Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2004/ 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Greg Crosby

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The Passing Parade | Two celebrities passed away recently ..

Janet Leigh had a wonderful and diverse career which spanned almost sixty years. Born in Merced, California, she studied music at the College of the Pacific where she was discovered by Norma Shearer who encouraged her to come to Hollywood in 1947. She signed with MGM and was cast in wholesome ingénue parts in many of the studio's pictures of the late forties and early fifties. Her first film was "The Romance of Rosy Ridge" playing opposite Van Johnson.

In 1949 she starred in "Holiday Affair" with Robert Mitchum - a cute warm-hearted love story which, in recent years, has been rediscovered and has become somewhat of a mini Christmas classic. Janet plays a war widow with a young son who is being wooed by two guys, played by Wendell Corey and Mitchum. It all takes place in New York during the Christmas season, which gives the film its wonderful holiday charm and warmth. If you haven't seen this one, check it out.

She had the opportunity and talent to play in a wide variety of film genres; everything from westerns to period costumers, from light comedy to romance, from film noir to frothy musicals. Her leading men read like a who's who of Hollywood stars: Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Paul Douglas, Jimmy Stewart, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Charlton Heston, and John Wayne to name a few.

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She was delightful in the musicals she made, particularly "My Sister Eileen." She danced and sang with the best of them and sadly this part of her career is all but forgotten. Check her out in the "Put on a Happy Face" number opposite Dick Van Dyke in "Bye Bye Birdie," she's wonderful. She's even better in "My Sister Eileen, though. Check that one, too.

Playing in the light musical comedies is one thing, but then she could do the dark stuff just as well - pictures like Orsen Wells' "Touch of Evil," "The Manchurian Candidate," and of course the role that everyone remembers her most for - the part of Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Janet Leigh was quite a gifted actress.

How ignorant and shallow it was of one of the TV news broadcasters, when reporting on her death, to describe her as "the queen of screams." How insulting a title to give to an accomplished actress with such a wide-ranging resume! It's just plain wrong, anyway. If by "scream" they are referring to the famous sequence in "Psycho" when the shower curtain is pulled back and she's stabbed by Norman Bates, well, guess what? - we never hear her scream! She opens her mouth AS IF to scream, but we, the audience, only hear high pitched violins on the music track. No screams.

All in all, there really wasn't very much said on the life and career of Janet Leigh at all - which was disappointing considering her considerable track record in film. After the first day, that was it. The reason for that, I assume, is because the people reporting on it in the media, really don't know or care very much about Janet Leigh except for "Psycho." Most of them weren't born when she was making the bulk of her movies.

On the other hand, quite a lot was made on the death, later in the week, of comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Dangerfield was primarily a nightclub comic for most of his working life. He became nationally known after appearing regularly on the old 'Tonight show" with Johnny Carson and other talk shows in the 1970's - those appearances led to movies in the 1980's. He made a total of eight or nine pictures, most notably "Caddyshack." The media mourned his passing as "the death of a comedy legend." And it was reported over and over on the news for about three days!

So let's get this straight - Janet Leigh made over fifty pictures during a sixty year career starring opposite some of the biggest movie stars in the business and we just give her a cursory mention, Dangerfield made about eight really dumb comedies and he's glorified all week. Now, I'm not putting down Dangerfield, in fact I used to like his "I get no respect" routine in his standup when I first heard it, but he's nowhere near the star that Janet Leigh was. Sorry Dangerfield fans.

It seems that, in death at least, Rodney Dangerfield is finally getting the respect he sought. What a shame that broadcasters didn't see fit to give Janet Leigh that same level of respect.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2004 Greg Crosby