Janet Leigh was born Jeanette Helen Morrison on July 6, 1927 in Merced, California, the only child of Helen Lita (Westergaard) and Frederick Robert Morrison. Her maternal grandparents were Danish, and her father had British Isles and German ancestry. Her parents often moved from town to town. Living in apartments, Jeanette was a bright child who skipped several grades and finished high school when she was 15. A lonely child, she would spend much of her time at movie theaters. She was a student, studying music and psychology, at the University of the Pacific until she was "discovered" while visiting her parents in Northern California. Her father was working the desk at a ski resort where her mother worked as a maid. Retired MGM actress Norma Shearer saw a picture of Jeanette on the front desk and asked if she could borrow it. This led to a screen test at MGM, a name change to Janet Leigh, and a starring role in The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947). MGM was looking for a young naive country girl and Janet filled the bill perfectly. She would play the ingénue in a number of films and work with such stars as Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Kirk Douglas and John Wayne. She starred in a number of successful films, among them Act of Violence (1948), Words and Music (1948), Little Women (1949), Holiday Affair (1949), Angels in the Outfield (1951), Scaramouche (1952), Houdini (1953), The Naked Spur (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), Living It Up (1954), My Sister Eileen (1955), Safari (1956), and the Orson Welles film noir classic Touch of Evil (1958).
Janet's films ranged from comedies to westerns to musicals to dramas. Of her more than 50 movies, she would be most remembered for the 45 minutes she was on screen in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Even though her character was killed off early in the picture, she won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress. Her next film was The Manchurian Candidate (1962), in which she co-starred with Frank Sinatra. For the rest of the decade, her appearances in films were rare, but she worked with Paul Newman in Harper (1966). In the 1970s, she appeared on the small screen in a number of made-for-television movies. In 1980, she appeared alongside her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog (1980), and later, in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998). Janet Leigh died at age 77 in her home in Beverly Hills, California on October 3, 2004.