Janet Leigh

Active - 1947 - 2014  |   Born - Jul 6, 1927 in Merced, California, United States  |   Died - Oct 3, 2004   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Crime, Romance, Mystery

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The only child of a very young married couple, American actress Janet Leigh spent her childhood moving from town to town due to her father's changing jobs. A bright child who skipped several grades in school, Leigh took music and dancing lessons, making her public debut at age 10 as a baton twirler for a marching band. Her favorite times were the afternoons spent at the local movie house, which she referred to as her "babysitter." In 1946, Leigh's mother was working at a ski lodge where actress Norma Shearer was vacationing; impressed by a photograph of Leigh, Shearer arranged for the girl (whose prior acting experience consisted of a college play) to be signed with the MCA talent agency. One year later Leigh was at MGM, playing the ingenue in the 1947 film Romance of Rosy Ridge. The actress became one of the busiest contractees at the studio, building her following with solid performances in such films as Little Women (1949), The Doctor and the Girl (1950), and Scaramouche (1952) -- and catching the eye of RKO Radio's owner Howard Hughes, who hoped that her several RKO appearances (on loan from MGM) would lead to something substantial in private life. Instead, Leigh married Tony Curtis (her second husband), and the pair became the darlings of fan magazines and columnists, as well as occasional co-stars (Houdini [1953], The Vikings [1958], Who Was That Lady? [1960]). Even as this "perfect" Hollywood marriage deteriorated, Leigh's career prospered. Among her significant roles in the '60s were that of Frank Sinatra's enigmatic lady friend in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Paul Newman's ex-wife in Harper (1966), and, of course, the unfortunate embezzler in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), who met her demise in the nude (actually covered by a moleskin) and covered with blood (actually chocolate sauce, which photographed better) in the legendary "shower scene." In the '80s, Leigh curtailed her film and TV appearances, though her extended legacy as both the star/victim of Psycho and the mother of actress Jamie Lee Curtis still found her a notable place in the world of cinema even if her career was no longer "officially" active.

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  • Eloped at 14 with her childhood sweetheart, but the marriage was annulled soon after.
  • Was an exceptional student and graduated from high school at 15.
  • Was discovered by actress Norma Shearer; left college and signed with MGM.
  • Cast by Alfred Hitchcock as the femme fatale in his landmark thriller Psycho, where it's curtains for her in the famous shower scene.
  • Although known as "Hollywood's Perfect Couple," she and actor Tony Curtis ended their marriage after 11 years due to his admitted infidelities.
  • Published her autobiography, There Really Was a Hollywood, in 1984; cowrote Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller in 1995; also published two novels.
  • Was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by University of the Pacific in 2004.