Wild Women Of The West: Jane Novak

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Silent motion-picture actor William S. Hart starred opposite the beautiful and talent actress Jane Novak in a series of Westerns between 1918 and 1923.  He saved her from brazen outlaws and runaway trains in several action-adventure films audiences of all ages flocked to the theaters to see. 

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1896, her parents were of Bohemian origin. Her father died when she was a child, and her mother had to cope with five children. After a convent education, Jane ran away with a girlfriend with whom she organized a vaudeville act. Although she was brought home; she was permitted a job with her uncle’s stock company. An aunt, realizing her acting potential, invited her to California in 1913 and she appeared in pictures at once. She married Frank Newburg in 1916, and they were divorced in 1918, by which time Novak had met William S. Hart. In addition to appearing in films with Hart, the pair were romantically involved and were once engaged to be married. 

In addition to making Westerns with William S. Hart, she also starred in a number of cowboy pictures with Tom Mix.  Jane is best remembered for her work in the films Eyes of the World released in 1917 and The Spirit of 76, also released in 1917.  The Spirit of 76 was a controversial film which caused its producer to be jailed during WWI for anti-British sentiments in the story of the American revolution. Jane’s most critically acclaimed work was in the picture Redskin which was released in 1928. In the film she played a frontier teacher who breaks off an engagement when her fiancé, a fellow teacher, for beating one of his students. 

Jane’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. She appeared in a film Hitchcock made in 1940 entitled Foreign Correspondent.

Jane Novak died on February 1, 1990, from post-stroke complications. She was ninety-four years old.

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