She is also famous as the wife of Tony Curtis and mother of actress Jamie Lee Curtis but she was an exceptionally good actress in her own right and had her own highly successful movie career.
BiographyShe was born Jeanette Helen Morrison on July 6, 1927, in Merced, California, into a working class home, and grew up in Stockton, California when the family relocated.
Early YearsShe was strictly raised and attended the local Presbyterian church where she regularly sang in the choir. She went to Weaver Grammar School in Stockton] and later Stockton High School. She was a bright pupil and after graduating at age sixteen in 1943 she continued her education at the College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific) in Stockton, where she studied music and psychology.
Her family were not well off and Jeanette spent her vacations working at retail shops and dime stores, to help the finances. Whilst still studying at the college in 1943, she paid a visit to her parents in Northern California, where they were working at a ski resort. It was a life-changing visit.
The Young ActressRetired MGM star Norma Shearer, widow of ex-MGM boss Irving Thalberg, saw a photo of her and recommended her to talent agent Lew Wasserman. As a result, she was offered a contract by MGM following a screen test, despite having absolutely no acting experience. Leigh immediately dropped out of college and was placed under the tutelage of drama coach Lillian Burns.
Her first professional engagement was at age nineteen as a radio actress on 'The Cresta Blanca Hollywood Players' in 1946. She went on to make her screen debut as a lovely ingénue in 'The Romance of Rosy Ridge' in 1947, starring Van Johnson. It was during the shooting that her name was changed first to "Jeanette Reames", then to "Janet Leigh".
She worked steadily, first in sweet teenage roles such as Meg March in 'Little Women' in 1949, and then in colorful costume pictures such as 'Scaramouche' in 1952. In her starlet phase, Leigh landed a few good dramatic parts:in very tight jeans as the Western wildcat of 'The Naked Spur' in 1953, a 1920's flapper in 'Pere Kelly's Blues' in 1955, and vivacious in 'My Sister Eileen', co-starring Jack Lemmon, in 1955.
After Howard Hughes's bizarre production 'Jet Pilot' in 1957, in which she is a Russian lady flier, she played starring roles in a variety of major films including the Orson Welles film-noir classic 'Touch of Evil' in 1958, 1962's 'The Manchurian Candidate' with Frank Sinatra and the 1963 musical 'Bye Bye Birdie' based on the hit Broadway show.
PsychoLeigh's most notable part, however, was as the iconic Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' in 1960. At the end of her 45 minutes onscreen she was unforgettably stabbed to death in the shower by cross-dressing lunatic Norman Bates. The role earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a place in movie history.
After her star years, she gamely faced giant killer rabbits in 'Night of the Lepus' in 1972, and worked with her daughter Jamie Lee in her last two films, 'The Fog' in 1980 and 'Halloween H20:20 Years Later' in 1998.
PersonalLeigh was married four times. As a headstrong child in 1941, at the age of 14, whilst still at school, she eloped and got married, but the marriage was annulled the following year. She married again in 1946 but divorced two years later. Thus Tony Curtis, whom she married in 1951, was her third husband.
With Tony Curtis she became the mother of actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis. She and Tony Curtis divorced in 1962, and she married stockbroker Robert Brandt. They remained married until her death.
Janet Leigh suffered a cardiac arrest and died at her home in Beverly Hills, California on October 3, 2004. She was cremated and her ashes are interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Janet Leigh Academy AwardsNo Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Supporting Actress ... Psycho (1960)
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Janet Leigh Filmography
The Romance of Rosy Ridge
If Winter Comes
Master of Lassie
Words and Music
Act of Violence
The Red Danube
The Doctor and the Girl
The Forsyte Saga
How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border (Short)
Angels in the Outfield
Two Tickets to Broadway
It's a Big Country: An American Anthology
Just This Once
Walking My Baby Back Home
The Naked Spur
Living It Up
The Black Shield of Falworth
My Sister Eileen
Pete Kelly's Blues
Touch of Evil
Strictly for Pleasure
Who Was That Lady?
The Manchurian Candidate
Bye Bye Birdie
Wives and Lovers