Scream Queen Profile: Janet Leigh

Janet LeighJanet Leigh (July 6, 1927 – October 3, 2004), born Jeanette Helen Morrison, was an American actress. She was the wife of actor Tony Curtis from June 1951 to September 1962 and the mother of Kelly Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Discovered by actress Norma Shearer, Leigh secured a contract with MGM and began her film career in the late 1940s. She appeared in several popular films over the following decade, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Living It Up (a Martin and Lewis-film from 1954).

From the end of the 1950s, she played more dramatic roles in such films as Safari (1958) Touch of Evil (1958) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), but she achieved her most lasting recognition for her performance as the doomed Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). For this role she was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She continued to appear occasionally in films and television, including two performances with her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog (1980) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998).

Leigh made her film debut in the big budget film The Romance of Rosy Ridge in 1947, as the romantic interest of Van Johnson’s character. She got the role when performing Phyllis Thaxter’s long speech in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) for the head of the studio talent department in 1946. During the shooting, Leigh’s name was first changed to ‘Jeanette Reames’, then to ‘Janet Leigh’ and finally back to her birth name ‘Jeanette Morrison’, because ‘Janet Leigh’ resembled Vivien Leigh too much. However, Johnson did not like the name and it was finally changed back to ‘Janet Leigh’. Leigh initially left college for a film career, but enrolled in night school at the University of Southern California in 1947.

Janet Leigh The FogImmediately after the film’s release, Leigh was cast opposite Walter Pidgeon and Deborah Kerr in If Winter Comes (1947) in the summer of 1947. Furthermore, due to the box office success of The Romance of Rosy Ridge, Leigh and Johnson were teamed up again in a film project called The Life of Monty Stratton in August 1947. The project was eventually shelved and released in 1949 as The Stratton Story, starring James Stewart and June Allyson. Another film that Leigh was set to star in, before being replaced, was Alias a Gentleman, in which she was cast in April 1947. By late 1947, Leigh was occupied with the shooting of the Lassie film Hills of Home (1948), the first film in which she received star billing.

In late 1948, Leigh was hailed the ‘No. 1 glamor girl’ of Hollywood, although known for her polite, generous and down-to-earth persona.

Many movies followed, notably the title role in the musical comedy My Sister Eileen, co-starring Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett and Dick York. She proved versatile, starring in films as diverse as the baseball farce Angels in the Outfield in 1951 and the tense western The Naked Spur in 1953.

Her initial roles were ingenues based on characters from historical literature, for example in Scaramouche opposite Stewart Granger. By 1958, she moved to more complex roles.

Leigh’s best-known role was as the morally ambiguous Marion Crane in the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho (1960), featuring its iconic shower murder scene. She received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Leigh had starring roles in many other films, including the Orson Welles film-noir classic Touch of Evil, 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra and the 1963 musical Bye Bye Birdie based on the hit Broadway show.

She co-starred with third husband Tony Curtis in five films, Houdini (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), The Vikings (1958), The Perfect Furlough (1959) and Who Was That Lady? (1960).

Janet Leigh H20In 1975, Leigh played a retired Hollywood song and dance star opposite Peter Falk and John Payne in the Columbo episode Forgotten Lady. The episode utilizes footage of Leigh in the (1953) film Walking My Baby Back Home. She also appeared in two horror films with her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, playing a major role in The Fog (1980), and making a brief appearance in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998).

Leigh is also the author of four books. Her first, the memoir “There Really Was a Hollywood”, was a NY Times bestseller. This was followed by the novels “House of Destiny” and “The Dream Factory”, and the non-fiction book “Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller”. Interestingly, daughter Jamie Lee Curtis is also an actress and popular author.