Monday, July 05, 2010

façade: janet's day

The fabulous ensemble cast of Richard Quine's fabulous "My Sister Eileen": (from left) Richard York (aka, Dick York), Lucy Marlowe, Robert Fosse (aka, Bob Fosse), Janet, Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett, Kurt Kasznar and Horace McMahon, all atop a marquee

Janet Leigh, being celebrated by Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, 6 July on the occasion of her birthday, was one of Hollywood's most pleasing screen presences and a particularly unassuming actress.

Which made her even more pleasing.

Her evolution from a scrubbed, sweet-faced starlet to a no-nonsense woman with an abrupt comic manner and tough resilence was one of genuine growth. Her sexual appeal was the real deal - she's what James Agee would call "a dish" - and she never trivialized it, her credibility as an actress being more important to her. She had grace, style.

Leigh deserved more credit and acclaim during her lifetime than she received. "I don't know what it is I exude," Leigh once quipped. "But whatever it is, it's whatever I am!" I wish she could have read what critic Carrie Rickey had to say in a April 23rd essay on her Flickgrrl blog.

"One of her distinctive features was the chorus-girl bod that was such a startling contrast to her woman-of-the-world voice," Rickey wrote. That says it all about Leigh's singular appeal. I can't top that.

Leigh with city bigwigs George Schwartz (left) and Abe Rosen during a visit to Philadelphia in 1963

Of the seven films that Turner will screen, starting at 7 a.m., est, with Stanley Donen's delightful
"Fearless Fagan" (1952), the crown jewel is inarguably Richard Quine's original 1955 film musical, "My Sister Eileen," with a solid score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin and clever choreography by Bob Fosse (then billed as Robert) who also co-starred in the role that Quine played in the straight Rosalind Russell version of the material. "Eileen" airs at 8:30 a.m.

Also being screened are Terence Young's "Sarari" (1956); Richard Fleischer's "The Vikings" (1958), in which Leigh co-starred with her then-husband Tony Curtis (and Kirk Douglas); George Sidney's hilarious "Who Was That Lady?" (1960), also with Curtis (and Dean Martin); Robert Gist's "An American Dream" (1966), and Jerry Lewis' "Three on a Couch" (1966). If I had my way, I would have added Blake Edwards' "The Perfect Furlough" (1958), another with Curtis; "The Red Danube" (1949), also directed by Sidney; Norman Taurog's "Living It Up" (1954), with Martin and Lewis, James V. Kerns' "Two Tickets to Broadway" (1951) and, of course, Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" (1958), Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) and John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962).


John Kaiser said...

I miss Janet Leigh. I wish she had worked more in her later years. She was very versatile. As for Tony Curtis, it's a shame what he has become. To me he will always be Houdini, Joe/Josephine, or The Great Leslie.

joe baltake said...

Janet and Tony were both great - together and apart. Both have been terribly underrated. Off-screen, Leigh always came across as the more honorable person. Tony lost me with his left-handed references to Janet in his autobiography and the last straw, of course, was the sudden revelation that he had an affair with Marilyn Monroe during the filming of "Some Like It Hot" when for years, for decades, he always had the nastiest things to say about her.

John Kaiser said...

Face it, from about the early 80's on, Tony Curtis became something of Hollywood caricature. Those overly thick rugs, the young nymphets. It's sad.

Alex said...

Sigh. Janet Leigh! What a woman. I like Ms. Rickey's comment, too. The body and the voice made a fascinating combo. Also, am I imaginging things or did she lack a big ego? She just got in there, did the job and moved on to another, different, project. She even comes through "Bye Bye Birdie," which to referred to in a previous thead, unscathed. I think as time goes on, she'll be appreciated more.

joe baltake said...

Alex- I also think her star will continue to grow. Leigh is the kind of actress who sneaks up on you, and her filmmography is really impressive, particularly the filmmakers with whom she worked - Frankenheimer, Welles, Mann and, of course, Hitchcock.