LOS ANGELES — Kim Novak says that cruel jabs about how she looked during the Oscar ceremony amounted to bullying that left her crushed at first, but then determined to speak out in protest.
“It really did throw me into a tailspin and it hit me hard,” Novak, 81, said in a telephone interview Thursday, after she released an open letter condemning remarks by Donald Trump and others about her appearance.
In her letter, Novak said: “I will no longer hold myself back from speaking out against bullies. We can’t let people get away with affecting our lives.”
She had initially remained silent after serving as a presenter with Matthew McConaughey at the March 2 Academy Awards because the comments were so painful, Novak said from her home near the Rogue River in Oregon.
“For days, I didn’t leave the house, and it got to me like it gets kids and teenagers” who are attacked, she said.
Trump tweeted during the Oscars that Novak should “sue her plastic surgeon,” while others noted how unnaturally smooth-faced the veteran star of “Vertigo” and other classic films looked — even though actresses are pressured to look forever young.
“I’m not going to deny that I had fat injections in my face. They seemed far less invasive than a face lift,” Novak wrote in her letter, adding, “In my opinion, a person has a right to look as good as they can, and I feel better when I look better.”
Novak’s Oscar night speech, which some observers characterized as halting, was the result of a pill she had taken to relax and a three-day fast, she said in her letter.
Novak wasn’t the only older actress targeted at the Oscars. She was disturbed, she said, when ceremony host Ellen DeGeneres singled out audience member Liza Minnelli, 68, and pretended to mistake her for a male impersonator. “Good job, sir,” DeGeneres said.
Novak said she retains dark memories of her years as a young actress in Hollywood, when she suffered from untreated bipolar disorder and was acutely sensitive to the industry’s casual snideness and harsh reviews of her lesser films.
But the Oscar sniping took her aback, Novak said, because she had been given such a gracious welcome during a visit last year to Cannes, France, and gets warm notes from fans.
“I thought, ‘Perhaps Hollywood is ready to receive me in a different way.’ I was just not prepared for such a negative reaction and it just caught me off guard,” she said.
Comments spread fast and far online, she said, and people don’t realize you’re listening. “It goes over in such a public way now,” she said.
It was a commitment to appear at the TCM Film Festival last week that changed her mind about going public with her concerns. Novak, an artist with an upcoming exhibit at the Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio, also showed one of her works, a “Vertigo”-related painting, at the festival.
She was well received during her initial appearance but felt she had to “take the bull by the horns” and deal openly with the treatment of her and Minnelli, she said. Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne agreed to discuss it during an interview that preceded a festival screening Saturday of her film “Bell, Book and Candle.”
Novak, who said she takes medication for her disorder, decided afterward that she wanted to spread her message more widely and asked her longtime manager, Sue Cameron, to release the letter.
“I realized that I had to stand up not only for myself but for other people that don’t have the courage to do so,” Novak said. “I feel like I have a mission.”