Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 23 June 2017

People we like: Janet Leigh

When I was doing those "People We Like" profiles here a few years ago (see label), one I somehow omitted was Janet Leigh - one of our perennial favourites, and always a pleasure in any movie. Janet (1927-2004) was a blonde California girl who famously got discovered when Norma Shearer saw her photograph at the ski lodge where Leigh's parents worked and, as legend has it, she was soon signed to MGM being one of their ingenues in the late '40s, in a variety of films. She was one of the LITTLE WOMEN in 1949, when HOLIDAY AFFAIR with Mitchum is a delightful Christmas classic. WHEN WINTER COMES was interesting too. The '50s though was her main era.

She is gorgeous in some costumers: SCARAMOUCHE in 1952, and cardboard castle time in comic strips like PRINCE VALIANT and THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH, with her then husband Tony Curtis. She is a '20s flapper in PETE KELLY'S BLUES, and good in a tough cop drama ROGUE COP with Robert Taylor, both 1954. I somehow missed her and Curtis in HOUDINI
She also excels out west in Mann's THE NAKED SPUR in 1953. She was MY SISTER EILEEN in the delightful 1955 musical and gets to dance with Bob Fosse.  We like it a lot, as per review. 1956 saw her in Africa in a routine jungle saga SAFARI with Victor Mature. 1958 was maybe her peak year: with Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL, directed by Orson at his most flamboyant, a modern noir classic where she gets terrorised in a motel, hiding her broken arm most of the time; then the Boys-Own classic THE VIKINGS, filmed in Norway and looking great as photographed by Jack Cardiff, where we love her Princess Morgana, its a perennial that boys of all ages still tune into. There was also a comedy I like, THE PERFECT FURLOUGH (or STRICTLY FOR PLEASURE) in Paris, with Curtis, for Blake Edwards. The marriage to Curtis made them one of the star couples of the era. Then Alfred Hitchcock came calling .... 

I have written about PSYCHO a lot here. Janet may only have been in the first forty minutes, but her Marion Crane dominates the rest of the film, and it is surely a leading performance, and she looks great here. She will always be the girl in the shower at the Bates Motel ... Hitchcock told her he knew she could act and left the role up to her as long as he got what he needed for his camera setups. That long scene with Perkins at the motel is particularly effective.

Frankenheimer's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was another classic in 1962, though her part was not major in it and she continued throughout the early Sixties: another musical: BYE BYE BIRDIE in '63, a comedy WIVES AND LOVERS, Paul Newman's estranged wife in HARPER in 1966. There was a Jerry Lewis comedy I saw around that time too, purely because she was in it. 
Lesser roles followed but she had more or less retired after a long happy second marriage (she and Curtis divorced in '62). John Carpenter lured her back with a role in THE FOG in 1980, starring her daughter scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. She also did a good COLUMBO episode in 1975. Janet also wrote some novels and a charming autobiography and seems to have been well liked by everybody. 
Howard Hughes liked her a lot, with her perfect figure, she did his JET PILOT with John Wayne in 1951, directed by Von Sternberg, but it was 1957 by the time Hughes stopped tinkering with it and released it. She looks marvellous emerging from that flying suit in that white tee-shirt, but says in her book that she had to arrange to never be left alone with Hughes, till he eventually found more willing actresses .... 
She will always be one of the essential actresses of the 1950s, along with Kim, Doris, Debbie, Lee, Jean, Deborah, Susan, Ava, Natalie etc. and did sterling work with Hitchcock, Welles, Von Sternberg, Mann etc. (above: Janet in a 1969 "Sight & Sound" interview).


  1. As a little tyke I had a large crush on Janet and I still love her today. She was ideal big sister material. Also should have won the Oscar for PSYCHO.

  2. You are being nice for once and not so waspish/pithy .... yes Janet is a welcome addition to any movie.