After her iconic performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Janet Leigh cemented herself in Hollywood history. Yet for all this icy blonde’s good looks and acting chops, her life was full of more drama and tragedy than her thrilling films. Pull back that shower curtain and read these 42 facts about Janet Leigh, cinema’s original scream queen.
Janet Leigh’s real name was Jeanette Morrison, and she went through something of an identity crisis to get her famous stage name. Studio executives initially billed her under her second husband's last name (Reames), then switched to Janet Leigh, then back to her birth name again because “Janet Leigh” seemed too close to superstar Vivien Leigh.
It still wasn’t good enough: One of her early co-stars hated her name (gee, thanks), so they gave up and called her Janet Leigh anyway.
Coming into the world on July 6, 1927, Leigh was definitely not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her parents, Helen and Frederick Morrison, struggled with abject poverty. They scrimped and saved just to make ends meet, but Frederick’s low-paying factory job was cold comfort during the ravages of the Great Depression.
When Leigh enrolled at the College of the Pacific, she had to spend all her holidays working in dime shops and the like just to send much-needed money back to her parents. Oh, but she also pulled double duty: While in school, she manned the school's information desk.
Leigh got nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her turn as Marion Crane in Psycho. It just wasn’t her night, though: She lost out to Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry.
Though she’s best known today for her screams, Leigh could actually sing and dance. She starred in several musicals during the height of her career.
Leigh was one smart cookie. She aced all her high school classes and graduated at the tender age of 16.
The story of Leigh’s Hollywood discovery is the stuff of legend. In winter 1945, Leigh’s parents were working at a ski lodge in the Sierra Nevada mountains when retired superstar Norma Shearer came in on vacation. While perusing the ski lodge lobby, Shearer spotted a photo of their 18-year-old daughter Janet in a photo album.
Shearer was immediately taken with the photo and decided she was going to make this girl a star. As she said, "That smile made it the most fascinating face I had seen in years. I felt I had to show that face to somebody at the studio.” Good taste, that Norma.
Janet Leigh’s low voice, voluptuous body, and innocent looks screamed “Bombshell” even when her calm demeanor didn’t—maybe this is why noted Hollywood beauty Scarlett Johansson played her in the 2012 biopic Hitchcock.
In 1948, critics named Leigh the “Number 1 Glamour Girl” in Hollywood.
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After her discovery by Shearer, Leigh almost immediately signed up with MGM Studios, despite having never acted a day in her life.
Leigh also has a famous actress for a daughter: Jamie Lee Curtis, one of her children with Tony Curtis. Jamie Lee followed her mother’s scream queen footsteps, starring as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s iconic horror movie Halloween. In 1998, Leigh even appeared alongside Curtis in Halloween H20; she played Laurie’s secretary.
The actress was always in love with love, but that didn’t mean she was good at it. Before she was 23 years old, Leigh had already gone through two husbands. When she was only 15, she married John Kenneth Carlisle and annulled the nuptials within months. Then, when she was eighteen, she married sailor Stanley Reames, only to divorce him four years later.
Leigh was a woman of many talents. Besides two non-fiction books, she also published two novels: House of Destiny and its sequel The Dream Factory.
Like just about every starlet in Hollywood at the time, Leigh once had a creepy brush with the infamous eccentric and lothario Howard Hughes. Unlike most actresses, Leigh was supremely unimpressed. She recalled how “over-attentive” he was, noting, “He was twice my age and, besides, I was dating someone else. He made me uncomfortable.”
Then she added, “Subsequently, I got to know him better, which made me even more nervous.” Whew, somebody call the burn unit. MAN DOWN.
Leigh is an only child.
Leigh’s most high profile romance was with fellow superstar Tony Curtis, and magazines fell over themselves to cover their love life. Yet when it came time to marry, the studio heads had a disturbing response. These bozos tried to talk Curtis out of it for three full days, telling him he would become “box office poison” if he got married.
In order to get away from the meddling studio, Curtis and Leigh eloped together on June 4, 1951. They got a local judge in Greenwich, Connecticut to perform the ceremony, and their good friend Jerry Lewis was present as a witness during the intimate affair. Box office poison, my butt.
Leigh had so much faith in Alfred Hitchcock’s vision and talent that she signed up for Psycho without making any salary inquiries at all. In the end, she took just a quarter of her usual pay to sign on. It’s for the art, people! And the traumatic scenes that prevent you from taking showers for the rest of your life…
Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis may have been the power couple of 1950s Hollywood, but they were doomed to a heartbreaking end. In 1962, after more than a decade of marriage, Curtis served divorce papers to his wife while she was on the set of The Manchurian Candidate. Not exactly a way I’d want to receive news like that…
While Leigh herself later claimed her union with Curtis fell apart because of “outside problems” like his father’s death, Curtis himself had an even sadder explanation. According to him, he was desperately in love with Leigh but “realized that whatever I was, I wasn't enough for Janet. That hurt me a lot and broke my heart."
Leigh’s death in Psycho was far from the film’s only controversy. It was also the first North American big release to show a toilet flushing—and yes, innocent audiences were super unsettled at this. If only they saw memes today.
Leigh’s fourth and final husband was stockbroker Robert Brandt, whom she married just months after her split from Curtis. This time, the love actually stuck. They were married for over four decades, until her death in 2004.
When she started out, Leigh was known for her perfect politeness and consummate professionalism. As one commenter noted with a side of snark, "She is over-eager, over-nice, over-everything." Well, when you put it that way.
Leigh first met Tony Curtis at a swanky Hollywood party. At the time, Curtis was a total It Boy and could have had anyone he wanted—but his reaction when he first saw her was romance-novel worthy. “Her face was exquisite,” he later recalled, “And those beautiful bosoms and tiny waist. It just devastated me to look at this woman.”
Leigh had to postpone filming Psycho’s shower scene twice: once because she had a cold, and the second time because she was on her period.
When Leigh shot Touch of Evil with director Orson Welles, she actually had a broken arm. Undeterred, Welles had her take off the cast for filming and used a whole arsenal of tricks to hide the truth.
Leigh’s first child with Tony Curtis is a tragic story. She got pregnant when she was just 26, but miscarried the child on July 8, 1953.
Believe it or not, Leigh never starred in a film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Yes, really.
In 1972, Leigh took on a starring role in the horror film Night of the Lepus, but she soon regretted it. She took the part because it was filming close to her home, yet refused to let her young daughters Kelly and Jamie make a cameo because it was too violent. She then later quipped scathingly, “I’ve forgotten as much as I could about that picture.”
Leigh was an independent woman, but she also had some pretty, er, conservative ideas when it came to husband and wife roles. In a pretty gross move, she once got second billing to her husband Tony Curtis in 1953’s Houdini, even though she was the bigger star at the time. Leigh’s response to criticism of this decision?
“I will always take second billing to my husband. I don’t care if he’s made one picture and I’ve made a hundred.” Well, okay Janet. Feminism is about choice, after all.
In order to film the murder scene in Psycho, Leigh had to stand in the shower for an entire week of shooting. After all, the persnickety Hitchcock simply had to get the angles and cuts just right—and hey, it’s not like it didn’t pay off. Leigh recalled that her skin was wrinkly for days afterward.
Despite Leigh’s aversion to Howard Hughes, he produced several of her early films—but he really dialed up the creep for their last movie. Two Tickets to Broadway had Leigh as a chorus girl, and Hughes kept demanding retakes. Some said it was his perfectionism, but others thought there was much darker reason for his quibbles.
Apparently, Hughes wanted to delay production as long as possible so he could get more time with his precious little Leigh. "His pursuit continued," she once said, "but he never caught me.” Take a hint, dude.
Leigh once sniped that Josef von Sternberg, who directed her in the film Jet Pilot, was “an unbearable dictator.” Remember, Leigh worked closely with the one and lonely Alfred Hitchcock, not a man known for being warm and fuzzy. Seriously, I can only imagine what von Sternberg did to this poor woman…
Tony Curtis once compared his and Leigh’s marriage to the torrid, hot-mess of a romance that was Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Yet, as Curtis said, “They did it through scandal. We did it through the movies and people's affection.”
In 1961, Leigh experienced a daughter’s worst nightmare. She had to rush home from a holiday on the Riviera because her father had died by his own hand, nearly penniless. It was devastating, but it was about to get so much worse. In his final note, Leigh’s father blamed his marriage for his depression, and spit out vicious things about her mother.
Like any glamorous actress worth her salt, Leigh was good friends with the Kennedy clan.
Though Curtis and Leigh put on a brave face for the press after their split, inside Leigh was broken. Just days after their legal separation, someone reportedly found her passed out in a coma on the floor of her hotel bathroom. Driven to the brink, the actress had apparently overdosed on pills to numb the pain.
Leigh was a real director’s actress, and she was at home in many styles of movie-making, even when those styles were loopy to the extreme. Orson Welles was known for his freewheeling, improvisational techniques, and she recalled being delighted in Touch of Evil when Welles asked the cast to come up with their own lines. Me? I’d break out into hives.
In contrast to the fast and loose directing style of Orson Welles, Leigh once explained that "With Mr. Hitchcock, the film is over for him before he even begins shooting."
On October 3, 2004, the legendary actress died in her home at the age of 77; she had been struggling with an inflammation of the blood vessels called vasculitis. Her ashes are buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Today, Leigh is most famous for her role as the doomed victim Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The film shocked audiences when it killed her supposed main character midway through, but Leigh had her own troubles with the movie. She was so traumatized by her notorious shower murder that she actually avoided taking showers for the rest of her life.
While filming Psycho, Hitchcock played a cruel joke on Leigh. Super “hilariously,” he kept hiding the prop of the mother corpse in various closets and crannies near where Leigh was filming, leaving her to find it. Leigh actually took the disturbing prank good-naturedly, especially since she suspected the director was doing it to keep her on edge, or else to find out which version of the prop was scarier.
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