October 04, 2004

'Psycho' Star Janet Leigh Dies at 77
LOS ANGELES - Actress Janet Leigh, whose dozens of starring roles were eclipsed by a single movie moment -- the motel shower stabbing scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," has died at the age of 77, a family spokeswoman said on Monday.


Leigh "died peacefully in her home on Sunday afternoon" in Beverly Hills with her husband, Robert Brandt, and her actress daughters, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kelly Curtis, at her side, the spokeswoman said.

Leigh had been battling vasculitis -- an inflammation of the blood vessels -- for a year, she said.

Leigh's film career started in 1947 after actress Norma Shearer discovered her photograph on a hotel reception desk and recommended her for an MGM studio contract.

She appeared opposite such stars as Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, James Stewart and ex-husband Tony Curtis in dozens of movies including at least two classics, "The Manchurian Candidate" in 1962 and Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" in 1958.

But lasting film fame came not from the love interest or damsel in distress roles that the blond actress specialized in more than 50 movies but from a film in which she played a thief on the run.

The camera only cares about Leigh for the first 45 minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film "Psycho" as she plays office worker and embezzler Marion Crane who stops for the night at the Bates Motel where in minutes she is slashed to death in a shower by a man dressed up as his mother -- Anthony Perkins playing motel keeper Norman Bates.

Leigh spent a week filming the shower scene which is built of 70 takes lasting only seconds each in which the killer's knife is not shown cutting her. The scene, which lasts only minutes, was voted the most famous movie death scene by readers of the British magazine Total Films, outranking such tragedies as the death of Bambi's mother and King Kong's fall from the Empire State Building..


Leigh was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for the role and for years maintained that the trauma of seeing it made it impossible for her to take a shower without fear.

Total Film's editor Simon Crook, told the BBC in an interview that it was "the sheer violence of the edit rather than any explicit gore" that made the shower scene so distressing.

He said that "not once do we see Anthony Perkins' knife touch Leigh's body; instead, the shot features 70 different angles, over 90 cuts and of course, those shrieking violins" of the background music.

In an interview with wnbc.com @ The Movies' Tim Lammers in 2000, Leigh said that after she saw the shower scene on film for the first time she wanted to take only baths.

"When I saw it condensed and edited in a way that only Hitchcock could do it, it was so frightening to me that it made me realize that it's an extremely vulnerable position we're in, while in a shower," she said. "I never even thought about it that way before. I just couldn't get back in a shower after that. I just thought it was stupid to put yourself in that position."

In another interview she said, "'Psycho' gave me very wrinkled skin. I was in that shower for seven days - 70 set-ups. At least, he (Hitchcock) made sure the water was warm."

Born Jeanette Helen Morrison, she was the only child of a couple that crossed the country working at different jobs. She described her childhood as lonely and eloped for the first of four marriages at age 14.

After Shearer discovered her picture on the reception desk at the hotel where her father worked, Leigh signed an MGM contract and played in such films as "The Romance of Rosy Ridge" (1947), "Little Women" (1949), "Angels in the Outfield" (1951), "Scaramouche" (1952) and "Houdini" (1953), which also starred her third husband Tony Curtis.
In 1962, she married businessman Robert Brandt.

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