Janet Leigh was Hollywood's perfect "nice girl" ingenue who memorably changed her acting image with her bloodcurdling screams as she was stabbed to death in Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Psycho."
Of her scores of motion pictures and movies for television, Leigh was proudest of three, all made within four years, she noted in her chatty 1984 autobiography, "There Really Was a Hollywood."
They happened to be her most critically acclaimed films and three that were often included on lists of best all-time movies: Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" with Charlton Heston in 1958, "Psycho" in 1960 and, in 1962, "The Manchurian Candidate," which was directed by John Frankenheimer and starred Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey.
But "Psycho," with its fatal shower scene that tantalized viewers' imaginations, was unquestionably the zenith of Leigh's prolific motion-picture career.
Leigh, offered the script by Hitchcock, was so convinced that the role as embezzling office worker Marion Crane would establish her as a major dramatic actress that she agreed to work for one-quarter of her usual $100,000 fee. The gamble paid off.
Her 45 minutes on screen, ending with her dramatic stabbing death in the shower, earned Leigh a Golden Globe award as well as an Oscar nomination and a slot in Hollywood history.
Leigh made her debut as the ingenue lead in 1947"s "The Romance of Rosy Ridge" opposite Van Johnson, then MGM's top male lead. The next year, she played the future Mrs. Richard Rodgers in "Words and Music," with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Other sweet, "nice girl" roles followed — most notably as Meg March in 1949's "Little Women," which also starred Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson and Margaret O'Brien. Leigh was the pretty "My Sister Eileen" in 1955.
The actress worked prodigiously for more than 20 years in comedies, costume epics, mysteries, suspense and even song and dance with such leading men of the era as Johnson, Heston, Van Heflin, Ezio Pinza, Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, John Wayne, Dick Van Dyke and Victor Mature.
Leigh moved into television later than many — first appearing on "The Rosemary Clooney Show" in 1956 and making her television movie debut in 1969 with "The Monk" on ABC.
She rarely ventured into live theater but did appear on Broadway in 1975 in "Murder Among Friends" and later on stage in the popular two-person reading "Love Letters" with former costar Johnson.
Leigh decreased her acting over the decades, although she appeared in the CBS television movie "In My Sister's Shadow" in 1997 and with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in the 1998 motion picture "Halloween H20."
Her final film was "A Fate Totally Worse Than Death" in 2000.
Points of interest
|1960||Best Supporting Actress||Psycho||Nomination|