- By TOM WEAVER
A generation ago, it wasn't entirely
fashionable for a mainstream actress to lend her name
and her talents to horror and fantasy film subjects,
but through those years Janet Leigh brought her blend
of charm and screen acting skill to a number of genre
productions. She played the wife of the world's most
celebrated Master of Escape (portrayed by her then-husband
Tony Curtis) in George Pal's production of Houdini;
added a touch of romantic sophistication to John Frankenheimer's
The Manchurian Candidate; played opposite her
real-life daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in John Carpenter's
The Fog; and took on the mantel of monster fighter
in the hare-brained ecological thriller Night of
the Lepus. Her best-remembered role, however, was
and always will remain Marion Crane, the most grossly
inconvenienced guest in motel history, in Alfred Hitchcock's
Tom Weaver: Exactly
how did you become involved on Psycho?
Janet Leigh: Mr. Hitchcock sent me the book
and said he would like me to play Marion Crane. He said
the script was not quite finished, and there would be
some changes -- they would not change the fact that
Marion got killed, but there would be changes in her
character. The movie Marion would not be quite as mousy;
in the book she was really quite plain, and Hitchcock
didn't intend to do that. He wanted the love scenes
between the characters of Marion and Sam to be very
realistic. I read the book and I could see what was
there, and just the idea of working with Hitchcock was
enough for me.
How did you enjoy working with Hitchcock?
Janet: I loved him -- just adored him. He was
obviously the most prepared director. After I did get
the script and I was signed, I went to meet him and
he showed me how every shot in the picture was already
Psycho was made quickly and inexpensively with
TV technicians. How did you adjust to the more rapid
Janet: I loved it. The sophistication of the
equipment had progressed by that time, so things didn't
take so long. It's very difficult to "sustain"
a character when you're waiting, forever it seems, between
shots. So I absolutely adored it.
In your book you wrote that Hitchcock promised to let
you alone and allow you to shape your own performance.
Did he provide you with much in the way of direction
Janet: If I needed it. But as long as what I
did fit into his camera and fulfilled the piece of his
picture I was supposed to fulfill, he let me pretty
much alone. If I didn't come up to it -- in other words,
if there was more he needed -- or if I went beyond it
and should do less, he would tell me. But otherwise
I was on my own.
Much has been recently written about the "dark
side" of Hitchcock's personality, but you never
seemed to be on the receiving end of any of this.
Janet: Nope. I assume that that is true, I can't
say yes or no, I can only talk about what was with me.
He couldn't have been better with me. One funny thing
I recall is that Hitch was trying to determine which
dummy of Mother to use in the film, and so periodically
when I would come back from lunch and I'd walk into
my trailer on the set, there would be this apparition
there -- a dummy of Mother. There were various forms
of Mother; I don't know whether he was gauging the volume
of my screams or what, but I'm sure I had something
to do with the decision as to which Mother was used
in the climax!
Both Vera Miles and John Gavin got a dose of Hitchcock's
Janet: I never worked with Vera Miles, I was
done by the time that she started, and I only had that
one opening scene with John Gavin. I remember John had
a little trouble in the love scenes -- it just wasn't
as passionate as Hitchcock wanted -- but I don't know
first-hand whether or not John and Hitchcock had any
The bathroom and shower scenes were well ahead of their
time. Were you pleased with the history-making opportunity,
or did you go in with misgivings?
Janet: I had no misgivings whatsoever. None.
I knew how hard Hitchcock had worked and how he had
manipulated the censor office to get certain things
in to the picture. He would put outrageous things into
the script, knowing that the censors would tell him
there was no way he'd be allowed to do them; and then
Hitchcock would say, "OK, then I'll give that up,
but I have to have this" -- the things he had actually
wanted all along.
Is it true that Psycho has turned you off on
Janet: Uh huh -- it is absolutely true. I'm
a scairdy-cat. I won't even take a bath in a hotel unless
I can face out, even if I have to have my back to the
faucets. It just scares me -- I never thought about
it before Psycho, but you are absolutely defenseless
in that situation.
Did Hitchcock try to inveigle you into doing the shower
scene in the nude?
Janet: That is B.S. There have been so many
myths about that shower scene, and I've tried to put
them to rest every time they've come up. What some people
forget is that we had the Hays Office in those days.
There was censorship. There was no way we could do it
in the nude -- no possible way! There couldn't have
been a nude model, because it would not have been allowed
in the picture. The only time that they used a stand-in
for me was when Tony Perkins pulled the body out of
the bathroom. Hitchcock said there was no sense in my
doing that; no one could see who was wrapped in that
shower curtain, so there would be no purpose served
by me getting dragged and bumped around in that scene.
But getting back to what I was saying, those people
don't realize what the censorship restrictions were
like at that time, as compared to today. Today, of course,
there'd be no fuss at all about a person doing a scene
like that in the nude. But at that time we couldn't.
The fact that I had a bra and a half-slip in that opening
scene with John Gavin caused such consternation at the
Hays Office, you wouldn't believe; Hitchcock had to
fight like hell to get that into the picture. And you
never see anything in the shower scene. That was the
genius of Hitchcock. People swear they saw the knife
go in, but they never showed that -- it was not allowed.
You saw a belly button, and even that was something
that was very difficult, and was almost not allowed.
But that's all you saw -- you thought you saw more,
but you didn't.
You received a death threat after Psycho was
Janet: Oh, yeah -- several. Some of them were
so bad that we had to turn them over to the F.B.I. There
were several that they wouldn't even let me look at.
One really explicit one came from Chicago, just as we
were leaving to go on a publicity tour to Chicago! And
I was terrified. The F.B.I. traced it down and found
the guy -- he was sort of a listed "nut" --
and they made sure he was not loose while I was there!
The influence of Psycho changed the face of horror
films. What do you think of the new breed of gore-spattered
horror films Psycho helped spawn?
Janet: The brilliance of Psycho was that
your imagination was allowed to flourish. Today, you
don't have to use your imagination, they show you everything.
I think the new horror films are not as good. Your imagination
is much stronger than anything they could graphically
In your opinion, what would Hitchcock have thought of
the Psycho sequels?
Janet: Hitch -- I hope I'm saying it right --
here goes: I think he would have just been revolted.
That type of film is just so contrary to what he believed
in, which was suspense and mystery, imagination and
titillation. And there's none of that in Psycho II.
If by some stretch of the imagination you had been offered
a role in a new Psycho film, would you have accepted
Janet: No -- and my daughter Jamie didn't either.
She was offered a part in Psycho II [the Meg
prompted her decision to turn it down?
Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and
Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie
Makers and many others available from McFarland