Kim Novak on Turning 90 and How She'll Be Remembered: 'My Life Has Grown Richer the Longer I've Been Around'

The legendary Vertigo actress, now 90, tells PEOPLE about finding joy in painting, riding horses and her surprise connection to Pamela Anderson

Kim Novak
Photo: Sue Cameronh; Sunset Boulevard/getty images

In a rare interview to mark her 90th birthday on Monday, screen legend Kim Novak admits she's been so busy painting and riding horses on her Oregon estate that she hasn't watched many of the latest films.

But there's one documentary she saw that made an impact. Pamela Anderson's Pamela: A Love Story. "I appreciate the fact that she was willing to expose herself and be vulnerable," says Novak. "I think that's beautiful."

Novak — the star of such Hollywood classics as Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, The Man with the Golden Arm with Frank Sinatra and Picnic opposite William Holden — felt a certain connection to the Baywatch star.

"When you're inside of the person who someone is looking at, you're not looking from their perspective," she says. "They may see you as a sex symbol, but that's not how you see yourself, and that's what was beautiful about Pamela's documentary. She was showing us the person she was growing up and who she was through these relationships, not of how it looked to other people, but from the perspective of how it felt to her."

Over five decades ago, Novak, one of the biggest box-office draws of her era, left Hollywood behind. Craving a more artistic life, she moved north to Carmel, to a house by the sea, and then to the Oregon coast, where she now lives and paints. (Her husband Robert Malloy died in 2020.)

birthday post about Kim Novak courtesy of Sue Cameron
Kim Novak. Courtesy of Sue Cameron

"What's wonderful is sometimes movies get less appreciated later and people get less appreciated," she says. "But with me, it's worked the opposite. I'm so grateful because I've become more respected as an actress. I think my style of acting is understood now, where it wasn't then, because at that time in the '50s, I think there was some overacting, making it too broad — too obvious. I just was expressing myself as I always do, honestly and truthfully. I think that the style is more appreciated, and so my life has grown richer the longer I've been around on this earth."

"I mean, in so many of my performances, I think they were expecting to see the sex symbol, and instead I gave them just the raw me," she says.

On her 90th birthday, she plans to paint in the morning ("I get up and I'm still barefoot and start working on my canvas because during the night I get ideas of what I want to do") and then, she says, "I'll go riding with my horse, Poet. Poet is my love and I will have my three dogs beside us, and it'll be perfect."

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"I never wear a watch, so I have no sense of how time is passing, other than the fact that I'm productive and taking time to put down, in images, all the things I've experienced," says Novak, who will have a new art exhibition this May at The Butler Institute of Art in Youngstown, Ohio, where she's previously shown her work.

"I think it opens up a whole new avenue of me after I'm gone, which I find exciting — to think that I'm going to live on through my art, and hopefully through movies, of course. It gives me a purpose."

Never one to look back, Novak imagines how her paintings will tell her life story in the future.

"I feel I've been meant to stay around," she says, "because with my art, I expressed so much, and when I'm gone it's going to be fascinating for people to look at my art and figure out what I was saying about my experiences in Hollywood, in my childhood and all of my life."

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She's also participated in an upcoming documentary, Kim Novak: The Golden Age Rebel, with a French film company, a deep dive into how she pushed back against the Hollywood studio system, "the pressure to be seen and not heard," and her relationship with Sammy Davis Jr.

"I told them a lot of revealing things," she says. "I was very open. I told them about my life in Hollywood, I also told them about the real story of Sammy and me. That was often misunderstood. I just wanted to be totally open about everything that had been more secretive in the past. While you're still alive, to be able to be questioned and answer truthfully, to clear up all kinds of mistaken views and all, it's catharsis."

While she watches mostly documentaries these days ("I watch them on Netflix," she says) she plans to watch this year's Academy Awards and is a big fan of Best Actress nominee Cate Blanchett. "I adore her work," she says. "Everything she does is great, and that's one [Tár] I'm going to watch."

She hasn't gotten to Top Gun: Maverick yet. "I hear it's really good, but it's not the first movie I'd go to watch," she says. "Tom Cruise, I mean, I think he's a good actor, pretty good. Just not my type."

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