#CyberBullies Swarm 'Vertigo' Star

By Jessica Burtch

March 7, 2014 4 min read

You really can't blame Kim Novak for moving to the forest.

For a country that has spent the past few years waging a rhetorical war against bullying in an attempt to create a kinder, gentler America — Anti-Bullying Day, the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, Stomp Out Bullying — we sure are a bunch of assholes.

For better or worse, cruelty is nothing new to Novak. The actress was discovered in the 1950s by one of Hollywood's meanest moguls: Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn.

"The first time I was in his office was when they called me in to tell me they had changed my name. I had a feeling that if I'd gone along with the name they'd chosen, I'd never be seen again. I'd be swallowed up by that name, because it was a false name: Kit Marlowe," Novak told Washington Post reporter Tom Shales in a 1996 interview.

"I said, 'I'm not going to change my family name.' Harry Cohn said, 'Well, nobody's going to go see a girl with a Polack name.' I said, 'Well, I'm Czech, but Polish, Czech, no matter, it's my name.'"

Kit was a no. Kim was a compromise. Novak was a keeper.

It was no small feat for anyone to win a battle against Cohn, especially a woman, especially an actress. Novak won that one and others — most notably her fights for fairer compensation and to keep Cohn out of her bed. But she also took plenty of hits. Cohn regularly referred to her as "that fat Polack" and, according to a 2011 piece in Vanity Fair, "had time and again driven home the point that she was nothing but a face."

That face.

Here we are. It's 2014, 56 years after Novak's face pitched Jimmy Stewart headlong into the depths of madness in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" — a psychological masterpiece about a man who tries to re-create a woman in the image of his lost love — and Novak's face has pitched popular culture into a maelstrom of questions about aging and beauty, but mostly about aging beauty and specifically about "aging actresses."

In talking to the Post in '96 about her career, Novak said, "The thing that was the hardest for me? I didn't like to fly, and so I'd always go by train, and I love trains, but of course at every stop there was press, and I had to get out, and it was always, 'Lift your skirt' and all that. It was just — oh! Maybe that's why I always wear pants nowadays."

Novak was wearing pants last Sunday when she shuffled — slowly, carefully — alongside co-presenter Matthew McConaughey toward the podium to announce the Academy Award for best animated feature film. She was smiling.

And the jokes and the snickering and the snarky headlines flew. And the Twittersphere let loose a tsunami of vicious tweets.

#frozen #badplasticsurgery #youcanthandlemcconaugheysweed

#rageagainstthemean

If people can't refrain from shredding a smiling woman who could be their grandmother, I am not optimistic about the likelihood of a kinder America. And if the audience at the Oscars can stand up for selfies and pizza but not for the now 81-year-old star of what is widely considered one of the best films ever, I can only congratulate Novak on her decision to head to the trees and surround herself with animals.

Aging actresses? Get real, people. We're all on that train.

Follow Jessica on Twitter @sicaleigh. To find out more about Jessica Leigh, and to read features by other Creators writers and comics, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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