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Leigh, Janet

LEIGH, Janet

Nationality: American. Born: Jeanette Helen Morrison in Mercedes, California, 26 July 1927. Education: Studied music and psychology, College of the Pacific. Family: Married 1) John Carlyle, 1942 (marriage annulled 1942); 2) Stanley Reames, 1945 (divorced 1948); 3) the actor Tony Curtis, 1951 (divorced 1962), children Kelly Lee, and the actress Jamie Lee Curtis; 4) Robert Brandt, 1964. Career: 1946—seven-year contract with MGM; 1947—film debut in The Romance of Rosy Ridge; 1949—borrowed by Howard Hughes for three RKO films, beginning with Holiday Affair; 1950s—worked with Columbia and Universal; 1957—began TV work on Schlitz Playhouse of Stars; 1962—toured South America to promote Peace Corps; 1975—in Broadway play Murder among Friends; 1980—appeared with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog. Address: 1625 Summit Ridge Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


The Romance of Rosy Ridge (Rowland) (as Lissy Anne MacBean); If Winter Comes (Saville) (as Effie Bright)


Hills of Home (Master of Lassie) (Wilcox) (as Margit Mitchell); Words and Music (Taurog) (as Dorothy Feiner Rodgers)


Act of Violence (Zinnemann) (as Edith Enley); Little Women (LeRoy) (as Meg); That Forsyte Woman (The Forsyte Saga) (Bennett) (as June Forsyte); The Doctor and the Girl (Bernhardt) (as Evelyn Heldon); The Red Danube (Sidney) (as Maria Buhlen); Holiday Affair (Hartman) (as Connie)


Strictly Dishonorable (Panama and Frank) (as Isabelle Dempsey); Angels in the Outfield (Angels and the Pirates) (Brown) (as Jennifer Paige); Two Tickets to Broadway (Kern) (as Nancy Peterson); It's a Big Country (Charles Vidor and others) (as Rose Szabo)


Just This Once (Weis) (as Lucy Duncan); Scaramouche (Sidney) (as Aline de Guarillac de Bourbon); Fearless Fagan (Donen) (as Abby Ames)


Confidentially Connie (Buzzell) (as Connie Bedloe); The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann) (as Linda Patch); Houdini (George Marshall) (as Bess); Walking My Baby Back Home (Lloyd Bacon) (as Chris Hall)


Prince Valiant (Hathaway) (as Aleta); Living It Up (Taurog) (as Wally Cook); The Black Shield of Falworth (Mate) (as Lady Ann); Rogue Cop (Rowland) (as Karen)


Pete Kelly's Blues (Webb) (as Ivy Conrad); My Sister Eileen (Quine) (as Eileen Sherwood)


Safari (Terence Young) (as Linda Latham)


Jet Pilot (von Sternberg—produced in 1950) (as Anna)


Touch of Evil (Welles) (as Susan Vargas); The Vikings (Fleischer) (as Morgana); The Perfect Furlough (Edwards) (as Lieutenant Vicki Loren)


Who Was That Lady? (Sidney) (as Ann Wilson); Psycho (Hitchcock) (as Marion Crane); Pepe (Sidney) (as guest)


The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer) (as Rosie)


Bye Bye Birdie (Sidney) (as Rosie DeLeon); Wives and Lovers (Rich) (as Bertie Austin)


Kid Rodelo (Carlson) (as Nora); Three on a Couch (Jerry Lewis) (as Dr. Elizabeth Acord); Harper (The Moving Target) (Smight) (as Susan Harper); An American Dream (See You in Hell, Darling) (Gist) (as Cherry McMahon); The Spy in the Green Hat (One Spy Too Many) (Sargent—edited from eps. of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series) (as Miss Diketon)


Ad Ogni Costo (Grand Slam; Top Job) (Montaldo) (as Mary Ann)


Hello Down There (Sub-A-Dub-Dub) (Arnold) (as Vivian Miller); The Monk (McCowan—for TV); Honeymoon with a Stranger (Peyser—for TV)


The House on Green Apple Road (Day—for TV)


Deadly Dreams (Kjellin—for TV)


One Is a Lonely Number (Stuart) (as Gert Meredith); Night of the Lepus (Claxton) (as Gerry Bennett)


Murdoch's Gang (Dubin—for TV)


Murder at the World Series (McLaglen—for TV); Telethon (Rich—for TV) (as Elaine)


The Sea Gypsies (Raffill) (as Aline de Gravillac)


Boardwalk (Verona) (as Florence)


The Fog (Carpenter) (as Kathy Williams); Mirror, Mirror (Lee—for TV) (as Millie Gorman)


On Our Way (Pressman—for TV); Hitchcock: il brividio del geno (The Thrill of Genius) (Bortolini and Masenza)


In My Sister's Shadow (Stern—for TV) (as Kay Connor)


Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Miner) (as Norma)


Hitchcock: Shadow of a Genius (Haimes) (as herself)


By LEIGH: books—

There Really Was a Hollywood, New York, 1984.

House of Destiny (novel), Ontario, Canada, 1995.

Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller, New York, 1995.

By LEIGH: articles—

"Psycho, Rosie and a Touch of Orson: Janet Leigh Talks," interview with Rui Nogueria, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1970.

"Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins: Don't Go Near the Shower," interview with Rod Lurie, in Los Angeles Magazine, July 1990.

"Psyched-up for Psycho," interview with Michael Ankerich, in Classic Images (Muscatine), September 1995.

"A Conversation with Janet Leigh: Not Just a Screamer!" interview with Dennis Fisher, in Filmfax (Evanston), October-January 1996–1997.

On LEIGH: books—

Farber, Stephen, and Marc Green, Hollywood Dynasties, New York, 1984.

Rebello, Stephen, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, New York, 1990.

On LEIGH: articles—

Films in Review (New York), January 1979; April 1980.

Sanz, Cynthia, and E. X. Feeney, "Coming Clean: Janet Leigh, Still Shower-Shy, Tells All about Psycho," in People Weekly (New York), 7 August 1995.

Stars (Mariembourg), Winter 1995.

* * *

For the first decade of her career (and to a great extent subsequently as well), Janet Leigh's screen persona was restricted almost exclusively to Hollywood's most conventional image of the "nice girl." Before Psycho, she appeared in a few distinguished films (the swashbuckler Scaramouche; The Naked Spur, one of Anthony Mann's most intense Westerns; the charming if minor My Sister Eileen; and of course Touch of Evil), but none of them gave her the opportunity to construct a star identity that transcended the persona's conventionality, nor, unfortunately, have any of her films since Psycho.

Her roles in Touch of Evil and Psycho are so strikingly (if superficially and coincidentally) similar that it is instructive to compare the use made of her by Welles and Hitchcock. In both, she is trapped in an otherwise deserted and isolated motel and cruelly terrorized. It is in Touch of Evil that the animus against women—and, especially, female sexuality—that disfigures all of Welles's films except The Magnificent Ambersons is most blatantly exposed. He gives Leigh's Suzie the film's tritest dialogue (occasionally sprinkled with automatic smart-ass racism), establishing a brash superficiality that, while at odds with Leigh's conventional "nice girl" persona, can scarcely be said to extend it profitably. She is encouraged to be both spunky and sexual, but any possible positive connotations those qualities might suggest are neutralized by the character's shrillness and insensitivity (as far as men are concerned, she is a real nuisance). She can then be punished in the film's protracted terrorization and rape sequences, shot and edited with unmistakable relish, the character reduced to an object on which any horror can be inflicted.

The objectification of Leigh in Touch of Evil has its answer in Psycho, where, throughout the film's first part, she is the central identification-figure for audience and director, the movement of her consciousness conveyed with almost unprecedented intimacy and inwardness. Hitchcock's point-of-view methodology produces a performance whose effectiveness might seem dependent upon editing (Marion Crane's car journey contains few shots lasting more than a few seconds, and, after one brief establishing two-shot, the entire Marion/Norman dialogue on which the film hinges is built on crosscutting). Yet the more one sees the film the more one is convinced that the inexhaustible fascination of its first half owes a great deal to Leigh's presence: the precise communication of Marion's shifting perceptions and states of mind is the fruit of one of the cinema's great performer/director collaborations, dwarfing everything else in Leigh's career.

Although Leigh has not officially retired from acting, she has devoted most of her time in recent years to appearing on the lecture circuit discussing her work with Hitchcock in Psycho, Welles in Touch of Evil, and John Frankenheimer in The Manchurian Candidate, the best film of her post-Psycho period even though she had a relatively thankless role in it as Frank Sinatra's love interest.

She has also turned to writing, producing an autobiography in 1984 and a chatty memoir about the making of Psycho in 1995. The book is entertaining and readable but relatively lightweight in the research department compared with Stephen Rebello's definitive Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of "Psycho" published five years earlier.

Like a number of Hollywood stars in the twilight of their careers, a list that includes Kirk Douglas and Leigh's former husband Tony Curtis, she has also tried her hand at fiction—using Hollywood as a backdrop for her first novel, House of Destiny, the story of an aging star not unlike Leigh herself.

—Robin Wood, updated by John McCarty

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