Kim Novak Turns 81 with a LIFE.com Photo Spread

02/13/2014 at 01:15 PM EST

Kim Novak Is 81, and LIFE.com Looks Back
Kim Novak, in 1956, with agents Al and Wilt Melnick
Leonard McCombe/Time & Life Pictures/Getty
She was a major box-office draw in the '50s, even topping the box-office standing of Marilyn Monroe, and Thursday, the day before Valentine's Day, marks the 81st birthday of Kim Novak.

Speaking to LIFE.com recently, the star of Alfred Hitchcock's critically revered Vertigo, as well as Picnic, Pal Joey, The Man with the Golden Arm and other screen landmarks of her era, recalled her photo shoot for the magazine's cover story of nearly 60 years ago.

"I hoped to show the world my soul," said Chicago's former Marilyn Pauline Novak, whose sultry voice is still very much intact, as evidenced by a highly revealing Turner Classic Movies interview that aired last year. (She told TCM host Robert Osborne that she expected her favorite leading man, Jimmy Stewart, to be waiting for her at the Pearly Gates, when her time comes.)

"I believed that fame had found me for a reason that I didn't quite understand yet, and that LIFE magazine would help to give me a voice," she tells LIFE.com. "Bottom line, I wanted the world to see that I was not just another Hollywood pretty face or sex symbol – but the real McCoy!"



That she was – and is. Happy in her life away from Hollywood, today's Novak paints and takes care of her menagerie on the spread in Oregon that she shares with her husband of more than 40 years, veterinarian Robert Malloy.

"I left Hollywood and the life of a movie star to make a path for my artistic desires without the handicap of false expectations," says Novak. "I am content."

For the complete LIFE.com story and photo spread, click here.

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