Tom Baum returned from a play workshop last week to find that Carol Baum had finished watching “Bell, Book, and Candle,” the Kim Novak movie that followed a Turner Classic Movies interview with Robert Osborne.
TOM BAUM: You really watched the whole movie? I thought you thought it was goofy.
CAROL BAUM: I had to watch it. That interview broke my heart.
TB: I could tell you were upset. I didn’t realize how much.
CB: “Picnic.” That movie spoke to me—my alienated, misunderstood teenage self. She was so memorable in that. Iconic.
TB: That amazing scene where she sashays toward William Holden while “Moonglow” is playing—supposedly some theaters flashed EAT POPCORN over that scene and increased popcorn sales by 50%.
CB: Didn’t that turn out to be a hoax?
TB: I think so, yeah. “Picnic” came out before we started dating. Like four years before.
CB: She was sort of playing herself—vulnerable, wounded…only appreciated for her beauty—
TB: I appreciated you for more than that.
CB: I’m not comparing myself.
TB: And I’m not William Holden.
CB: It was how he got who she really was—the sensitive girl-woman with the conventional family that was stifling her.
TB: Did you feel stifled exactly?
CB: Maybe, but that’s not my point.
TB: And your family wasn’t conventional.
CB: I’m saying she was a blank slate waiting to be imprinted. Teenagers feel like that.
TB: I didn’t.
CB: I was just so moved seeing her now, after all these years. Have we ever seen her interviewed before?
TB: I think she’s been in hiding. In Big Sur? Isn’t that where she used to live? Didn’t [friend’s name deleted] make a pilgrimage to see her? Knocked on her door? Like almost harassed her?
CB: That was like 40 years ago.
TB: More like 50.
CB: Didn’t Richard Rushfield do an interview with her? Maybe he has more current information.
TB: She’s married now, she said. And with cats who nibble on her earlobes.
CB: She was so beautiful.
TB: And a #1 box office star. I never realized that. For many years.
CB: Seeing her now was such a shock. How old is she now? In her sixties?
TB: More like 80.
CB: Can’t be.
TB: I’ll check, but “Picnic” was 1955, she was in her early 20s, which yeah, makes her about 80.
CB: She’s had too much plastic surgery but if you squinted you could see the old Kim Novak sneaking through the mask.
TB: I don’t remember her eyebrows in the interview. In “Bell, Book, and Candle” they were so arched. Like with brow extensions. A little bit like Groucho Marx. In “Vertigo” too, I think.
CB: You’re so mean.
TB: And she’s lost that whisper in her voice. The end of every line, she’d trail off in a kind of sleepy whisper. I guess that was part of her sexual signature.
CB: But why wasn’t she Marilyn? There was no such thing as “Kim.”
TB: I don’t know…she just wasn’t as alive.
CB: I wonder if Marilyn at 80 would have had as many regrets.
TB: What’s that thing about Marilyn, she was the “promise of sex”? With Kim Novak, the promise was already kept—the sleepy aspect. Plus Marilyn’s suicide, the rumors of murder, the Kennedy connection, DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, her temperamental behavior on sets—there’s no comparison.
CB: Kim was more the innocent. But she said she was bipolar, like her father.
TB: That was kind of a surprise. I thought there was some dementia there. The way she kept repeating herself.
CB: The way she broke down in tears talking about the disappointments in her career…getting down on herself because she didn’t fight to get better parts. Envying Lee Remick. For being taken seriously…Lee Remick played all these different roles—
TB: So did Kim Novak. The two roles in “Vertigo.” Though her voice was the same in both roles. Different clothes. Different hair.
CB: —but Lee Remick wasn’t just valued for her beauty. That was her point. That she was undervalued. By her peers. She was desperate for their respect, which I guess she never got.
TB: Hitchcock said something awful about her. I think maybe it’s in the Truffaut book. Something like, “At least this time she doesn’t spoil the picture.”
CB: She was good in that picture with Kirk Douglas—the one set in the suburbs?
TB: “Strangers When We Meet.” Richard Quine directed that one too. I didn’t realize they were married.
CB: His pictures are usually so goofy.
TB: “Sex and the Single Girl.” We used to like that movie.
CB: “Bell, Book, and Candle” was Razzie-worthy. Jack Lemmon as a warlock was embarrassing…Elsa Lanchester, Hermione Gingold—too broad for me—
TB: Isn’t that like casting the same person twice?
CB: “How to Murder Your Wife.”
TB: Yeah, but you know what Godard said? He said when he was making “Breathless” he thought he was making a movie like Richard Quine’s “Pushover.” Anyway, she wasn’t goofy in “Bell, Book, and Candle.” What I saw of it. I thought she was very dignified.
CB: In the interview, the way she kept turning to the audience, and talking to Robert Osborne like a therapist…her bipolar father who walked out of “Vertigo” and never said he loved her…and then leaving the business because she and Mike Figgis didn’t get along? What movie was that?
TB: I’m looking it up…..”Liebestraum.”
CB: Was it really her last movie? Was it ever released?
TB: I’m checking….Yes. Last movie, 1991. It made…133 thousand dollars. So she was working during the 80s. I don’t remember ever seeing her on TV, do you?
TB: “Falcon Crest.” We never watched “Falcon Crest.” Wait, you know what we forgot? “The Legend of Lylah Clare.”
CB: That was amazing.
TB: She was great in that. That scene on the staircase where she bursts out in that contralto voice, speaking in a German accent. That whole movie was so bizarre. Robert Aldrich.
CB: “Pal Joey.” “Middle of the Night.”
TB: She was in a lot of movies.
CB: It was so painful…hearing about her painful memories. The way she started crying when she talked about not working again after Mike Figgis. The regret in her voice. And then how she’s painting now, and she’s proud of what she’s accomplished and she started crying again. Sometimes I wonder how people survive their childhoods—that they can still walk and talk much less act.
TB: And then not act.
CB: I hope she feels better today.