(Air Date: Week Of 8/14/96)
Of all the blonde goddesses of the 1950's , fate has been kindest to Kim Novak. Martine Carol, Diana Dors, Betty Grable, Judy Holliday, Grace Kelly, Joi Lansing, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Cleo Moore and Lana Turner are now available for posthumous appeal only. But Novak, who rarely received a rave notice during her heyday, is now recognised as the treasure she was and is. "Vertigo", which many consider her best work, will be re-released this fall, following major restoration. And "Picnic", complete with its sensuous "Moonglow" dance sequence, plays this week at San Francisco's Castro Theatre.
After directing William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play of 1953, Joshua Logan assembled a mostly new cast for the 1955 Columbia movie. Oscar winner William Holden took over the role of Hal Carter created by Ralph Meeker. Cliff Robertson was cast as his rival Alan Seymour. (Paul Newman had played it onstage.) Rosalind Russell campaigned for the part of love-starved Rosemary Sydney originated by Eileen Heckart, with Arthur O'Connell recreating the character of her reluctant suitor, Howard Bevans. Teenaged Susan Strasberg replaced the much older Kim Stanley as Millie Owens. And for the part of her pretty sister Madge, first played by Janice Rule, Logan took a chance on young contract player Marilyn (re-named Kim) Novak.
"Picnic" made her a full-fledged star. Madge Owens was uncomfortable with the attention she received from her looks, much as Novak chafed at the image her studio had created for her. You can see and feel Novak disowning role after role in which guys walk into lamp posts when they meet her: she always seems to want to be in another world, or at least Big Sur. This disconnected quality was unappreciated by the critics of forty years ago, (they wanted a beautiful blonde to enjoy being their idea of a girl) but it works wonderfully well now. It's ideal for Inge's delicate drama, too. Holden had made some forty movies by this point and audiences had seen him both in an elegant tux and a grimy shirt, so he needed a radically different response to be convincing as a drifter. Thanks to Logan's expert guidance, Holden, Novak and small town America never looked better. And with William Inge on the typewriter, "Picnic" always gives a throat tug at the achingly brief loveliness of a summer day and night.
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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