How Psycho Changed Janet Leigh Forever

"Psycho" not only left cinema forever changed, but also one of its stars, Janet Leigh. The late actress had an incredible career, starring in classics such as "Little Women" (the 1949 version) and "Scaramouche," but her most iconic role is probably Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film.

This cinematic milestone is known not only for its twist ending, but also another major twist in the middle! Caution, 61-year-old spoilers ahead, but the film's assumed protagonist was killed off halfway through "Psycho," which came as a huge shock to audiences. The first half of the movie follows Marion Crane, who is on the lam after stealing money from her boss so she and her boyfriend can stay together. She has a change of heart after checking into the Bates motel, but poor Marion never checks out. The rest of the movie mostly concerns itself with solving her murder, right up until that ending that no one saw coming.

"Psycho" was somewhat controversial at the time of its release and was undeniably harrowing for viewers. Interestingly, they weren't the only ones traumatized by the Master of Suspense. Star Janet Leigh was also never the same.

A Cleansing Shower

Most people immediately think of a single thing when "Psycho" is mentioned: that shower scene. In a moment punctuated by Bernard Herrmann's terrifying score, Marion is stabbed to death in the shower by someone who certainly appears to be an elderly woman. Marion's demise was unexpected, to say the least. Women's World rediscovered a 1984 interview with Leigh in which she explained:

"Here's a woman who had come to terms with what she had done. What I thought about was the inevitability of comeuppance. She was a victim of the time, the situation, her passion and, yet, her morality. It was really a very unconventional role, if you think about it. She was taking the shower and it was like a cleansing. She was going to go back and face the music. And to have that kind of ending was so against what the audience wanted or expected."

Leigh also stated the nature of the role was the reason she and Hitchcock never worked together again. The director had recalled the undeniable impression left by Marion's death, the way audiences were certain she'd return by movie's end, because this type of twist was so unheard of. Leigh said that Hitchcock told her, "The idea of using you again is just wrong." Even by today's standards, killing off a main character is still quite shocking, but in 1960, it just hadn't really been done.

Forever Changed

The "Psycho" shower scene certainly did leave an impression. The film left legions of women too frightened to shower, including my own mother. As scary as it was for viewers, it was even more frightening for Leigh. The actress told Women's World:

"I stopped taking showers and I only take baths. And when I'm someplace where I can only take a bath, I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked. I also leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I'm always facing the door, watching, no matter where the shower head is."

Likely contributing to Leigh's fear of showering were the twisted fans who crawled out of the woodwork, threatening to do the actress what Norman Bates had done to Marion. According to Leigh, she was still receiving disturbing letters at the time of the interview, though not nearly as many. The actress said the FBI needed to be called in early on, but thankfully, nothing ever came of these threats.

Leigh gave an excellent performance that obviously felt as real to her as it did for the audience. It's completely understandable that filming a scene in which you're stabbed to death while at your most vulnerable in the shower would make you rethink the entire process. Even writing this piece is making me consider perhaps going the bath route later on.