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Leigh, Janet
Written by James Colt Harrison   

Janet Leigh Profile 

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Date of Birth: July 6, 1927

Date of Death: October 3, 2004

Place of Death: Los Angeles, California

Cause of Death: Vasculitis, Heart attack

 

 

EARLY YEARS

Janet Leigh was a regular, healthy girl born Jeanette Helen Morrison to her parents in Stockton, California. She and her parents moved to Merced, in the middle of the state's farmland area.

Her photographer uncle loved taking pictures of the pretty young girl. It was one of those photos that 30s and 40s film star Norma Shearer saw at the Sugar Bowl ski resort where Jeanette's parents had taken jobs in 1945. Miss Shearer, who was Queen of MGM at the time, had an eye for talent and beauty and simply thought Jeanette was lovely.

Thinking the young girl might have possibilities in the film industry, Miss Shearer became her champion and introduced her to big-time Hollywood agent Lew Wasserman (he later became head of Universal Pictures). Also having a sharp eye for film talent, Wasserman secured Jeanette a starlet's contract at MGM. This meant Jeanette would have to leave her music studies at the University of the Pacific to sign on with the "Tiffany" of the studios, Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

 

 

SHOW BUSINESS

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Although she had no previous acting experience, MGM threw all its power behind Morrison and had her study with famed acting coach Lillian Burns. Burns had helped other MGM actors achieve stardom, so she took the young Morrison under her wing.

Morrison was finally cast in her first film, The Romance of Rosy Ridge, (1947) with heart-throb Van Johnson. It was then the studio felt they had to change her name to something more friendly to the marquee. After hashing over many names, both the studio and Johnson liked "Janet Leigh" for the personable, down-to-earth young lady. A star was on the horizon.

Rosy Ridge became a hit for two young performers. Leigh was cast in her second film, If Winter Comes with Deborah Kerr and Walter Pigeon later that summer, and was on her way to becoming a popular MGM actress. Her connection to audiences was solidified in the Lassie film, Hills of Home (1948) in which she first received star-billing.

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women had been a favorite story for years, and in 1949 MGM filmed a big color extravaganza starring the young Elizabeth Taylor, San Diego native Margaret O'Brien, June Allyson, Mary Astor, Peter Lawford and Janet Leigh. It had previously been filmed in 1933 starring Katharine Hepburn for producer David O. Selznick.

As the studio moved into the 1950s, Leigh remained popular in such outstanding films as Angels in the Outfield (1951) with Paul Douglas , Living it Up (1954) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and the big musical My Sister Eileen (1955) with Jack Lemmon.

All her pictures were "A" films such as Houdini (1953), The Vikings (1958), and Who Was That Lady? (1960) with her husband Tony Curtis.

She worked with two great directors, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. For Welles she appeared in the thriller Touch of Evil (1958) and Psycho (1960) for the ghoul-master Hitchcock. For the latter film she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar®. The film has become a classic and is shown incessantly on television.

With Psycho making her a superstar, she continued starring in other great films such as Manchurian Candidate, and the big Broadway musical Bye, Bye Birdie in 1963. Leigh scaled back making films and began appearing on television on various shows such as Columbo, Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Murder She Wrote with former MGM actress Angela Lansbury.

In her later years Leigh wrote the best-selling autobiography, There Really Was A Hollywood and Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller.

 

INTERESTING TRIVIA

In 1960 she and husband Tony Curtis appeared at the Democratic National Convention.

This writer met the charming Miss Leigh on the set of Some Like It Hot when she was pregnant with her daughter Jamie Leigh Curtis.

For the dark comedy Postcards From the Edge, Janet Leigh wanted to co-star with

daughter Jamie Lee Curtis. It was about a mother-daughter relationship based on the relationship of Debbie Reynolds and daughter Carrie Fisher. Meryl Streep landed the role.

 

 



                       

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