The image is indelible: A fetching young woman steps into the bathroom of the Bates Motel. Turns on the water. Soaps herself. Wets her hair. The shower curtain is jerked aside and a flashing blade tears the frame in half, as Janet Leigh screams and screams.
The shower sequence from Psycho has rightfully become one of the most famous scenes in movie history. The controversy over Saul Bass’ contribution to Hitchcock’s vision is still enough to have movie buffs at each other’s throats, and Bernard Herrmann’s all-string score set the standard against which all future “thriller music” would be judged.
But what of the young lady in question? Janet Leigh’s forty-five minute turn as the doomed Marion Crane earned her an Academy Award® nomination and the kind of rarefaction few actresses enjoy. But as large as Hitchcock’s masterpiece looms in the minds of moviegoers, it can’t over-shadow five decades of superb work from this versatile — and at times — underrated talent.
Born Jeanette Helen Morrison, Janet managed to finish high school and elope by the age of 15. The first marriage was annulled while Janet forged ahead with her education at the University of the Pacific, studying psychology and music. It was while still a student that Norma Shearer, the ex-Queen of MGM, discovered Janet while she was working as a maid at a ski resort. Shearer, the widow of studio wunderkind Irving Thalberg, had considerable pull and a screen test was made. The executives liked what they saw in the fresh-faced teenager and cast Janet in The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947). It was a solid debut and she followed this with a similar role in Mervyn LeRoy’s big budget remake of Little Women (1949) where she starred opposite June Allyson.
Although she had a delightful turn in the fantasy Angels in the Outfield, it was as Van Heflin’s young wife terrorized by Robert Ryan in Fred Zinnemann’s scorching Act of Violence that Janet Leigh showed what she could do…………………………………………..