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).