HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: This interesting, versatile dramatic actress veered from her '50s dramas, adventure flicks, comedies, and film noir mysteries into one of the most powerful scenes in movie history -- the bloody shower sequence in Hitchcock's Psycho.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Movie Star and TV Star.
BIRTH: She was born in 1927, making her a 33-year-old target in Psycho)Her exotic birthplace: Merced, California. Her moniker at birth: Jeanette Helen Morrison.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: Supposedly Martha Hyer, Shirley Jones, Hope Lange, Piper Laurie, Eva Marie-Saint, and Lana Turner were considered for the role of Marion Crane in Psycho, but Janet got it, and the film has been hailed as a classic. Psycho catapulted her to true stardom, even though she was killed off only 45 minutes into the film. But what a 45 minutes. Her complex evolution from guilt-ridden criminal to helpless victim brought her an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe trophy, and lasting fame. The movie itself has been heralded as one of the best of all time: in June of 2001 the American Film Institute placed Psycho first on AFI's list of the 100 most thrilling movies of all time.
CAREER IN THE '60s: For awhile she continued to work with the decade's biggest stars, notably her follow up to Hitchcock's masterpiece, the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate in '62 alongside Frank Sinatra. Then came a musical, Bye Bye Birdie in '63 alongside Ann-Margret. After that she did a detective story, Harper alongside Paul Newman and the comic Three on a Couch with Jerry Lewis (both movies were in '66). Guest spots on programs like "The Andy Williams Show" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." only added to her rep as a versatile, appealing presence.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: The Hollywood legend is that Janet was "discovered" when actress Norma Shearer saw her photo at the ski lodge run by Janet's dad, Norma took the photo back to Hollywood with her, and Janet soon had a screen test at MGM. She made thirty pre-'60s films, including ten in the '40s, plus Scaramouche in '52, Houdini in '53, Prince Valiant in '54, Pete Kelly's Blues in '55, Touch of Evil in '58, plus some TV appearances. Her post-'60s work has been relegated to TV movies and more recently to commentary work on documentaries. Writing has been her main focus. She's written three books: one in '84 (the autobiographical There Really Was a Hollywood) and two in the mid-'90s (Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Chiller and the novel House of Destiny). Another novel is purportedly in the works.
TALENT: Janet got an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe trophy for Psycho. She was the lead actress in Bye Bye Birdie, but that movie is more famous for making scene-stealer Ann-Margret a household name. To Janet's credit the scenes she does with Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate are among the most riveting and revealing in the film. One other talent she's got -- in Two Tickets to Broadway in '51, Janet didn't just sing, dance, and act, she also twirled a mean baton. In tribute to her long, remarkable career, in '99 she received the highest honor the French government can bestow on an artist, the Commandeur Des Arts et des Lettres.
HER '60s LOOK: She had an intense and interesting appeal, combining beauty with sincerity and intelligence, though her overall look was perhaps more '50s than '60s. Twice she was on the cover of Life, and countless times on the covers of movie magazines. She had a great figure that made the most of sophisticated business suits, casual clothes, or that Psycho shower scene -- she's the mother of sexy and beautiful Jamie Lee Curtis, remember, so you can see where Jamie gets her looks. In Psycho, she wears white lingerie early in the film when she's still relatively innocent, but once she steals the $40K from her office in Phoenix, we see her in a black bra, suggesting her guilt and the descent to destruction. On an AMC fashion special, Janet talked about Hitchcock's use of clothing in that movie: "He wanted Marion to be real, there were no custom clothes it was all off-the-rack because that's what Marion Crane could have afforded." In '63's Movie Life Yearbook Janet's stats were given as 5' 5 and 1/2," 118 pounds, 35 1/2-23 1/2-35.
LIFESTYLE: She married four times, with one annulment and two divorces. She was only fourteen for her first marriage, that would've been the early '40s. In the '50s rumors placed her in the company of billionaire Howard Hughes and the Rat Pack. But her main relationship through that decade was with movie idol Tony Curtis. Their romance was closely watched in all the fan mags, and in '51 they married, becoming one of Hollywood's most glamorous couples. Interestingly, Janet herself got more glamorous once they were married, wearing her hair blonder and her clothes tighter. She and Tony co-starred in five films and co-produced two daughters, actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Lee Curtis. After a decade-long marriage, she divorced Tony Curtis in the early '60s to marry director Robert Brandt, who directed three Swedish movies from '54-'65, one of which was retitled Blonde in Bondage when it reached the U.K.
EXTRAS: Janet broke her wrist during the filming of Touch of Evil, but she refused to stop production and filming continued ... the Psycho shower scene took seven days to film ... that's Janet's face in the scene, obviously, but a nude stand-in provided the body shots, and for the knife wounds Hitchcock used a rubber manniken rigged to shoot blood when it was stabbed ... in September '98 the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out some striking similarities between her Touch of Evil role for director Orson Welles and Psycho for Hitch: "[in Touch of Evil] Susan goes to an out-of-the-way motel where she is the only guest. The night manager, played by Dennis Weaver, is every bit as creepy as Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates character in Psycho. In both films, Leigh strips down to her slip and awful things happen to her. 'I never thought about that when I was making the movies,' she said. 'In my mind, they were so different it didn't even dawn on me. But then later, much later, people would say to me, What is it with you and motels and strange motel managers?'" ... the Chronicle also said that "both of Hitchcock's assistants told Leigh that she was the only actress Hitchcock considered for the role" ... in the 1998 remake, billed as "a new vision of the classic nightmare," Vince Vaugh played the Anthony Perkins role and Anne Heche played the Janet Leigh part ... the house and motel sets for the '98 movie were built directly in front of the house and motel from the Hitchcock classic ... there's a credit at the end of the '98 movie that reads "thanks to John Woo for use of his kitchen knife."