Are you a fan of classic Hollywood cinema? If so, you’ve likely seen many of Janet Leigh’s films. Janet Leigh was an American actress whose career spanned from the late 1940s to her final role in 2001.
Apart from her acting career, she also lived an incredibly interesting life – which many of her biggest fans may not even know about. Leigh lived a full and rich life that we can learn a lot from.
Her life story was just as thrilling as many of her most famous roles. And after watching this video, you’ll never look at Janet Leigh the same way again!
Let’s look back at Janet Leigh’s incredible life and career. Her story began in Merced, California, a little under a century ago.
Janet Leigh was born Jeanette Helen Morrison on July 6, 1927, in Merced, California. She grew up in Stockton, California as an only child.
Her father originally worked in a factory and then had to take additional jobs to support the family during the Great Depression. Jeanette grew up in poverty, but this didn’t stop her from excelling in academics and also practiced her singing – partaking in her church choir.
She ended up graduating from high school at the age of 16. She then attended the University of the Pacific where she studied Music and Psychology.
During her childhood, Jeanette spent much of her time watching movies. One wonders if she dreamt of seeing herself on the big screen one day.
Nevertheless, as a student at the University of the Pacific, a career as an actress seemed unlikely. That is until she decided to visit her parents during one vacation…
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THE PICTURE AT THE SKI RESORT
On a break from her studies, Jeanette visited a ski resort where her parents were working. At this ski resort, a retired MGM producer named Norma Shearer saw a picture of Jeanette at the resort’s front desk.
Norma asked to borrow the photo to show other film executives. This led to Jeanette being called in for a screen test for a film called The Romance of Rosy Ridge. She landed the role and this contributed to her launching her film career.
It was also during this time that Jeanette adopted the stage name Janet Leigh. While there was some concern that the surname might cause others to confuse her with Vivian Leigh, she decided to keep the name as is.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, she appeared in a slew of films produced by MGM as well as several independent films.
Her notable film roles during this period included films such as Act of Violence, The Doctor and the Girl, Little Women, The Red Danube, That Forsyte Woman, Jet Pilot, Strictly Dishonorable, The Naked Spur, and Houdini.
With each film role, Janet Leigh’s profile grew bigger and bigger. By the mid-1950s, she was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
In fact, she became such a huge star that no one could expect her fate in a certain horror film released in 1960.
One of Janet Leigh’s most famous roles was her role as Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
In Psycho, Marion Crane decides to steal a large briefcase of money that belongs to her employer. After taking the money, she decides to skip town – eventually coming across the Bates Motel where she plans on spending the night.
We won’t spoil it if you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen this excellent film. But after working on Psycho, Janet Leigh was afraid of taking showers! She decided to opt for baths instead and would make sure that her windows and doors were always locked.
She wasn’t alone, of course. Psycho made such an impact on audiences at the time that many of them were afraid of their showers!
Audiences also couldn’t believe Marion Crane’s fate in the film as Janet Leigh had become such a huge star at the time. But this role was one of many that showed Janet Leigh’s amazing range as an actress. It showed that even though she was a huge film star, no role was too small for her. For her, the character, her performance, and the film are what mattered the most.
While it’s a small role, Janet Leigh’s role in Psycho is arguably one of the best performances in any 20th centurey American horror or thriller film!
Before Janet Leigh was married to Tony Curtis, she had a short marriage to John Kenneth Carlisle. She was 15 at the time, but she had claimed to be 18. Naturally, the marriage was annulled a few months later.
Her most famous marriage was with actor Tony Curtis, who was her third husband. The couple also acted together in a few films, including Houdini. With Tony Curtis, Janet had two children, Kelly, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Both daughters became accomplished actresses. Jamie Lee Curtis, like her mother, also had a great career appearing in notable horror films such as the Halloween series. Janet also acted in a film with Jamie Lee Curtis called The Fog in 1980. They later appeared together in a 1998 film called Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.
Both actresses are now considered to be legends of the horror genre. Both also became huge Hollywood starlets.
Her marriage with Tony Curtis didn’t last, however, and they got divorced in 1962. Her final marriage was with Robert Jay Brandt with whom she remained married until she died in 2004.
While her career was important to her, Janet also valued her family and children greatly. She was originally offered the role of Simone Clouseau in The Pink Panther, which ultimately went to a french model named Capucine. The film would have required her to spend months in Europe to film. But she wanted to spend time with her daughters as well as her husband Robert so she turned down the role.
So, what else should you know about Janet Leigh’s incredible life and career?
Well, did you know that in addition to being a talented actress she was also an accomplished writer? She wrote two novels and wrote a non-fiction book about the making of Psycho called Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller.
It’s hard to believe that she was only in her 30s when she appeared in Psycho. During her thirties, she also appeared in two other famous films: Touch of Evil and The Manchurian Candidate. Many of her films are among the greatest films made in America.
In fact, a few of her films have been selected by the National Film Registry for preservation. These include The Naked Spur, Touch of Evil, Psycho, and The Manchurian Candidate. We can expect even more of her films to get added to this list in the coming years.
Did you know that she wasn’t the original choice for Marion Crane in Psycho? She was originally going to play the role of Lila Crane – which eventually went to Vera Miles. Alfred Hitchcock decided it would be best if both actresses switched roles. Anyone who has seen Psycho will find it hard to imagine anyone but Janet Leigh in the role!
Apart from her work, Janet Leigh was also active in politics. She was a Democrat and even campaigned for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential Election.
After turning down the role of Simone Closeau in The Pink Panther she decided to take a three-year hiatus to spend more time with her daughters. She returned to acting in 1966, with Kid Rodelo and Harper as her first releases that year.
While acting was the focus of her career, she also sang in church as a youth. While a university student, she joined the a capella choir. She also joined the Alpha Theta Tau sorority.
In the 1980s and 1990s, she also had small roles in popular television shows. These included roles in shows such as Murder She Wrote, The Twilight Zone, Touched by an Angel, and The Fantasy Island.
Her final role was in the film Bad Girls from Valley High that was released in 2005.
Janet Leigh died from vasculitis on October 3, 2004, in Los Angeles. She remains one of Hollywood’s most iconic actresses.
Even if you aren’t familiar with her career, you probably know about her role in Psycho. This is a great introduction if you’d like to watch Janet Leigh’s films. We’d also recommend Touch of Evil and The Manchurian Candidate to see some of her best work.
Her work with Tony Curtis also produced great films. These films included Houdini and Who Was That Lady?
Her work with her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis also should be watched by any fan of horror cinema. Janet Leigh was also known to be a good sport on a film set and remembered her co-stars fondly.
While Anthony Perkins is forever remembered as Norman Bates, Janet Leigh remembers him as a great leading man. She recalls the fun she had on the set of Psycho and how Alfred Hitchcock tried to scare her – no doubt to prepare her for the role.
She’s an example of an iconic actresses who make us remember the greatness of old Hollywood. She had beauty, a great fashion sense, but also incredible versatility and range as an actress.
She lived an incredible life and had a remarkable career. We bet that now you’ll never look at Janet Leigh the same way again!
So what did you think?
Do you think that Janet Leigh gets the appreciation she deserves today?
Or do we need to introduce newer generations to her incredible body of work?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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