KIM NOVAK (vs Vera Miles)

We could say: Kim Novak had a 2 in 1 role in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. At the first half in the film she plays  Madeleine, and at the second part she plays Judy.

But surprisingly Kim Novak almost played a (let’s say) 0 in 1 = no role at all in Vertigo because Hitchcock wanted someone else for the part.


Kim Novak, a former model groomed by Columbia as the  studio’s answer  to Marilyn Monroe, she made promising appearances in Phffft! (1954), Picnic (1955) The Man with the Golden Arm(1956), Pal Joey (1957) and by the time Vera Miles’s pregnancy sidelined  her from Vertigo, her classic profile and blonde beauty had made her the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.

(Thomas Leitch: The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock (2002) page: 237.)

Kim Novak:

Kim Novak

Hitchcock originally wanted Vera miles to play Madeleine, but she got pregnant and was therefore unavailable.

Vera Miles:
vera miles

Hitchcock was enthralled with the young actress Vera Miles. He planned to use Vertigo to build her into a major star. In early 1957, she posed for these hair & costume tests as Madeleine.  Also modeled for early version of the painting that features prominently in the story: the portrait of Carlotta.

Vertigo DVD

In an interview Alfred Hitchcock said he believed Kim Novak was miscast and the wrong actress for the part.


Hitchcock was also frustrated at not being able to persuade Vera Miles to do the film and had reluctantly cast Kim Novak, under contract to Columbia, in her place. Jimmy Stewart had been forced to accept a film for Columbia, Bell, Book and Candle, in exchange for  the studio loaning Novak to Paramount. Consequently, nothing Novak did satisfied Hitchcock, and the director seemed to blame Jim for having to settle for Novak in the part. Kim Novak told me:

Hitchcock didn’t like having me in his picture and he felt I was ruining it. It was only after the film was finished that I heard how much he thought I’d wrecked his picture. I felt I did a lot of good work in that movie,  and I got some of the best notices of my career. But Hitchcock couldn’t blame himself, so he blamed me.

Michael Munn: Jimmy Stewart The Truth Behind The Legend (1988) pages: 236-237

James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo

Interview with Kim Novak

( Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel)

When the script for Vertigo came to you, you were under contract to Columbia and its president, the legendarily crass Harry Cohn.  You were also the number one box-office attraction at the time.
KN: That’s right.

How did doing Vertigo come about for you?
KN:  Harry Cohn told me, ‘I got this awful script that Alfred Hitchcock wants you to do.  If it weren’t for Hitchcock, I’d never let you do it.’

How did you respond to the screenplay?
KN: The script was always the most important thing to me and I loved the script.  For one thing, I’ve always admired trees.  I just worship them.  Think what trees have witnessed, what history, such as living through the Civil War, yet they still survive.  I’ve always felt that part of why they survive is because they don’t try to intercede, to advise ‘No, that’s the wrong way,’ or to try and wipe out an army.  They stood and observed. When I read that part of the Hitchcock script where Madeleine and Scottie are among the redwoods, she touches the tree rings and says, “Here I was born and here I died.  It was only a moment.  You took no notice,’ I got goose-bumps.  When it came to shoot that scene, I had goose-bumps.   Just touching that old tree was truly moving to me because when you touch these trees, you have such a sense of the passage of time, of history.  It’s like you’re touching the essence, the very substance of life.  I remember taking my father to see the redwood forest once.  He wept and so did I.  He ‘got’ it in the same way as I do.  We never talked about it.  That scene in Vertigo I felt more than any other, except the one in which Judy says to Jimmy’s character that if she lets him change her, will he love her?  And she says she’ll do it, she doesn’t care any more about herself.  That scene was so important to me.  I was so naked there, so willing to be anything he wanted, just to be loved.

Did Hitchcock make you feel valued as a performer and collaborator?
KN: He didn’t necessarily, but, on the other hand, he didn’t make me feel ’less than.’  He never said, ‘Do it a different way,’ or ‘You’re not doing it right.’  We only did probably two, three takes on every scene we did, at the most.  I knew that he was a person who wanted what he wanted.   I grew up in a family that never expressed when I did something right, but you knew when you did something wrong.  So, I understood.  What I would do after a take is to look in Jimmy Stewart’s eyes.  He would nod his head, as if to say, ‘That was it.’  I used Jimmy to give me what I needed to keep going and to know that I was on the right path with it. I thought I saw Jimmy’s soul all the time we worked.  He never covered his soul and I never covered mine.  We saw into each other’s souls, very definitely.   So, Hitchcock wouldn’t say anything about my work in the movie but, on the other hand, he wouldn’t complain, either.

Vertigo is, thematically, about so many things, including obsession.  From your viewpoint, what did Hitchcock seem obsessed by?
KN: Technical points were his main thing.  He’d always look through the lens to watch your performance, unlike directors who sit off to the side. You’d never have a sense looking at his face how he thought it was going.  He was the camera and I always felt comfortable with the camera.  It was always difficult to have a director off to the side. Why I loved working with Hitchcock was that he allowed me that creativity and input.  I always painted when I’d go home from a day on the sets of my movies.  I love to paint but, back then, I was largely painting out of frustration.  I don’t think I painted at all while I worked on Vertigo.  I didn’t have the need to.  I was so into doing what I was doing and I felt good about what I was doing.  No one was telling me, ‘Do it this way.’  Hitchcock wouldn’t tell me how to think.  Bad directors love to tell you how to think.  I mean, why do they hire you?  Today, they could just computerize you.

How did you react to the mixed-to-negative notices and the disappointing box-office for Vertigo?
KN: It lessened my self-confidence.  I always have this feeling that I’m supposed to do something, to mean something.  My sense of that started to weaken, as if, ‘Oh, I thought this was a medium that I was supposed to touch people in and I’m not having an impact.’  As time went by, I thought, ‘This is not the right medium.’  It’s a wonderful medium and I enjoyed working in it but I started to think that this must have been a detour.  This must not be my medium for doing something important and to touch people.  I loved acting, which was never about money, the fame.  It was about a search for meaning.  It was painful.

Even under contract, with such films as Middle of The Night (1959), Jeanne Eagels (1957), and, especially, Vertigo you seemed determined to wriggle out of the straitjacket of the ‘new Marilyn Monroe’ and the ‘lavender blonde’ publicity gambits Columbia foisted on you.
KN: Oh, yes.  I tried so hard with movies like Vertigo and Middle of the Night and others.  I felt those would show me that it’s only a matter of time before I’d find the right one to reach out and touch people.  Harry Cohn said after Vertigo, ‘Now, let’s get back and do some scripts we can make money with.’  My security comes from my senses, my sensing the direction I should go and suddenly I felt out of tune, out of step with what other people wanted or what other people expected of me.  The work I did in Vertigo meant nothing if no one cared about the movie.  Luckily, Vertigo had a revival and people had begun to recognize there was something special and it gained in reputation.  But it just as well could have ended up rotting in film cans somewhere.  It means nothing if the movie doesn’t get out there.

© 2004, by Kim Novak and Stephen Rebello


The information that can be taken form interview is that Kim Novak felt quite comfortable with her role in Vertigo as opposed to the previously mentioned quote of hers. Though the film didn’t do well at the time, it was later hailed as Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and became Novak’s signature role. We can assume, she became more famous as the film got more acclaim.

Questions arise:

1. Would the film become more famous with Vera Miles?

2. How has Hitchcock inspired his actors?


Michael Munn: Jimmy Stewart The Truth Behind The Legend (1988) pages: 236-237
Thomas Leitch: The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock (2002) page: 237.

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