Psycho (1960) gave me very wrinkled skin. I was in that shower for seven days - 70 setups. At least he (Alfred Hitchcock) made sure the water was warm.” Janet Leigh
An American actress who began her cinematic career with MGM in 1946 after actress Norma Shearer “spotted” her in a photograph, Janet Leigh, born in 1927, died in 2004, went on to become one of the busiest contract artists at the studio. She began to build her career with solid performances in such successful features as Little Women (1949), Angels in the Outfield (1951) and Scaramouche (1952), to name a few. In the early 1960s, Leigh drew accolades with her Oscar-nominated, supporting role of the ill-fated embezzler in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Best remembered for her legendary “shower scene,” the actress also picked up a Golden Globe Award and a Golden Laurel Award. She gained additional recognition for playing roles in such movies as The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Bye Bye Birdie (1963), Harper (1966) and Boardwalk (1979). She acted with husband Tony Curtis in such vehicles as Houdini (1953) and The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), as well as with her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in the movies The Fog (1980) and Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998).
In the 1970s, Leigh gradually withdrew from movies and primarily worked on television projects. During this period, she also emerged as a writer by publishing an autobiography, “There Really Was a Hollywood” (1984) and a novel, “House of Destiny” (1995). Her last movie, A Fate Totally Worse Than Death, hit theaters in 2005, a year after her death.
Off screen, Leigh was married four times. She married third husband Tony Curtis in June 1951, but they divorced in 1962 after 11 years of marriage. Curtis, who has disclosed he cheated on her during their marriage, left Leigh for a 17-year-old Austrian actress, Christine Kaufmann, his costar in Taras Bulba. Leigh and Curtis shared two daughters, actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis. One of Empire magazine’s “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” (1995), Leigh spent the rest of her life with husband Robert Brandt, whom she married shortly after divorcing Curtis.
Childhood and Family:
An only child, Jeanette Helen Morrison, better known as Janet Leigh, was born on July 6, 1927, in Merced, California, to Helen Lita Westergard and Frederick Robert Morrison. His mother was of Polish-Norwegian descent and her father was of Scottish, Irish and French extraction. A bright student, she skipped several grades and graduated high school early when she was 15. She then studied music and psychology at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, but quit after securing a contract with MGM. Later, in 2004, she received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of the Pacific.
At age 14, Janet eloped and married John Carlyle. The marriage, however, was later annulled. She was married to Stanley Reames from 1946 to 1948 and to the Bronx-born actor Tony Curtis from June 4, 1951, until June 1962. With Tony, Janet had two daughters, Jamie Lee Curtis (born on November 22, 1958) and Kelly Curtis (born on June 17, 1956). Three months after divorcing Tony, she tied the knot with stockbroker Robert Brandt on September 15, 1962.
After suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest because of expanded cardiomyopathy, Janet passed away on October 3, 2004, at her home in Beverly Hills, California. Her husband, Robert, and her daughters were by her side. Janet also suffered from peripheral neuropathy and vasculitis.
House of Destiny
Janet Leigh was spotted by retired MGM actress Norma Shearer. Shearer showed talent agent Lew Wasserman the picture she had seen of Leigh while vacationing at the ski resort in which the parents of the girl worked. This led to a screen test at MGM and eventually a starring role in her first feature, The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947), where she shared the screen with Van Johnson, MGM’s biggest star of the era. A series of film roles followed, including playing the future Mrs. Richard Rodgers in Words and Music (1948) and Meg March in the Oscar-winning drama Little Women (1949), based on the autobiographical story of Louisa May Alcott’s life with her three sisters in Concord Mass in the 1860s.
Leigh continued playing the young ingénue for films like Angels in the Outfield (1951), opposite Paul Douglas, and the unmemorable musical My Sister Eileen (1955), as the very pretty title role. She supported Stewart Granger and Eleanor Parker in the adventure Scaramouche (1952), costarred with Tony Curtis in the biopic Houdini (1953), was seen in the remake of The Black Shield of Falworth (1954) costarred in The Vikings (1958), also starring Kirk Douglas, and stood out as the bride of Charlton Heston in the Orson Welles-directed Touch of Evil (1958). By the end of the decade, the actress had added over 30 movies to her resume.
After reuniting with Curtis for Who Was That Lady (1960), Leigh made a huge impression in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho (1960). Although her presence in the classic was relatively short (only 45 minutes), she gave a notable shower scene that later become a film landmark. For her effort, she was handed a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, a Golden Laurel for Top Female Supporting Performance, and an Oscar nomination.
The actress further proved she was a talented leading lady by playing the lovable, swinging NY career girl Rosie in the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962), opposite Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey, and the girlfriend of Dick Van Dyke in the musical Bye Bye Birdie (1963). For the rest of the 1960s, she made infrequent film performances, including one costarring with Paul Newman in Harper (1966), and could be seen working on several television productions, including having a recurring role in the series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” (1966) and starring as Sandra Latham in the television film Honeymoon with a Stranger (1969).
Throughout the 1970s, Leigh went on to work on the small screen. She acted in a number of television films like House on Greenapple Road (1970), Deadly Dream (1971), Murdock’s Gang (1973), Columbo: Forgotten Lady (1975) and Mirror, Mirror (1979), and appeared in episodes of such shows as “The Virginian” (1970), “Ghost Story” (1973) and “Movin’ O” (1975). She maintained her big screen existence by making a few films. In 1979, she offered a tough performance as the widowed daughter-in-law of Lee Strasberg in Boardwalk, a forgotten thriller by director Stephen Verona.
1980 saw Leigh star alongside daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in John Carpenter’s The Fog, and after this performance, return to television where she landed a string of guest roles in many series such as “The Love Boat” (1985), “Murder, She Wrote” (1987) and “The Twilight Zone” (1989). Meanwhile, in 1984, she released an autobiography called “There Really Was a Hollywood.”
As she grew older, Leigh showed less attention to acting, even though she was still in demand for television documentaries about Hollywood and its luminaries. Having returned to the ‘Psycho’ subject as host of the Showtime TV-movie Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), she published a memoir on the making of Psycho in 1995. The same year, she also released her first novel, “House of Destiny,” and said on talk shows while promoting the book that she would be dedicating her time almost fully to writing. However, she could be seen playing the role of the mother of Nancy McKeon and Alexandra Wilson on the television film In My Sister’s Shadow (CBS, 1997) and reuniting with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in the movie Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998).
Before her death, Leigh appeared in an episode of “Family Law” (2001), as Mary Sawyer, and was an active performer in dozens of specials reporting on the history of Hollywood, in which she recalled her days and friendships in the business. Her latest movie appearance was as Mrs. Witt in the comedy A Fate Totally Worse Than Death, which was released in 2005, a year after she died.