Friday, July 09, 2010

The day I met Janet Leigh/Marion Crane/Marie Samuels

I have a very personal connection to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which I will see this weekend at the Hot Times Cool Films series at the Victoria Theatre. I greatly identify with part of the movie.

No, no, no, not THAT part of it. But I am very lucky to be able to say I had the great honor of meeting Janet Leigh, who shocked the world by **SPOILER ALERT** dying before Psycho was even half over.

What follows is the column I wrote for the Middletown Journal, shortly after she passed away in 2004.

I was especially saddened to hear of Janet Leigh’s death Sunday, not only because she was a great actress, but because she was a great person, too.

Believe me, I know. I had the great pleasure of meeting her in 1995, when she came to the Neon Movies in Dayton to introduce screenings of three of her most famous films, “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Touch of Evil” and, of course, “Psycho.”

Many actresses would bristle if their most famous line was “AAAAAAAHHHHH!” But not Janet. She knew full well that shower scene was her ticket to immortality, and she wore it like a badge of honor.

Janet held Alfred Hitchcock in such high regard that even though most people who worked with the Master of Suspense called him “Hitch,” she insisted on referring to him as “Mister Hitchcock.” She delighted in telling people that decades after she spent a week filming that scene, she would only take baths.

And it was her most famous film that inspired an act of generosity I will never forget.

The theater manager had wanted to book a 35-millimeter print of “Psycho,” but Universal’s distribution people were only willing to give the theater a 16-millimeter print that wouldn’t even fill up the movie screen.

The manager didn’t want to use Janet as any kind of “trump card,” but he felt he owed her an explanation as to why she’d be introducing a 16-millimeter print of her best-known movie.

“Is that right?” Janet said upon learning of the dilemma. “Let me see if I can’t talk to someone about that.”

That she did. Boy, did she ever.

She contacted Lew Wasserman, one of the old super executives of Hollywood who was a god at Universal. If Wasserman asked for something, you delivered.

So Universal delivered to us the master print of “Psycho” — the one used to strike other prints, the one the president gets if he wants to see it. So not only did we get our 35-millimeter print, we got to see “Psycho” in the best possible way, with no scratches and with Janet Leigh gracing us with her presence.

I exchanged a few pleasantries with Janet, posed for a photo with her and asked her to sign a copy of a Hitchcock book I had. She spelled my name wrong — “Erik” — but a guy can’t and didn’t complain in the face of the immense favor she did us. Just being in the same room with someone who worked with Hitchcock, Orson Welles, James Stewart and Judy Garland, among many others, was reward enough.

Thank you, Janet. Hope you’re enjoying a warm bath up there.

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