Janet Leigh

Eyridiki Sellou | Nov 7, 2023

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Janet Leigh (Merced, California, July 6, 1927-Beverly Hills, October 3, 2004) was an American film actress, especially remembered for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe.


Jeanette Helen Morrison was born on July 6, 1927 in Merced, California. She was the only child of Helen Lita (maiden name Westergaard) and Frederick Robert Morrison. Her maternal grandparents were Danish immigrants, and her father was a descendant of Scottish and German immigrants. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Stockton, where she spent the first years of her life. They lived humbly on what little her father could earn in different jobs at the height of the Great Depression.

Leigh was raised Presbyterian and sang in the local choir as a child. In 1941, when her paternal grandfather fell ill, the family returned to Merced and went to live at her grandparents' home. There she attended Weber Grammar School in Stockton, and later Stockton High School. Leigh was a great student and graduated at the age of 16.

1946-1948: Discovery and first papers

In February 1946, actress Norma Shearer was vacationing at Sugar Bowl, a ski resort in the American Sierra Nevada mountains where Leigh's parents were working at the time. In the resort's lobby, Shearer saw a photograph of Leigh taken by a ski club photographer on Christmas vacation, which he had printed out and placed in a photo album available for guests to attend.

Upon her return to Los Angeles, Shearer showed the young woman's photo to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout Lew Wasserman (Shearer's late husband, Irving Thalberg, was MGM's head of production). She would later recall that "that smile was one of the most fascinating faces I had seen in years. I felt I needed to show that face to someone at the studio." Through her relationship with MGM, Shearer was able to facilitate camera tests for Leigh with Selena Royle, after Wasserman negotiated a contract with her and despite her inexperience in acting. Leigh dropped out of school that year and was soon under the tutelage of Lillian Burns to learn drama.

Before beginning her acting career, Leigh was a guest star on the radio serial The Cresta Blanca Hollywood Players. Her initial radio appearance was on "All Through the House," a Christmas special that appeared on December 24, 1946. Her film debut was the Civil War drama The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947), as Van Johnson's sentimental counterpart. He got the role by optioning the part eventually played by Phyllis Thaxter in Thirty Seconds Over Toquio. She was seen by the head of the studio's talent department. The studio changed Leigh's name to "Jeanette Reames", then to "Janet Leigh" and finally to her birth name "Jeanette Morrison", as the studio felt that "Janet Leigh" could cause confusion with actress Vivien Leigh. In any case, Johnson did not like the change and "Janet Leigh" was eventually retained.

Immediately after the release of The Romance of Rosy Ridge, Leigh would share the bill with Walter Pidgeon and Deborah Kerr in the drama If Winter Comes (1947), playing the role of a pregnant woman in an English village. Around 1948, Leigh was busy shooting the Lassie saga film The Hills of My Land (1948), her third feature film and the first in which she would receive the star treatment. She played the role of the young wife of composer Richard Rodgers in the MGM musical, Lyrics and Music (1948). In late 1948, she was named the "most glamorous girl" in Hollywood.

1949-1958: Contract with MGM and independent films

Leigh appeared in numerous films in 1949, including the thriller, Act of Violence (1949), with Van Heflin and Robert Ryan, directed by Fred Zinnemann. Despite its box office failure, it was well received by critics. She also had a significant appearance in a remake of Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which she plays Meg March, opposite June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor. The film was also praised by critics. Also in 1949, Leigh appeared as a nun in the anti-communist drama The Red Danube, which was acclaimed by journalists, and was followed by the role of Glenn Ford's lover in The Doctor and the Girl. Other 1949 appearances include June Forsyte in The Forsyte Dynasty (1949) opposite Greer Garson and Errol Flynn, and cast mate to Robert Mitchum in the RKO production Holiday Business (1949). That December, filming began on Josef von Sternberg's film Jet Love, in which she competes onscreen with John Wayne. Constant re-editing by producer Howard Hughes would cause the film to be delayed almost eight years from release.

With MGM, she appeared in Strictly Dishonorable (1951), a comedy with Ezio Pinza, based on the play by Preston Sturges. The film received a lukewarm reception. Leigh appeared in the baseball-based film Angels in the Outfield (1951), which was a box office success. That same year, RKO again asked the star to appear in the musical Broadway Lights (1951), with great success. Subsequently, she was one of the many stars who participated in the anthology It's a Big Country (1952) and shot the romantic comedy with Peter Lawford, Just This Once (1952). Leigh triumphed again with the adventure film Scaramouche (1952), in which she played Aline de Gavrillac as the antagonist of Stewart Granger and Eleanor Parker. She would continue her success with the public with the comedy Fearless Fagan (1952), which tells the story of a clown who enters the army, and with James Stewart in the Western Colorado Jim (1953). The latter, being a low-budget production, was one of the great successes of the year, both with audiences and critics. 1953 closed with a minor comedy Confidentially Connie (1953), in which Leigh plays a pregnant housewife who tries to persuade her husband Van Johnson to give up his teaching career and return to Texas to take over the family ranch.

Paramount borrowed Leigh and Curtis for the biopic The Great Houdini (1953), in what was the first film in which they appeared together as Harry and Bess Houdini. The pair would re-shoot as guests in Martin and Lewis' Colgate Comedy Hour before Leigh was loaned to Universal to appear in the musical Walking My Baby Back Home (1953). Leigh was cast to share credits with Robert Wagner in The Brave Prince (1954), a Fox adventure film set in the Viking world and based on a comic book by Hal Foster. Also in 1954, Leigh would play a supporting role in the comedy Living Your Life Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (1954) for Paramount, followed by the Paramount medieval adventure film Black Armour (1954), in which he again coincided with Tony Curtis. Leigh's frenetic career of these years would continue with the role of a femme fatale singer in the MGM film noir Prisoner of her Betrayal (1954) with Robert Taylor. Variety praised her performance even though it described the film's script as illogical. After this film, Leigh ended her contract with MGM after eight years.

1958-1960: Critical acclaim

1958 began for Leigh with the role of Susan Vargas in Orson Welles' classic film noir Thirst for Evil (1958), at Universal with Charlton Heston, a film with numerous similarities to Alfred Hitchcock's later masterpiece Psycho, which would follow two years later. In it, she plays a tormented newlywed in a Mexican border town. Leigh would later describe shooting the film as a "great experience," but added, "Universal just couldn't understand it, so they cut it. Gone was the undisciplined but brilliant film Orson had made." Leigh would later co-star in the fourth film with Tony Curtis in The Vikings (1958), produced by and co-starring Kirk Douglas, and shot in June 1958. Distributed by United Artists, the film had one of the most expensive advertising campaigns of the entire 1950s. Finally, it grossed 13 million dollars worldwide. Leigh's next work was Vacation Without a Girlfriend, shot in early 1959, in which she again shared the bill with Curtis, and where she plays a psychiatric military woman in Paris.

Leigh began a close relationship with the Democratic Party and appeared alongside Curtis at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in support of John F. Kennedy. She also served on the board of directors of the Motion Picture and Television Foundation, a provider of medical services for actors. Leigh and Curtis again worked together for Columbia Pictures on Who's That Girl (filmed in early 1960), in which Leigh plays a wife who catches her professor husband (Curtis) cheating on her, setting off a series of mishaps.


In 1960, the most iconic role of Leigh's career came her way. She played the role of victim Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho, co-starring John Gavin and Anthony Perkins, and produced by Universal.

The role of Marion in Psycho was not an easy or conventional role due to several factors, such as the premature death of the character or the semi-nude in the shower. Janet Leigh, after reading the book Psycho, which was sent to her personally by Alfred Hitchcock, was very intrigued and accepted immediately. Above all, she valued the opportunity to work with "Mr." Hitchcock, as well as the unique and unusual treatment of the character in the film.

The shower scene (which would later become the most famous scene in the film) took a total of one week to shoot due to its complexity. Janet Leigh shot three weeks, one of which she devoted to the shower scene. Leigh later recalled that she was so deeply traumatized shooting that scene that she did everything she could to avoid showers for the rest of her life.

Psycho became a huge critical and public success. For her performance, Leigh received the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The role of Marion Crane became a role that would define her career and she would later comment, "I've been in a lot of films, but I suppose if an actor can be remembered for one role, then he's very lucky. And in that sense I'm fortunate." Her character's death at the beginning of the film has been noted as historically relevant by film scholars, as it violated the narrative conventions of the time, although her death is considered one of the most iconic scenes in film history.

Works in the 1960s

Leigh and Curtis worked together again. In this case, for a couple of cameos in the Columbia film Pepe (1960), in what would be their last work just before their divorce. In 1962, while Leigh was filming the thriller The Manchurian Candidate, Curtis filed for divorce. After this, Leigh would appear in the musical comedy A Kiss for Birdie (1963), based on a Broadway hit. She would also appear in the comedy They and the Others (1963) by director Hal Wallis for Paramount.

Leigh took three years off, discarding important roles, such as that of Simone Clouseau in The Pink Panther, because she did not want to travel and thus separate from her two daughters. She would return in 1966, in several films: first, in the western Kid Rodelo (1966), followed by the crime film Harper (1966), in which she plays Paul Newman's estranged wife. Her next project would be the psychiatrist of Jerry Lewis in the comedy Three on a Couch, followed by the leading role in Slaves of Sin, based on the novel by Norman Mailer, which would be the last film in which she would receive good reviews.

1970-2005: Other projects and final years

Leigh's first television appearances were in programs such as Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre and The Red Skelton Hour. He also starred in many telefilms, such as The House on Greenapple Road (ABC) in January 1970 with high ratings. In 1972, Leigh starred in the science fiction film The Long Night of Rage with Stuart Whitman, as well as the drama A Woman Without Love with Trish Van Devere. In 1975, she played a Hollywood singer Peter Falk in the Forgotten Lady episode of Columbo. The episode used footage of Leigh from the film Walking My Baby Back Home (1953). Multiple television appearances include an episode in the series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in which she played a sadistic Thrush agent named Miss Dyketon, a very provocative role for mainstream television at the time. The two parts of that episode were merged into one and presented in Europe as a film entitled The Spy in the Green Hat (1967). She also appeared in the "Jenny" episode of The Virginian (1970). In 1973, he would also appear in the episode "Beginner's Luck" of the romantic series Love Story.

Leigh also tried his hand at the theater during those years. She made her Broadway debut with the production Murder Among Friends opposite Jack Cassidy, which opened at the Biltmore Theatre on December 28, 1975. The play ran for 17 performances until closing on January 10, 1976. The play received mixed reviews, with some critics who attended previews disliking the show. In 1979, Leigh appeared as a supporting player in the film Boardwalk alongside Ruth Gordon and Lee Strasberg, earning good reviews such as Vincent Canby of The New York Times calling her performance "her best interpreatation in years". Aside from her acting, Leigh also wrote four books. The first, her memoir There Really Was a Hollywood (1984), became a bestseller. In 1995, she published another non-fiction work Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. In 1996, he published his first novel, House of Destiny, which explored the lives of two friends who forged an empire that would change the course of Hollywood history. The book's success spawned a sequel, The Dream Factory (2002), which was set in Hollywood during the heyday of the studio system.

Leigh would appear alongside her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in John Carpenter's horror film The Fog (1980), in which a ghost schooner unleashes ghosts on a small seaside community. Leigh would appear again alongside her daughter in Halloween: H20. Twenty years later (1998), playing Laurie Strode's secretary, she reappeared in the series Murder, She Wrote in the episode "Doom with a View" (1987), as Barbara LeMay in the episode of The Twilight Zone "Rendezvous in a dark place" (1989) and in the series Touched by an Angel in the episode "Charade" (1997). She also had appearances in both Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and Tales of the Unexpected. Leigh continued to give interviews and appear at red carpet events in the early 2000s. Her last film appearance was in the teen film Bad Girls from Valley High (2005), opposite Christopher Lloyd.

In 1942 she married John Carlyle, divorcing shortly thereafter. Between 1946 and 1948 she was married to Stanley Reames. Between 1951 and 1963 she lived with her third husband, actor Tony Curtis, with whom she had her daughters Kelly and Jamie Lee Curtis, both actresses, and with whom she filmed several movies. The divorce between the two was signed in Ciudad Juarez on September 14, 1962. Leigh would later comment that the divorce was the result of "external problems", including the death of Curtis's father.

The day after this divorce, Leigh married broker Robert Brandt (1927-2009) in a private ceremony in Las Vegas. It was her longest marriage and they would be together until the actress's death in 2004.

Leigh died on October 3, 2004, at the age of 77, at her home in Beverly Hills, California, due to complications from an inflammation of the blood vessels that had afflicted her for a year. Her death came as a surprise to many, as she had not disclosed her illness to the public. She was cremated and her ashes rest in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood Village in Los Angeles.


  1. Janet Leigh
  2. Janet Leigh
  3. ^ For dramatic reasons, an article "Janet Leigh's Own Story—″I Was a Child Bride at 14!″", in the December 1960 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, wrongly stated the marriage occurred in 1941, while she was only fourteen years old.[80]
  4. Capua, 2013, p. 4.
  5. Leigh, 1984, p. 6.
  6. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n ñ o p q r Capua, 2013.
  7. Capua, 2013, p. 8.
  8. Capua, 2013, p. 9.
  9. a b c d Avola, Pertti: Janet Leigh (muistokirjoitus) Helsingin Sanomat. Helsinki: Sanoma Media Finland Oy. Arkistoitu 10.8.2014. Viitattu 26.7.2013.
  10. a b Janet Leigh Allmoviessa (englanniksi). Viitattu 27.2.2013.
  11. Leigh, Janet: There Really Was a Hollywood, s. 6. muistelmat. –, 1984. (englanniksi)
  12. A Fairy Tale That Came True: Victor Gunson, The Daily Times, 3.10.1946, s. 14
  13. a b Graham, Sheilah: Hayward And Bacall Bid for Novel, ’Ronnie Harper’. The Miami News, 2.12.1946, s. 11. Miami: –. (englanniksi)

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