: ‘I was bullied.’

FILE - In this March 2, 2014 file photo, Kim Novak, left, and Matthew McConaughey speak during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Novak said Thursday, April 17, 2014, that criticism of how she looked as a presenter at the Oscars last month amounted to hurtful bullying, which she condemned in an open letter and interview. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP, file)
Kim Novak, left, and Matthew McConaughey at the 2014 Academy Awards. (John Shearer/Invision/AP)

After presenting at the Academy Awards this year, Kim Novak didn’t want to leave her house. The Hitchcock screen siren, 81, was too humiliated to venture from her home near the Rogue River in Oregon. She read the cruel posts and Internet snark about her appearance, and it was just too much.

“It got to me like it gets kids and teenagers,” she told the Associated Press.

The “Vertigo” actress, considered one of the great beauties in her day, posted a note on her Facebook wall Thursday, acknowledging that she’d gotten fat injections in her face and addressing her halted speech at the Oscars:

After my appearance on the Oscars this year, I read all the jabs. I know what Donald Trump and others said, and I’m not going to deny that I had fat injections in my face. They seemed far less invasive than a face-lift. It was done in 2012 for the TCM interview special. In my opinion, a person has a right to look as good as they can, and I feel better when I look better.

When I was honored at the Cannes Film Festival last year, I received an overwhelming standing ovation. Yet, in Hollywood, after the Oscars, I was bullied by the press and the public on the Internet and TV. The only difference that night was that I had taken a pill to relax—that I shouldn’t have taken. I had been fasting for three days and it affected my behavior. I regret taking it.

After Novak walked onstage with Matthew McConaughey, a parade of insults appeared on Twitter.

 

After an awkward exchange with McConaughey about animation, Novak stepped up to the microphone and said, “I’ve got to take a minute just to say I’m really glad to be here. It’s been a long time.” It was as though “Sunset Boulevard’s” Norma Desmond had walked on stage in Novak’s blue and black ensemble.

Like Desmond, she thought, this time will be better. But it wasn’t.

“I thought, ‘Perhaps Hollywood is ready to receive me in a different way,’” she told AP. “I was just not prepared for such a negative reaction and it just caught me off guard.”

Actress Kim Novak in 1996. who play the lead in the re-released 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo, which has just been released. By Frank Johnston / The Washington Post
Actress Kim Novak in 1996. (By Frank Johnston / The Washington Post)

For Novak, who survived breast cancer in 2010, this wasn’t just about the pot shots at her looks. “Years ago, I walked away from Hollywood partially because I didn’t stand up to the bullies,” she wrote. “I caved in to the pressure instead of fighting for what I felt was right.” Though she didn’t state it explicitly, it’s likely that Novak was referring to former Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn, who, by edict, molded Novak into the blonde Hitchcock beauty she became, and who allegedly ordered a hit on Sammy Davis, Jr. when Novak fell in love with the singer. 

While the masses piled on, criticizing Novak for having had the nerve to not “age gracefully,” in their eyes, Slate’s Amanda Hess took the snark brigade to task for refusing to see the bigger picture:

Even for the young, Hollywood beauty has never been strictly natural. When Novak entered the industry in the 1950s, studio executives made her cap her teeth, bleach her hair, shrink her body with a strict diet and exercise regime, and perpetually paint her face with the help of a personal makeup artist. I wonder where she got the idea that she mattered for her looks? Hollywood made Novak a star, then abandoned her—decades ago.

Those who defended Novak also cited this Self-Styled Siren piece:

So let’s say — just as a hypothetical for-instance — you are an 81-year-old star whose last movie was in 1991 and who hasn’t been to the Oscars in many a long year. Not that you were ever nominated for one in the first place; you were, after all, a sex symbol for most of your career. As the evening approaches, the anxiety sets in. Harsh lights, you think. High-definition cameras. And a public that remembers you chiefly as the ice goddess whose beauty once drove James Stewart to the brink of madness.

And even back then, when you were 25 years old, you worried constantly that no matter how you looked, it wasn’t good enough.

So a few weeks before the ceremony, you go to a doctor, and he says, “Relax honey. I have just the thing to make you fresh and dewy for the cameras.”

And you go to the Oscars, so nervous you clutch your fellow presenter’s hand. And the next day, you wake up to a bunch of cheap godd—- shots about your face.

Nice system we got here, isn’t it.

What made the digs at Novak seem especially cruel is that now, people know better.

Thanks to widely-read sites like Jezebel, which built its reputation on exposing Photoshop disasters, we know many of the images we see have been doctored to perpetuate unreal, unattainable beauty standards. Studies and documentaries have told us it’s damaging to expect real flesh-and-blood women to uphold those standards, and the mud gets slung anyhow.

Even Congress is hip to the game. Last month, congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced a bill aimed at curbing the use of deceptive Photoshop techniques in advertising. Legislation may or may not help, but Novak’s words could speak the loudest: “I realized that I had to stand up not only for myself but for other people that don’t have the courage to do so,” Novak told AP. “I feel like I have a mission.” 

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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