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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Scream Queens: It's all in the horror family

As we approach Halloween, AMC is running a ten-day marathon of horror films. All classics, filled with names you know, and some you don’t. (They need a Robert Osborne from TCM to do their movies.)

Janet Leigh (1927-2004) as Marion Crane in Psycho made showering for a young, pretty innocent girl/woman seem like a permanent hassle. I am by no means an expert on this movie, but it is very loosely based on the true-life story of Wisconsin psychopath Ed Gein, who murdered and mutilated women and pranced around at night, draped in their skin.

Nice guy – I suspect getting in touch with their skin was just “a phase.” (And it seems the weirdest ones are from Wisconsin–Illinois. Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Speck come to mind. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre of Tobe Hooper is also "loosely based" , even more gruesomely, on this weirdo. Silence of the Lambs makes Hollywood profit off Gein's absolute sickness.)

Janet Leigh was more than a pretty, well-endowed starlet. She was in The Manchurian Candidate, Touch of Evil, Bye Bye Birdie, Holiday Affair and Angels in the Outfield. (Angels saw her as a reporter on a team that suddenly get the help it needs…Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe’s one oddly befitting love, appear in this vehicle. I think Janet is a better dame.)

Leigh had pretty decent range – and a comic side that became lost after her Psycho role.

Her offspring, Jamie Lee Curtis, made her big move into the business with her role in Halloween. This movie rocks, even today. The building to impending doom and the maniacal, steroid-enhanced strength of a unstoppable stalker are classic horror traits. (John Carpenter had to make the eerie music because he couldn’t afford a real orchestral arrangement – it worked out, since that is really the most memorable thing.)

Around the same time, Jamie and Janet appeared in The Fog (1980), with Hal Holbrook getting the “last-killed” moniker in the flick. This film drags, in my opinion, and neither one is really that good in it. (Not to sound perverted, but Janet still had a nice pair in 1980, at 52. Adrienne Barbeau also played in this film. Can you say “casting couch”? Or a director with a boob fetish? John Carpenter? No way? Yes, way.) Mrs. Jamie Lee Curtis (Guest) has gone onto a successful career in the movies, with A Fish Called Wanda and a Freaky Lindsay Lohan, and kids' books, Is There Really a Human Race?

Twenty years later, Halloween H20 came out with both Leigh and Curtis appearing once again together. I don’t remember much of this film; but I the critics actually enjoyed it much better than the other Halloween sequels.

Janet Leigh was sought after by plenty of men (and a woman.)

Howard Hughes wanted to bed her – or at least exploit her like some of his other glamour girls (Jane Russel in The Outlaw) while running RKO pictures. (See: Hughes' Jet Pilot with John Wayne below.) Hughes would have bored her with Ice Station Zebra – his bedtime fav – and no matter how much you’re worth, a woman has her limits to eccentricity.

Kirk Douglas, who starred with her in The Vikings, fantasized about her breasts after his stroke. (And AMC this morning followed up Halloween with The Fury, with Kurt Douglas, Amy Irving and Andrew Stevens. Coincidence? Or not?)

Tony Curtis married her only to screw that up. After a decade of decadence, running around with the Rat Pack, Curtis and Leigh were heading in different directions - personally and career wise. He was into some dope, among other things. So Hubby #3 was gone after a decade. Screen Harlet Marlene Deitrich evidently liked to go both ways – and made it known to Janet & Tony. Tony of course was game; Janet not so much.

Leigh would married 4 times; the last time lasting over 40 years to Robert Brandt, a stockbroker. Her first marital rodeo took place at 14, about the time Pearl Harbor, and was annulled after a day. Her second was to a musician that lasted only a short while longer. Then along came Tony Curtis when she was a rising star in the early 1950’s, and he was still, just another face in Hollywood's den of dames and don juans. Their marriage is compared to Cruise and Kidman in it's dynamics. And was similiarly not destined to last.

Her final hubby married her only hours after the divorce ink was dry to Tony. After that, Leigh was more interested in societal matters, once asked to be an ambassador to Finland during Johnson's administration.

Her contribution to the horror genre is remarkable given it was done cheaply (15,000 pounds), at a time when some actresses could get upwards of $500,000 per movie. She assisted Hitchcock to legendary status with a blood curling scream, a pert body and an understated, short role. And produced the next generation of horror films, via her daughter, Jamie Lee.
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