Jane Novak, the delicate beauty whom William S. Hart saved from savage hordes and runaway trains in a series of adventure films seven decades ago and who became one of a select few that reclusive star would permit near him in his declining years, died Thursday afternoon.
The actress who began her career in 1915 and appeared sporadically in pictures through 1950 was 94 when she died of the complications of a stroke at the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in Woodland Hills.
Jane Novak had appeared in 110 films, most of them in lead roles.
Once engaged to Hart, the Shakespearean actor-turned-cowboy star who fell ill at his Newhall ranch in 1946 and died a few days later, Miss Novak was an immediate success in films after coming to Hollywood from St. Louis with her sister in 1914. Initially, each earned about $10 a week.
Jane Novak sister, Eva, who died in 1988, became a favored co-star of cowboy actor Tom Mix, while Jane Novak and Hart teamed up for a series of Western adventures that included “Selfish Yates,” “The Money Corral” and “Wagon Tracks.”
Although the relationship with Hart became personal and ongoing, Miss Novak’s best-remembered film, “Eyes of the World” in 1917, was made without him.
Jane Novak last epic was in 1929, the half-sound, half-color “Redskin” with Richard Dix. It remains a favorite among film buffs.
Jane Novak’s career extended across the ocean. In 1922 she sailed to England and Germany for three productions by Sir Michael Balcon, who later went on to make the early comedies of Alec Guinness. It was on a Balcon film that she first met Alfred Hitchcock, then a young set designer, who remained a friend to her until his death.
Over the years she was cast opposite some of Hollywood’s most attractive and successful male stars–William Desmond Taylor, Hobart Bosworth, Lewis Stone, Wallace Beery, Sessue Hayakawa, and of course Hart and Mix.
Jane Novak appeared in some of the very first Harold Lloyd comedies and recently was interviewed for a Public Broadcasting System TV series on that bespectacled funnyman.
Her producers ranged from Hal Roach to Hal Wallis, for whom she made her final pictures–“The File on Thelma Jordan” and “Paid in Full”–in 1950.
In a 1982 interview with The Times in which the two sisters reminisced, Eva Novak said that her sister was the true actress while she had made films solely for the money.
Both Jane and Eva Novak continued to draw the attention of fans into their final years.
Jane Novak’s son-in-law, film producer Walter Seltzer, delighted in telling friends how she would arise each morning, dress and put on her makeup as if she were still expecting a film crew, and then sit down to answer her fan mail.
She is survived by a daughter, screenwriter Mickell Novak Seltzer, with whom she lived in Sherman Oaks, and a granddaughter.
Services will be private, and the family asks contributions to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
- January, 12, 1896
- St. Louis, Missouri
- February, 03, 1990
- Woodland Hills, California
Cause of Death
- San Fernando Mission Cemetery
- Mission Hills, California