15 July 2024

Janet Leigh was born Jeanette Helen Morrison on July 6, 1927 in Merced, California. She was a bright - but lonely - child. A huge movie fan, she spent hours in theaters admiring her idols.

Her father worked at a ski resort and retired screen legend Norma Shearer discovered Leigh when she noticed a photo of the girl on his desk. A successful screen test and then a role in 1947's The Romance of Rosy Ridge...and the lovely Leigh was on her way.

Most of her early films were nothing to write home about, with the exception of the Christmas gem Holiday Affair (1949) co-starring Robert Mitchum.

During the fifties, Leigh made a number of technicolor epics and adventures. She even showcased her vocals and dancing talent in the excellent musical My Sister Eileen (1955).

She married actor Tony Curtis and gave birth to their daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in 1958. The girl would follow in her mother's footsteps (in more ways than one). It was around this time that Leigh started to take risky roles in darker pictures.

Touch of Evil, directed by Orson Welles, was the first of these. She played the threatened wife of Charlton Heston who is terrorized by a gang in a motel room. The film was a remarkable achievement...and one ahead of its time.

In 1960, she starred in Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO and became forever immortalized in the minds of movie lovers. Although there had been actresses before her who had specialized in horror, Hitchcock's film and Leigh's performance ushered in the modern era of the genre.

Audacious as Marion Crane, she played a woman who was sexy, desperate...and a thief. And of course, she didn't even make it to the last reel alive. The shower scene in the Bates Motel remains the most famous one in a horror film and one of the most memorable in any movie ever.

Hitchcock recalled, "In the average production, Janet Leigh would have been given the other role. She would have been the sister who's investigating. It's rather unusual to kill the star in the first third of the film. I purposely killed the star so as to make the killing even more unexpected.

As a matter of fact, that's why I insisted that the audiences be kept out of the theaters once the picture had started, because the late-comers would have been waiting to see Leigh after she has disappeared from the screen action."

The untested gamble paid off. PSYCHO alone gives Leigh an honored place in the pantheon of favorite scream queens. The fact that she gave birth to Jamie Lee, well, that's an added bonus.

In 1962's The Manchurian Candidate, Leigh played girlfriend to Frank Sinatra in a film about brainwashing and political assassination that was so controversial, it was banned for years.

She proved herself in everything from dramas to musicals - and again had the opportunity to showcase her dancing ability in 1963's Bye Bye Birdie.

Leigh certainly wasn't pigeonholed in horror films, although she appeared in the TV thrillers Honeymoon with a Stranger (1969) and The Deadly Dream (1971), as well as 1972's Night of the Lepus...about giant killer rabbits!

There was also her two wonderful cameos in The Fog and Halloween: H2O.

With her varied body of work and long career, it may still be that scene in the cheap, off the beaten path motel that we'll remember most. It's so effective that for the rest of her life, Miss Leigh claimed she could not take showers. In 1995, she published a memoir about her experience while filming the horror classic.

Miss Leigh passed away on October 3, 2004 at her home in Beverly Hills after a battle with vasculitis (an inflammation of the blood vessels). Husband Robert Brandt and daughters Jamie Lee and Kelly were at her side.

The Deadly Dream 1971
The Fog 1980
Honeymoon with a Stranger 1969
Night of the Lepus 1972
copyright 1998-present | The Terror Trap; www.terrortrap.com | all rights reserved