Kim Novak and Hollywood cruelty

 
Kim Novak presented the award for best animated feature at the Oscars on 3 March. Does Hollywood require a female star to maintain her "youthful looks until her deathbed"?

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Actress Kim Novak starred in what arguably is the best film ever made, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. But when she stood with Matthew McConaughey on the Academy Awards stage on Sunday night, it wasn't her professional career people were talking about.

As the headline in USA Today put it: "Kim Novak takes a beating on Twitter".

The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman tweeted: "#AcademyAward for worst plastic surgery: tie between Kim Novak and Goldie Hawn."

Comedian Nick Youssef: "Kim Novak was just safely transported back to the Hollywood Wax Museum."

Start Quote

It's no secret that society both encourages and stigmatizes cosmetic surgery for women”

End Quote Spencer Kornhaber The Atlantic

Donald Trump (Donald Trump!): "Kim should sue her plastic surgeon!"

Robert Rorke of the New York Post listed Ms Novak's appearance as one of the "eight weirdest Oscar moments".

"Looking like Cesar Romero on Batman and sounding like Jimmy Durante, the hoarse Novak got through the presentation, but left us wondering whether extreme plastic surgery shouldn't be illegal in Hollywood," he writes.

The spate of snarky responses to the 81-year-old actress's appearance have prompted a discussion of celebrity culture and the high price it exacts on aging female stars. (It's also worth noting that Ms Novak recently was treated for breast cancer and suffered a serious horse-riding accident.)

"It's no secret that society both encourages and stigmatizes cosmetic surgery for women," writes Spencer Kornhaber in the Atlantic. "People have a lot of different opinions on this - maybe we should stop encouraging; maybe we should stop stigmatizing. Either way, perhaps we can agree that laughing at Novak in this case is particularly awful.

Film blogger Farran Nehme delves into Ms Novak's background and points out that movie producer Harry Cohn "discovered" the actress but was cruel to her in a way that should seem familiar even today. "I made you, I can break you," she says Cohn would tell actresses like Ms Novak.

"Cohn put Novak on a stringent diet, all the while calling her 'that fat Polack' (Novak's background is Czech) behind her back," Nehme writes. "She followed an exercise regime. She was assigned a make-up artist. Her teeth were capped. Her hair was dyed blonde, then rinsed to make it gleam lavender in the light."

Then Nehme imagines what Ms Novak must have been thinking on Monday night.

"And you go to the Oscars, so nervous you clutch your fellow presenter's hand. And the next day, you wake up to a bunch of cheap goddamn shots about your face. "

"Nice system we got here, isn't it," she says.

Start Quote

Hollywood may value youth above all else, but as we learned last night, there's nothing sorrier than an older woman who tries to look young”

End Quote Amanda Hess Slate

Older actresses are caught in a conundrum, writes Justine Musk on her blog:

It's expected that an actress like Catherine Zeta Jones would use fillers and plastic surgery to stay youthful ("more Botox") even as she's criticized for using fillers and plastic surgery at all (since they are neither natural nor effortless). If a woman hasn't made that obvious investment in looking youthful and thin, she's accused of letting herself go.

"Hollywood may value youth above all else, but as we learned last night, there's nothing sorrier than an older woman who tries to look young," writes Amanda Hess of Slate. "Hollywood made Novak a star, then abandoned her - decades ago."

She writes that unlike Ms Novak, 64-year-old Meryl Streep and 67-year-old Sally Field were held up as examples of how to age "gracefully".

"But we don't know what Streep and Field do to maintain their looks - all we know is that they have successfully navigated Hollywood's dual requirement to look amazing post-60 while never signalling that they've worked at it," she writes. "That means avoiding obvious plastic surgery, but it can also mean spending your life investing in the habits, trainers, diets, creams, and treatments that add up to a 'natural' look in old age."

She concludes: "Jennifer Lawrence is Hollywood's current girl crush, and she's got a bright career ahead of her - as long as she maintains her youthful looks until her deathbed, or else picks the appropriate moment to crawl into a hole to wait to die."

Or, as Musk puts it: "Don't destroy the players. Change the game."

 

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