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ANN CONWAY

Shower Power : Janet Leigh, Discussing Her Book in Newport Beach, Tells How 'Psycho' Changed Her Life

June 26, 1995|ANN CONWAY

The photograph on her "Psycho" book jacket is enough to stop you dead.

There she is, beautiful Janet Leigh, fish-eyed, her nose smashed against the base of a bathtub.

"That's after she was stabbed to death--when she has fallen in the shower," Leigh said of Marion Crane, the young woman she portrayed in "Psycho," the 35-year-old thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Leigh was in Newport Beach last week to promote her book--about the making of "Psycho"--at a meeting of Round Table West at the Balboa Bay Club.

Starring in the classic was the career opportunity of lifetime, Leigh confided before speaking to 400 guests. She got to work with "the genius, Mr. Hitchcock" and received an Academy Award nomination for best actress. And she will forever be part of a film that has become a classic.

But there has been a price: She is terrified of showers.

Her own marble Beverly Hills bathroom contains an open, blue-tile tub that you "step up and into," she said.

Also, for 35 years there have been threats on her life in the form of telephone calls and letters. "I have to change my telephone number about every four months," she said. There are wackos out there who want to see Marion Crane killed. Again. "Strange, isn't it; they threaten the victim ?" Leigh asked.

Mostly her association with the film has been a happy one. "Hitchcock's craftsmanship" was something to behold, Leigh recounted, smiling on a sunny patio near a row of yachts. "He had to build the story. That's something you don't have in thrillers today, because you can see everything.

"In those days we had the Hays Code, censorship, and we couldn't show what actually happened. So it all had to be done with cleverness, split-second editing, surprise elements, music--to create the atmosphere of fear," she said.

"By the time 'Psycho' got to the moment of crescendo, the attack, the audience was primed and ready. They saw what they didn't see. When you have to create something in your own mind, the impression lasts."

Sitting down to lunch with fellow authors Mr. Blackwell ("From Rags to Bitches") and Rusty E. Frank ("Tap!"), Leigh sipped a chocolate-flavored health drink she made herself and brought along in a thermos.

Her table-mates dined on Chinese chicken and rice.

A fan, Royal Radtke of Corona del Mar, approached, carrying what looked like a folded, beige tablecloth. "Will you please sign this?" he asked.

Leigh smiled. "Sure," she said, recognizing immediately that it is a shower curtain. She has done this many times before. (Later Radtke confided that he will donate the item to a benefit auction for the Children's Bureau of Southern California.)

When Leigh, who is in her middle 60s, stood before the crowd, she was quick to tell them about a disturbing piece she read in Vanity Fair. "The writer said that if you're over 50 in Hollywood, you might as well commit suicide.

"Well, I'm well over 50 and doing my damnedest to prove she's wrong. I feel as productive as I ever did, but not in front of the camera."

She will always be grateful for her movie career, she said. And she is "full of joy" over her new career, writing. "I'm so happy to have lived long enough to write this book."

When asked how she has survived all her years in Tinseltown, Leigh answered: "Live in the present. Hold on to the truth. Be yourself. And don't believe your own publicity."

*

Keeping them in stitches: Mr. Blackwell cracked up the Round Table West crowd on the same day when he held up his book. "The picture of me you see here cost $12 to take and $485 to airbrush," he deadpanned. "With me, what you see is not what you get. You are looking at over $50,000 worth of restoration."

Blackwell went on to tease guest Donna Crean of Santa Ana Heights about her magnificent jewelry collection. "One of the best things I ever said at a party was at Donna and John Crean's house," Blackwell said. "She was dripping in rubies, and I went up to her and said, 'Donna. It's a darn good thing you met John first, or I'd be wearing those rubies!' "

Blackwell, famous for his annual Worst Dressed List, said that Prince Charles' friend, Camilla Parker Bowles, was No. 1 on his last list. "I said her fashion image left a lot to be desired, that, unfortunately, she got dressed and looked in the mirror and watched it crack," he said in his razor-tongue style. "I thought that was the nicest thing I could say about her, considering what I really thought."

*

Partying with Porgy and Bess: Mardi Gras-inspired flower arrangements, pecan-caramel cake and bluesy tunes greeted the cast members of "Porgy and Bess" when they swept into Birraporetti's following their opening-night performance in Segerstrom Hall last week.

Shuttled to the Costa Mesa bistro on luxury buses, the cast of about 60 performers dined on a variety of pizzas and pastas before they dug into the Southern-style dessert.

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