Leigh in 1954
Jeanette Helen Morrison
July 6, 1927
|Died||October 3, 2004 (aged 77)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Alma mater||University of the Pacific|
Jamie Lee Curtis
Janet Leigh (born Jeanette Helen Morrison; July 6, 1927 – October 3, 2004) was an American actress, singer, dancer, and author. Raised in Stockton, California, by working-class parents, Leigh was discovered at age eighteen by actress Norma Shearer, who helped her secure a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Leigh had her first formal foray into acting appearing in radio programs before making her film debut in The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947).
Early in her career, she appeared in several popular films for MGM which spanned a wide variety of genres, including Act of Violence (1948), Little Women (1949), Angels in the Outfield (1951), Scaramouche (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), and Living It Up (1954). Leigh played mostly dramatic roles during the latter half of the 1950s, in such films as Safari (1956) and Orson Welles's film noir Touch of Evil (1958), but achieved her most lasting recognition as the doomed Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), which earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Her highly publicized marriage to actor Tony Curtis ended in divorce in 1962, and after starring in The Manchurian Candidate that same year, Leigh scaled back her career. Intermittently, she continued to appear in films, including Bye Bye Birdie (1963), Harper (1966), Night of the Lepus (1972), and Boardwalk (1979). In late 1975, she made her Broadway debut in a production of Murder Among Friends. She would also go on to appear in two horror films with her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis: The Fog (1980) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998).
In addition to her work as an actress, Leigh also wrote four books between 1984 and 2002, two of which were novels. She died in October 2004 at age 77, following a year-long battle with vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Writing
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Honors
- 6 Death
- 7 Filmography
- 8 Radio appearances
- 9 Stage credits
- 10 Publications
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Works cited
- 14 External links
The only child of Helen Lita (née Westergaard) and Frederick Robert Morrison, Leigh was born Jeanette Helen Morrison on July 6, 1927, in Merced, California. Her maternal grandparents were immigrants from Denmark, and her father had Scots-Irish and German ancestry. Shortly after Leigh's birth, the family relocated to Stockton, where she spent her early life. She was brought up in poverty, as her father struggled to support the family with his factory employment, and he took various additional jobs after the Great Depression.
Leigh was raised Presbyterian and sang in the local church choir throughout her childhood. In 1941, when her paternal grandfather became terminally ill, the family relocated to Merced where they moved into her grandparents' home. She attended Weber Grammar School in Stockton, and later Stockton High School. Leigh excelled in academics and graduated from high school at age sixteen.
In September 1943, she enrolled at the College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific), where she majored in music and psychology. While in college, she joined the Alpha Theta Tau sorority, and also sang with the college's a cappella choir. In order to help support her family, she spent Christmas and summer vacations working at retail shops and dime stores, as well as working at the college's information desk during her studies.
Discovery and radio appearances
In the winter of 1945–6, actress Norma Shearer was vacationing at Sugar Bowl, a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains where Leigh's parents were working at the time. In the resort lobby, Shearer noticed a photograph of Leigh taken by the ski club photographer over the Christmas holiday, which he had printed and placed in a photo album available for guests to browse.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Shearer showed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) talent agent Lew Wasserman the photograph of the then-eighteen-year-old Leigh (Shearer's late husband Irving Thalberg had been a senior executive at MGM). She would later recall that "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."
Through her association with MGM, Shearer was able to facilitate screen tests for Leigh with Selena Royle, after which Wasserman negotiated a contract for her, despite her having no acting experience. Leigh dropped out of college that year, and was soon placed under the tutelage of drama coach Lillian Burns.
Prior to beginning her film career, Leigh was a guest star on the radio dramatic anthology The Cresta Blanca Hollywood Players. Her initial appearance on radio at age 19 was in the program's production "All Through the House," a Christmas special that aired on December 24, 1946.
Leigh made her film debut in the big budget film The Romance of Rosy Ridge in 1947, as the romantic interest of Van Johnson's character. She got the role when performing Phyllis Thaxter's long speech in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo for the head of the studio talent department. During the shooting, Leigh's name was first changed to "Jeanette Reames", then to "Janet Leigh" and finally back to her birth name "Jeanette Morrison", because "Janet Leigh" resembled Vivien Leigh too much. However, Johnson did not like the name and it was finally changed back to "Janet Leigh" (pronounced "Lee").
Immediately after the film's release, Leigh was cast opposite Walter Pidgeon and Deborah Kerr in If Winter Comes (1947). Furthermore, due to the box office success of The Romance of Rosy Ridge, Leigh and Johnson were teamed up again in a film project called The Life of Monty Stratton in August 1947. The project was eventually shelved and released in 1949 as The Stratton Story, starring James Stewart and June Allyson. Another film that Leigh was set to star in, before being replaced, was Alias a Gentleman, in which she was cast in April 1947.
By late 1947, Leigh was occupied with the shooting of the Lassie film Hills of Home (1948), her third movie and the first in which she received star billing. She had a cameo as herself in MGM's all-star musical, Words and Music (1948).
In late 1948, Leigh was hailed the "No. 1 glamour girl" of Hollywood, although known for her polite, generous and down-to-earth persona.
Leigh had a big hit with MGM's version of Little Women (1949), based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott, playing Meg, alongside June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor. She was then in the anti-communist drama The Red Danube (1949), which earned her critical acclaim.
Leigh's fame shot up when she married Tony Curtis, a romance much covered in the fan magazines at the time. From 1951 to 1954 Leigh and Curtis appeared in numerous home movies directed by their friend Jerry Lewis. Leigh credited the experimental and informal nature of these films for allowing her to stretch her acting ability and attempt new roles.
RKO borrowed her for a musical Two Tickets to Broadway (1951). Back at MGM she was one of many stars in It's a Big Country: An American Anthology (1952) and did a romantic comedy with Peter Lawford, Just This Once (1952).
Leigh had a huge success with the swashbuckler Scaramouche (1952), with Stewart Granger and Eleanor Parker. She was top billed in Fearless Fagan (1952) and appeared with James Stewart in The Naked Spur (1953), a popular Western. Less well received was Confidentially Connie (1953) with Van Johnson.
Paramount borrowed her and Curtis for Houdini (1953), their first feature film together. Leigh was loaned to Universal for a musical with Donald O'Connor, Walking My Baby Back Home (1953), then she went to Fox to play Robert Wagner's love interest in Prince Valiant (1954).
In 1953, Leigh and her husband had appeared as guests on Martin and Lewis' Colgate Comedy Hour, and then she had a supporting role in the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy Living It Up (1954) at Paramount.
Universal borrowed her for a second film with Curtis, another swashbuckler The Black Shield of Falworth (1954). Then she made Rogue Cop (1954) with Robert Taylor, after which she left MGM. She had been there eight years.
Universal and Columbia
Leigh made Pete Kelly's Blues (1954) for Jack Webb then appeared in her first movie under the deal with Columbia: the title role in the musical comedy My Sister Eileen (1955), co-starring Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett and Dick York.
Leigh made her TV debut in an episode of Schlitz Playhouse, "Carriage from Britain". Jet Pilot was released in 1957.
In 1958, Leigh starred as Susan Vargas in the Orson Welles film noir classic Touch of Evil (1958), done at Universal with Charlton Heston, a film with numerous similarities to Alfred Hitchcock's later film Psycho, which was produced two years after Touch of Evil; in it, she plays a tormented newlywed in a Mexican border town. Leigh would later describe shooting the film as a "great experience," but added: "Universal just couldn't understand it, so they recut it. Gone was the undisciplined but brilliant film Orson had made."
She made her fourth film with Curtis, The Vikings (1958), produced by Kirk Douglas who also starred; United Artists distributed. The couple were reunited in The Perfect Furlough (1958) a Blake Edwards-directed romantic comedy for Universal, and Who Was That Lady? (1960), a farce for Columbia.
In 1960, Leigh was cast in her most well-known role, as the morally ambiguous murder victim Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), co-starring with John Gavin and Anthony Perkins, and released by Universal. Leigh was reportedly so traumatized by filming her character's shower murder scene that she went to great lengths to avoid showers for the rest of her life. For her performance, she received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Leigh's role in Psycho became career-defining, and she later commented: "I've been in a great many films, but I suppose if an actor can be remembered for one role then they're very fortunate. And in that sense I'm fortunate." Her character's death early in the film has been noted as historically relevant by film scholars as it violated narrative conventions of the time, while her murder scene itself is considered among both critics and film scholars to be one of the most iconic scenes in film history.
Leigh and Curtis both had cameos in Columbia's all-star Pepe (1960). The marriage ended soon afterwards.
In the following decade, Leigh had starring roles in many other films, including the stark drama The Manchurian Candidate (1962) with Frank Sinatra, and the musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie (1963) based on the hit Broadway show. She was also in Wives and Lovers (1963) for Hal Wallis at Paramount.
Following these films, the recently divorced/remarried Leigh took a break from her acting career and turned down several roles, including the role of Simone Clouseau in The Pink Panther, because she did not want to go off on location and away from her family.
She returned with Kid Rodelo (1966) then portrayed Paul Newman's estranged wife in the private-detective story Harper (1966) opposite Lauren Bacall, and appeared with Jerry Lewis for the comedy Three on a Couch (1966).
She also appeared in a lead role in An American Dream (1966), based on the Norman Mailer novel of the same name; the film received critical backlash, with a review in The New York Times deeming it the worst film of the year.
Leigh worked frequently in television from the late 1960s onward. Her initial television appearances were on anthology programs such as Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre and The Red Skelton Hour, and later, Tales of the Unexpected. She also starred in several made-for-TV films, most notably the off-length (135 minutes instead of the usual 100) The House on Greenapple Road, which premiered on ABC in January 1970 to high ratings.
In 1972, Leigh starred in the science fiction film Night of the Lepus with Stuart Whitman as well as the drama One Is a Lonely Number with Trish Van Devere. In 1975, she played a retired Hollywood song and dance star opposite Peter Falk and John Payne in the Columbo episode Forgotten Lady. The episode utilizes footage of Leigh from the film Walking My Baby Back Home (1953).
Her many guest appearances on television series include The Man from U.N.C.L.E. two-part episode, "The Concrete Overcoat Affair", in which she played a sadistic Thrush agent named Miss Dyketon, a highly provocative role for mainstream television at the time. The two-part episode was released in Europe as a feature film entitled The Spy in the Green Hat (1967). She also appeared in the title role in "The Men From Shiloh" the rebranded name of The Virginian episode "Jenny" (1970), the Murder, She Wrote episode "Doom with a View" (1987), as Barbara LeMay in an episode of The Twilight Zone (1989) and the Touched by an Angel episode "Charade" (1997). She guest-starred twice as different characters on both Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. In 1973, she appeared in the episode "Beginner's Luck" of the romantic anthology series Love Story.
Leigh made her stage debut opposite Jack Cassidy in the original Broadway production of Murder Among Friends, which opened at the Biltmore Theatre on December 28, 1975. The play ran for seventeen performances, closing on January 10, 1976. The play received varied reviews, with some critics from preview screenings disliking the show. In 1979, Leigh appeared in a supporting role in Boardwalk opposite Ruth Gordon and Lee Strasberg, and received critical praise, with Vincent Canby of The New York Times lauding it as her "best role in years."
Leigh subsequently appeared opposite her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in John Carpenter's supernatural horror film The Fog (1980), in which a phantom schooner unleashes ghosts on a small coastal community. Leigh would appear opposite her daughter once again in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), playing the secretary of Laurie Strode. Her final film credit was in the teen film Bad Girls from Valley High (2005), opposite Christopher Lloyd.
In addition to her work as an actress, Leigh also authored four books. Her first, the memoir There Really Was a Hollywood (1984), became a New York Times bestseller. In 1995, she published the non-fiction book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. In 1996, she published her first novel, House of Destiny, which explored the lives of two friends who forged an empire that would change the course of Hollywood's history. The book's success spawned a follow-up novel, The Dream Factory (2002), which was set in Hollywood during the height of the studio system.
During her final year of high school at age fifteen, Leigh married eighteen-year-old John Kenneth Carlisle in Reno, Nevada, on August 1, 1942.[a] The marriage was annulled four months later on December 28, 1942. While a student at the College of the Pacific, Leigh met Stanley Reames, a U.S. Navy sailor who was enrolled at a nearby V-12 Program. Leigh and Reames married on October 5, 1945, when she was eighteen; their marriage, however, was also short-lived, and they divorced four years later on September 7, 1949.
On June 4, 1951, Leigh married actor Tony Curtis in a private ceremony in Greenwich, Connecticut. The couple had two children, Kelly (b. 1956) and Jamie Lee (b. 1958), who both subsequently became actresses. Leigh and Curtis's marriage was widely publicized in the media, and a frequent topic in gossip columns and film tabloids. In 1962, Curtis had divorce papers served to Leigh on the set of The Manchurian Candidate. Leigh would later comment that their divorce was the result of "outside problems", which included the death of Curtis's father.
On September 15, 1962, shortly after her divorce from Curtis was finalized, Leigh married stockbroker Robert Brandt (1927–2009) in a private ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada. She remained married to Brandt for 42 years until her death in 2004.
Leigh was a lifelong Democrat and appeared alongside Tony Curtis at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in support of John F. Kennedy. She also served on the board of directors of the Motion Picture and Television Foundation, a medical-services provider for actors.
Leigh was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, on May 14, 2004, where she had attended college. At the time, Leigh's health was compromised by vasculitis, and she delivered a speech at the ceremony from a wheelchair. On October 13, 2006, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis unveiled a bronze plaque of their mother to honor her early life in Stockton. The memorial is located in the downtown Stockton plaza adjacent to the City Center Cinemas, since renamed "Janet Leigh Plaza."
Leigh was honored posthumously by University of the Pacific with the naming of the "Janet Leigh Theatre" on the Stockton campus on June 25, 2010. The plaque at the theatre reads as follows:
Pacific's Janet Leigh Theatre - Made possible by a generous gift from the Robert Brandt and Janet Leigh Brandt Estate. The Janet Leigh Theatre was created to bind the experiences and friendships that Janet Leigh valued while a student at Pacific. This memorial is a tribute to her life and career in the Stockton region as well as her magnificent contributions to the Hollywood film industry as an actress, wife, mother and humanitarian. Dedicated Friday, June 25, 2010.
Leigh died at her home in Los Angeles on October 3, 2004, at age 77, after a protracted battle with vasculitis. She was cremated, and her ashes interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in the Westwood Village neighborhood of Los Angeles.
|1947||The Romance of Rosy Ridge||Lissy Anne MacBean|||
|1947||If Winter Comes||Effie Bright|||
|1948||Hills of Home||Margit Mitchell||Alternative titles: Danger in the Hills and Master of Lassie|||
|1948||Words and Music||Dorothy Feiner Rodgers|||
|1949||How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border||Short film|||
|1949||Act of Violence||Edith Enley|||
|1949||Little Women||Meg March|||
|1949||The Red Danube||Maria Buhlen|||
|1949||The Doctor and the Girl||Evelyn Heldon||Alternative title: Bodies and Souls|||
|1949||That Forsyte Woman||June Forsyte||Alternative title: The Forsyte Saga|||
|1949||Holiday Affair||Connie Ennis|||
|1951||Strictly Dishonorable||Isabelle Perry|||
|1951||Angels in the Outfield||Jennifer Paige|||
|1951||Two Tickets to Broadway||Nancy Peterson|||
|1951||It's a Big Country||Rosa Szabo Xenophon|||
|1952||Just This Once||Lucy Duncan|||
|1952||Scaramouche||Aline de Gavrillac de Bourbon|||
|1952||Fearless Fagan||Abby Ames|||
|1953||The Naked Spur||Lina Patch|||
|1953||Confidentially Connie||Connie Bedloe|||
|1953||Walking My Baby Back Home||Chris Hall|||
|1954||Prince Valiant||Princess Aleta|||
|1954||Living It Up||Wally Cook|||
|1954||The Black Shield of Falworth||Lady Anne|||
|1954||Rogue Cop||Karen Stephanson|||
|1955||Pete Kelly's Blues||Ivy Conrad|||
|1955||My Sister Eileen||Eileen Sherwood|||
|1957||Jet Pilot||Lt. Anna Marladovna Shannon / Olga Orlief|||
|1958||Touch of Evil||Susan Vargas|||
|1958||The Perfect Furlough||Lt. Vicki Loren|||
|1960||Who Was That Lady?||Ann Wilson||Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance (4th place)|||
|1960||Psycho||Marion Crane||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance (2nd place)
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
|1960||Pepe||Herself||Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance|||
|1962||The Manchurian Candidate||Eugenie Rose Chaney|||
|1963||Bye Bye Birdie||Rosie DeLeon|||
|1963||Wives and Lovers||Bertie Austin|||
|1966||Harper||Susan Harper||Alternative title: The Moving Target|||
|1966||Three on a Couch||Dr. Elizabeth Acord|||
|1966||An American Dream||Cherry McMahon||Alternative title: See You in Hell, Darling|||
|1967||The Spy in the Green Hat||Miss Diketon||Re-edited from "The Concrete Overcoat Affair", a two-part episode of the TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.|||
|1967||Grand Slam||Mary Ann||Alternative title: Ad ogni costo|||
|1969||Hello Down There||Vivian Miller||Alternative title: Sub-A-Dub-Dub|||
|1972||One Is a Lonely Number||Gert Meredith||Alternative title: Two Is a Happy Number|||
|1972||Night of the Lepus||Gerry Bennett||Alternative title: Rabbits|||
|1980||The Fog||Kathy Williams|||
|1985||The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal||Herself||Documentary film|||
|1998||Halloween H20: 20 Years Later||Norma Watson|||
|2005||Bad Girls from Valley High||Mrs. Witt||Filmed in 2000; released posthumously (final film role)|||
|1954||What's My Line||Mystery Guests||Appeared 3 times a guest and once a panelist between 1954 and 1961.|
|1957||Schlitz Playhouse of Stars||Mother||Episode: "Carriage from Britain"|
|1961||I've Got a Secret||Herself||December 11, 1961|
|1964||Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre||Carol Hartley||Episode: "Murder in the First"|
|1965||The Bob Hope Special||Herself||Television special|
|1966||Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre||Virginia Ballard||Episode: "Dear Deductible"|
|1966||The Man from U.N.C.L.E.||Miss Diketon||Episodes - "The Concrete Overcoat Affair" (Parts 1 & 2)|
|1966||The Red Skelton Show||Daisy June||Episode: "Jerk Be Nimble"|
|1967||The Jerry Lewis Show||Miss Fagelter||Episode #1.4|
|1967||The Dean Martin Show||Herself||Season 3 Episode 4|
|1968||The Bob Hope Special||Herself||Television special|
|1968||The Danny Thomas Hour||Liza Merrick||Episode: "One for My Baby"|
|1969||The Monk||Janice Barnes||Television film|
|1969||The Red Skelton Show||Clara Appleby||Episode: "It's Better to Have Loved and Lost - Much Better"|
|1969||Honeymoon with a Stranger||Sandra Latham||Television film|
|1970||House on Greenapple Road||Marian Ord||Television film|
|1970||The Virginian||Jenny Davis||Episode: "Jenny"|
|1970||Bracken's World||Maggie Morgan||Episode: "The Anonymous Star"|
|1971||The Name of the Game||Glory Bates||Episode: "The Man Who Killed a Ghost"|
|1971||My Wives Jane||Jane Franklin||Television pilot|
|1971||The Deadly Dream||Laurel Hanley||Television film|
|1973||Circle of Fear||Carol||Episode: "Death's Head"|
|1973||Murdock's Gang||Laura Talbot||Television film|
|1973||Love Story||Leonie||Episode: "Beginner's Luck"|
|1975||Movin' On||Nina Smith||Episode: "Weddin' Bells"|
|1975||Columbo||Grace Wheeler||Episode: "Forgotten Lady"|
|1977||Murder at the World Series||Karen Weese||Television film|
|1977||Telethon||Elaine Cotten||Television film|
|1978||The Love Boat||Gail||Episode: "Till Death Do Us Part-Maybe/Locked Away/Chubs"|
|1979||Fantasy Island||Carol Gates||Episode: "Birthday Party/Ghostbreaker"|
|1979||Mirror, Mirror||Millie Gorman||Television film|
|1982||Tales of the Unexpected||Joan Stackpole||Episode: "Light Fingers"|
|1982||Matt Houston||Ramona Launders||Episode: "Who Would Kill Ramona?"|
|1982||Fantasy Island||Suzanne King||Episode: "Roller Derby Dolls/Thanks a Million"|
|1985||The Love Boat||Joan Philipps||Episode: "Instinct/Unmade for Each Other/BOS"|
|1985||On Our Way||Kate Walsh||Television film|
|1986||Starman||Antonia Weyburn||Episode: "Society's Pet"|
|1987||Murder, She Wrote||Cornelia Montaigne Harper||Episode: "Doom with a View"|
|1989||The Twilight Zone||Barbara LeMay||Episode: "Rendezvous in a Dark Place"|
|1997||Touched by an Angel||Vera King||Episode: "Charades"|
|1999||In My Sister's Shadow||Kay Connor||Television film|
|2001||Family Law||Mary Sawyer||Episode: "The Quality of Mercy"|
|1952||Lux Radio Theatre||Strictly Dishonorable |
|1952||Stars in the Air||Model Wife |
|Title||Role||Opening date||Closing date||Venue||Notes|
|Murder Among Friends||Angela Forrester||December 28, 1975||January 10, 1976||Biltmore Theatre||Broadway debut|
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- Warners to Launch Huge Cinerama Film; Ireland, Leigh, Falkenburg Sign Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 19 Apr 1954: A13.
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