Jane Novak

Jane Novak (January 12, 1896 – February 3, 1990) was an American actress of the silent film era. She was the sister of actress Eva Novak, and niece of actress Anne Schaefer.[1]

Jane Novak
Novak, c. 1922
Johana B. Novak

(1896-01-12)January 12, 1896
DiedFebruary 3, 1990(1990-02-03) (aged 94)
OccupationActress, author
Years active19131954
Spouse(s)Frank Newburg (1915-18)


Jane Novak was born Johana B. Novak in St. Louis, Missouri to Bohemian immigrant Joseph Novak and wife Barbara.[2] Her father died when she was a child and her mother was left to raise 5 children.[3] Novak attended School Sisters of Notre Dame convent school in St. Louis,[1] but ran away with a friend with whom she created a vaudeville act.[3] Although she returned home her aunt, actress Anne Schaefer, invited her to California where she began acting in motion pictures in 1913 at the age of 17.[3] The actress began in a stage stock company with her uncle in St. Louis.[3] Novak's career extended into the sound film medium, appeared in a total of 115 movies in her career.


She appeared in a movie on her very first day in southern California, before there was a film studio in Hollywood. There she met Frank Newburg, who was, at the time, leading man to Ruth Roland at the Kalem and American Mutoscope and Biograph companies. Newburg took her to a studio in Santa Monica, California, where her aunt, Anne Schafer, was a popular star. Newburg and Novak later married in 1915[4] and had one daughter. However, the marriage was short lived and the couple divorced in 1918.[5]

Novak endured as a performer, in part, by sacrificing sensational roles for roles as leading women in more wholesome films. Some actresses who were Novak's contemporaries quickly found stardom, yet were forgotten soon afterward, while she was considered an "old-fashioned girl." As a result, Novak, refused to work in films with other leading ladies. She played opposite Wallace Beery, Tom Mix, Hobart Bosworth, Alan Hale, Thomas Moore, and Lewis Stone. At one time she was engaged to marry Western star William S. Hart, although their marriage never took place. She is celebrated for her westerns;[5] and made five films with Hart.

Novak's movies were often based on outdoor stories. Some of these include Treat 'Em Rough (1919), Kazan (1921), Isobel (1920), The River's End (1920), and The Rosary (1922). By March 1922 she had her own company and was under contract for five outdoor movies, with a salary was $1,500 per week. Aside from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Novak was the first film star to paid in four figures for a single movie. At this time performers were only paid while a motion picture was shooting. An entire film was completed in three or four weeks.

Novak's last starring role was opposite Richard Dix in the Technicolor production Redskin (1929). The movie was also supposed to be with sound but there was a contract dispute involving this being Dix's final film with Paramount Pictures, so it was shot as a silent film. Novak's voice was good but she made only a handful of pictures following the advent of sound. One was a World War II era epic entitled The Yanks Are Coming featuring Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom. She also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent in 1940, having met him previously in the 1920s when making The Prude's Fall (1925).[5]

In 1974 the former silent screen star published a cookbook entitled Treasury of Chicken Cooking. The volume is a collection of 300 recipes compiled by Novak over the years, all of them her own.

Novak's last appearance on camera was in 1988 for a documentary, Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989) by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow, and first screened on ITV.[5]

She was the older sister of silent era film star Eva Novak and died in Woodland Hills, California of a stroke in 1990 at the age of 94 (her sister Eva lived to reach 90).

Partial filmography


  • Modesto, California News, Jane Novak-She's Filmland's Old-Fashioned Girl, March 8, 1922, Page 5.
  • Nevada State Journal, Silent Films Star Jane Novak Talks At Length About Her Past, Friday, November 22, 1974, Page 37.


  1. Brown, John W. (2008). Missouri Legends: Famous people from the Show-Me State. St. Louis: Reedy Press. pp. 176, 177.
  2. Information from ancestry.com
  3. The Independent, London, February 1990
  4. Biography of Jane Novak at the Internet Movie Database
  5. The Independent,London, February 1990
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