Kim Novak paints in a dreamy, impressionistic style that allows symbols to pop up unexpectedly. “A goat appeared on one canvas. I thought, ‘Where is this goat coming from?’” the Vertigo star tells Closer. Then Kim remembered: Before they started dating, her future husband, who was a large-animal veterinarian, treated one of her goats after it tried to eat wet cement.
Since the sudden passing of Robert Malloy, her husband of 44 years, in 2020, Kim, 89, has used her art to help fill the void in her life. “Painting a picture of him felt like we could still communicate in a warm and intimate way, ” she explains. “It made me feel less lonely.”
First signed by Columbia Pictures as a successor to Rita Hayworth, Kim appeared in several frothy comedies before breaking out in 1955’s Picnic opposite William Holden. In just a few years, she became a huge box office draw with acclaimed performances in Vertigo, Pal Joey and, Kim’s personal favorite, Middle of the Night.
Stardom, however, didn’t make Kim happy. “It was very stressful,” says the sensitive star, who often took criticism to heart. “Now, my work is very much appreciated as an actress, but back then these critics — you’d make a movie and be excited and then they would write something awful.”
By the time she met Bob in 1974, Kim was painting more and acting less. “I had been married once before [to Moll Flanders costar Richard Johnson], but it just didn’t suit me being married to an actor,” says Kim, who adds that she and Bob had more in common. “My love of animals and his love of animals — that bonded us. Bob also had a wonderful sense of humor.”
Losing Bob in November 2020 upended the life they’d built together and challenged Kim more than she ever expected. “I learned how little I knew and did not fully appreciate just how hard my husband had to work. I never had to deal with business before, but now I have to do it all,” Kim admits. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep from feeling sorry for myself!”
But acknowledging a gamut of emotions has helped Kim get past the worst of her grief. “You have to be patient,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to let those emotions out and then let go.”
Keeping busy has also been a blessing. Last year, Kim released a book of memories, artwork and poetry, Kim Novak: Her Life and Art. She has also been working with French filmmakers who are preparing a documentary on her life.
Naturally, Kim continues to paint. Her late husband is among her favorite subjects. “I find my art is very prolific since my husband passed,” says Kim. “I have a sense of him looking over my shoulder and watching me with that little smile on his face.”
—Louise A. Barile with reporting by Katie Bruno