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Janet Leigh

 

 

The Late Janet Leigh was famous, no legendary, for her portrayal of Marion Crane and particularly that memorable shower scene in the Hitchcock classic Psycho. Janet's career started as a discovery of actress Norma Shearer, quickly being absorbed into the Hollywood star-making apparatus (with a customary name change) and a varied career in musicals, comedies and swashbucklers. Her career highlights are often considered to be Touch Of Evil (Orson Welles), The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer) and Psycho. She had the distinction of being the only actress to have appeared in three of the top 100 movies of all time as voted for by the American Academy. 

Janet kindly agreed to answer some questions for me a few years ago. So here is the result. I gave her my thanks at the time for her time and trouble. This is now reinforced by saying "God Bless Janet" as she departs this life leaving many sad fans but with many happy memories of her work and her personality.

This article was originally part of Digger's now defunct Janet Leigh website (his first venture into the web in 1997.) You will find a list of her movies at the bottom of this article which will take you to a page about each movie.

 

   
Janet in the 1950s    
Janet now
Janet in the 1950s Janet in the 2000's
   

This interview is the intellectual property of David Barnes ('Digger') and cannot be reproduced without the express permission of same.

(photographs from author's personal collection)

 

Films Include: Dial M For Murder, I Confess, Stage Fright, The Wrong Man, Strangers On A Train, North By NorthwestAlfred Hitchcock
The Signature Collection
SEVEN CLASSIC HITCHCOCK FILMS - MYSTERY MURDER & SUSPENSE

 

Digger:- I hope it is fair to say that you have put your family before
your career. Can you share with us which or any roles you turned
down as a result and which would you like to have attempted if
you hadn't had a family?

Janet:- I turned down the lead role for the first "Pink Panther"
movie because I would be in Europe for too long to take my
children out of school. Also to be away from my brand new
husband. I also turned down being U.S. Ambassador to Finland
for the same reason. The minimum tenure would have been 1 year.

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Digger:- For a large part of the 50s you and Tony were always
in the news. Can you describe the pressures that this
put you under and how did you escape and relax?

Janet:- To be truthful, not really a problem, only if one wants
to make it one. Main thing was to draw the line, home
was private, once outside you were in public.

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Digger:- Please describe yourself in less than thirty words.

Janet:- Small town girl who got lucky and made good.
Worked hard to learn and improve whatever God
had given me.
Naturally optimistic. Believes in God.
Mild mannered until crossed, then ballistic.

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Digger:- You have managed to play four major roles in your
life with equal success - mother, wife, actress and writer.
How did you do this so successfully?

Janet:- Priorities - First was just me and my career.
Then came marriage, husband first & me second.
Then came children, children first &
husband second & me third.

 

    
The photo which started Janet's career    
Norma Shearer and Van Johnson with Janet and that photo    
Janet and Van in her first role in the movie The Romance Of Rosy Ridge
The photo which started Janet's career Norma Shearer and Van Johnson with Janet and that photo Janet and Van in her first role in the movie The Romance Of Rosy Ridge
    
   

 

Digger:- What makes you laugh, what makes you
angry and what makes you cry?

Janet:- I laugh at off the cuff witty remarks, at animals
being humans, accidental actions that aren't
done to be funny but end up being.
I feel angry when balance of justice is off kilter;
when people lie and get away with it; when people
believe they are entitled but don't bother to earn it.
I cry when I see a child, an animal, anyone mistreated;
when I am emotionally so full and grateful; at any injustice.

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Digger:- What attracted you to Tony Curtis and please
describe the ten or so years you were together?

Janet:- First, he was a very attractive man. Then his sense
of humor, his enthusiasm. Our first years were fun and
loving and wonderful. We ended up walking down 2
different paths to maturity.

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Digger:- I love Holiday Affair. Was it as much of a joy to
make as it is to watch, as fun and enjoyment seem to
emanate from the players?

Janet:- "Holiday Affair" was one of my favorite pictures.
Everyone from Don Hartman ( producer, director, writer )
all the way down the line were absolutely delightful.

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Digger:- Please can you tell us about your favourite Janet Leigh
movies and why are they special to you?

Janet:- My favorite is "Romance of Rosy Ridge" because it was
the first and everyone involved felt it was magical. I've learned
from each one - the directors were outstanding - I was in the
company of the giant talents in this business - I was in every
genre so I experienced great diversity.

 

    
Janet in The Romance Of Rosy Ridge    
Janet with co-star James Stewart in The Naked Spur    
Janet and husband of ten years, Tony Curtis
Janet in The Romance Of Rosy Ridge Janet with co-star James Stewart in The Naked Spur Janet and husband of ten years, Tony Curtis
    
   

 

Digger:- Did you ever get frustrated when people confused
Janet and Vivien Leigh, particularly as you had pointed-out this
very possibility when being 'renamed'.

Janet:- No, I was never frustrated. It seldom happened
actually, but when it did I could only be honored.
Vivien Leigh was a brilliant actress.

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Digger:- Please describe these co-stars in a sentence each:-

John Wayne
Janet:- He always said he was a "reactor", but whatever -
he oozed masculinity.

Robert Mitchum
Janet:- He was so unpredictable, utterly charming, sensual
and a damn good actor.

Angela Lansbury
Janet:- She is the quintessential actress, she can play any
role and to the hilt.

James Stewart
Janet:- He was the tops, there was always the basis of truth
in his performances, and he was the ONLY actor who
could have played the non hero in "Naked Spur" and make
you still like him.

Anthony Perkins
Janet:- He was so brilliant he almost ruined his career,
because no one would allow him to be anyone
but Norman Bates, even though before he had been
comedic, romantic, dramatic.

Kirk Douglas
Janet:- Another dynamic, heroic, vital artist who was
bigger than life in every role, he was unbeatable.

Frank Sinatra
Janet:- King of the world - singer extraordinaire who lived
the music, actor who could go as high as the moon.

Laurence Harvey
Janet:- First rate actor , witty and entertaining and a dear person.

Van Johnson
Janet:- My wonderful talented caring first leading man
and friend for life. He was the highest paid actor in
Hollywood when I did "Romance of Rosy Ridge" and
he was the kindest, most giving to this complete neophyte.

Charlton Heston
Janet:- So intelligent, so knowledgeable, so professional,
so exciting - exploring the full content of a scene and
context of the intent.

Elizabeth Taylor
Janet:- One of the most beautiful women in the world
and extremely talented, she managed to prove her ability
almost having to do it despite her beauty.

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Digger:- Did you use exercise and diet to maintain
that incredible figure?

Janet:- I do exercise all the time and I am blessed with a good
metabolism which I feel is a key factor. Plus, I don't care
about food much - I eat to live, not live to eat. We were
poor & my parents both worked so dinner was never a
big thing - sort of catch as catch can.

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Digger:- You are a prolific autograph signer and helper of fans.
Do you ever tire of the same questions and requests?

Janet:- No, I feel the fans are the people who buy the tickets,
or records, or whatever, and I've always been grateful -
once outside my home. Home should be off-limits.

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Digger:- Do you read your own reviews and do
you believe critics have a useful function?

Janet:- I don't always see all reviews. Of course critics
have a function. I think what is important is that readers
( viewers ) find a critic who has the same mind set so
they would interact. A critic is one person with an opinion,
and that should be an indication only if you find you and the
critic have been in accord on most films.

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Digger:- I watched Safari again recently. It certainly is not
politically correct. What do you think of political correctness?

Janet:- "Safari" was made in 1955, and at THAT TIME
it was politically correct. I was there and our second unit
was attacked by the Mau Mau and I was robbed.
What people forget that what was "P.C." then, may not
be now. But that was 45 years ago. You can't judge 45
years ago on today's standards.

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Digger:- What has become of the parodies/home
movies that you and Tony made with Jerry Lewis and
will these ever be seen by the public?

Janet:- Jerry Lewis owns all of those home movies we
made in the 50's. I have no idea what he plans to do with them.

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Digger:- In Columbo you played a star who was trying
to re-gain her faded career surrounded by her memorabilia
and watching her old films. You have always moved on to
new challenges so I guess you don't have much time to
look back. But do you ever watch your old performances
and was that wonderful memorabilia from your private collection?

Janet:- I don't relive the past, we all go forward.
But I enjoy seeing random films when it's an opportune time.

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Digger:- When J.F. Kennedy died in such eerily
similar circumstances to The Manchurian Candidate,
what went through your mind?

Janet:- When Manchurian "Candidate" first was released,
it was received with glowing reviews, but mild box office
- the US audiences weren't ready. When President Kennedy
was killed, the public had lost its innocence and
could accept such evil. What a shame!
What a comment on world culture!

 

    
Janet in The Manchurian Candidate    
Janet with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog
Janet in The Manchurian Candidate Janet with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog
   
   

 

Digger:- What were the most difficult lessons or
skills you had to learn as an actress?

Janet:- Not to talk too fast - my first picture I was barely
able to dub my dialogue.

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Digger:- What lessons, skills or tips have you tried
to pass on to your beautiful and talented daughters?

Janet:- I had to learn side saddle, actual dancing on point,
doctor's skills, etc, etc.

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Digger:- How do you go about learning your lines
and do you ever take your characters home with you?

Janet:- I learn the whole script, it is the only way you
can understand the character and it's growth.
Home is home, work is work.

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Digger:- How would you describe your English accent
in If Winter Comes and Tony's English accent in
The Black Shield Of Falworth?

Janet:- I can only answer for my accent in
"If Winter Comes". I worked with Joan, Sir Cedric
Hardwick's niece, for several months.

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Digger:- How did you manage to put in such a
fine debut performance in The Romance Of Rosy Ridge
considering you were, by your own account, nervous and
star-struck? That really doesn't show on the screen.

Janet:- I didn't know enough to be nervous. I was excited,
but not destroying nervous. I was so naive I just did what
my instinct told me and how my sweet director Roy Rowland
guided me to do.

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Digger:- Please tell us:-

Your most demanding role .....
Janet:- "Manchurian Candidate." Because I came in after
Larry Harvey and Frank Sinatra had 20 minutes to get
the audience involved in the story and I had 20 seconds
to make my impact.

The movie you wish you hadn't made .....
Janet:- "Night of the Lepus". Script was good.
But no-one thought how to make a bunny rabbit evil!

The movie which taught you the most ......
Janet:- "Holiday Affair". Working with a child and learning
to take his imagination and incorporate that into my performance.

The movie you are most proud of .....
Janet:- All musicals, because I was not a trained dancer
and was able to do - at least something.

The most enjoyable movie to make .....
Janet:- All musicals, because they took so long to make
you became a family. Except for the first one -
"Romance of Rosy Ridge" - which was so special
I can't even describe.

Your most unsuitable piece of casting .....
Janet:- I have no idea because I tried to make every
casting the best I could do.

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Digger:- Who were the biggest pranksters that you worked
with and what did they get up to?

Janet:- On "Houdini", George Marshall, the director,
loved pranks. He poured a bucket of water during a
rehearsal of a very serious scene.

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Digger:- You went through several image changes in your career.
Did you find people's perceptions of you different when you
were a curvaceous blonde compared to an ingénue brunette?
And did your temperament change?

Janet:- I always was what I was then and now.

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Digger:- Who are/were the movie people who are
most dear to you and why?

Janet:- Norma Shearer started and made possible my career.
Everyone I worked with made it better.

 

   
Promo still from Psycho    
A glamour still of Janet
Promo still from Psycho A glamour still of Janet
   
   

 

Digger:- Please describe what fame has meant to you
in less than thirty words.

Janet:- I am grateful if I can relate to people because
of my profession.

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Digger:- I wonder would you be disappointed or relieved
if I didn't ask you some Psycho-related questions?
What Psycho question do you get most-often asked?

Janet:- Do I take showers? NO I don't!

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Digger:- Which Psycho myths or misconceptions
would you like to dispel here on the internet forever?

Janet:- I was in the shower for seven days for that
particular scene. No cold water was in the shower.

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Digger:- Psycho is one of the most analysed, discussed,
parodied and mimicked of movies and it is the film that
you are most popularly associated with. I know that you
are very proud of your involvement and associations.
What would you say have been the biggest benefits
from being involved in such a classic and what
were the disadvantages?

Janet:- No disadvantages! If you are privileged to be
in such a classic - thank your lucky stars!

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Digger:- Please tell us what you are currently working
on and what are your plans for the future.

Janet:- I just finished my fourth book, "House of Secrets",
I made a movie back in November titled "A Fate Totally
Worse Than Death" and I am working on a documentary
- "There Really Was A Hollywood"

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Digger:- Please supply a message to the many loyal fans
and admirers of yours around the world.

Janet:- Thank you for your belief in me. I've always tried
my hardest to be good and I've enjoyed your support.

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Janet Leigh's Films

The following are in date order, starting with Janet's first film in 1947.
You can click on each title for a page about that film.
Please use the 'back' button on your browser to return to this page.

 

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