Kim Novak may have been both the luckiest and the unluckiest actress of her era.
On one side of the equation, her home was destroyed not once, but twice -- the first time by a mudslide in the sixties, which cost her her Picasso collection as well as much of her own work, and the second time by fire, in July 2000, which destroyed her collection of movie scripts and memorabilia, and the computer containing her unfinished autobiography. (She has never finished it.)
On the plus side, although she was a model with no training as an actress (a nationwide tour as "Miss Deepfreeze" was her only claim to fame), she was chosen as Columbia Studio head Harry Cohn's choice to be the next Rita Hayworth/Marilyn Monroe!
Born in Chicago on February 13, 1933 as Marilyn Pauline Novak, her first screen appearance was a small part in RKO's The French Line (1954). This got her a 6-month contract at Columbia Pictures. They wanted to change her name to "Kit Marlowe," but she insisted on keeping her last name, swapping "Marilyn" for "Kim," to avoid confusion with Monroe. Her appearances in Picnic (1955), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and Pal Joey (1957) were a hit with the public, and she became the top boxoffice actress of 1957.
When Vera Miles, who was originally cast opposite Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, became pregnant, Kim Novak got the part, on loan from Columbia to Paramount. Though the film didn't do well at the time, it was later hailed as Hitchcock's masterpiece, and became Novak's signature role.
She was teamed once again with Stewart in Bell Book and Candle (1958), and acquitted herself well in later films such as Strangers When We Meet (1960) and Of Human Bondage (1964). She also starred in Boys' Night Out (1962), The Notorious Landlady (1962), and Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) during this period, but never regained the level of popularity she had attained in the late 50s.
She eventually waved goodbye to Hollywood, appearing in barely a dozen films and TV movies after 1969, plus a stint on the TV series Falcon Crest during the 1986-1987 season (playing "Kit Marlowe"!). Her last film appearance was in 1991's Liebestraum.
She has been very happy living on her ranch with her husband, a veterinarian. She spends most of her time caring for her animals, including llamas, and creating photographic nature studies. She took part in a 1997 tour to promote the restored version of Vertigo, and appeared in a TV documentary that year called Obsessed with Vertigo.