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The Turbulent Marriage Of Janet Leigh And Tony Curtis

Icons | June 3, 2022

(L-R) Kelly Lee Curtis, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Jamie Lee Curtis at home in Hollywood. Source: (Getty).

By the time Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis met in 1950 at an RKO publicity party, she had already been married twice, albeit briefly each time, and had made a name for herself in Hollywood. Curtis, on the other hand, had just gotten started, acting in minor roles up to that point. He had had a rough childhood, spending a brief time in a gang and then joining the Navy. He was discovered by Janet Selznick and ended up in Hollywood at 23. In his early appearances, he was mainly relying on his looks and at that point, his acting was mediocre. When Leigh and Curtis met, Curtis found her attractive, while she said that he was “a devastatingly handsome young man – beautiful really – with black unruly hair, large sensitive eyes fringed by long dark eyelashes, a full sensuous mouth – and an irresistible personality.”

Source: (Pinterest).

The Marriage

In 1951, Curtis was being pressured by his studio to marry Piper Laurie for publicity, and he started to realize that he wanted to marry Leigh. While she was on a promotion tour, he called her and proposed; she, of course, accepted. They were working for two different studios, and both tried to dissuade them, but to no avail, and they married on June 4, 1951, with comedian Jerry Lewis as a witness. After the wedding, Curtis’s career started to take off. The public viewed them as the perfect couple, and they embraced the image.

Curtis's Career Started To Take Off After The Marriage

They started to appear in films together in 1953, first in Houdini, and after that, Curtis’s career took off. After that, they appeared together in The Black Shield of Falworth in 1954, and by then problems were starting to appear. Leigh did not like Curtis’s behavior in public, and the way she corrected him annoyed Curtis. Curtis also started suspecting Leigh of having affairs, and he found what he thought was a love letter from one of her co-stars, Bob Fosse. Curtis started sleeping around, allegedly with actresses like Gloria DeHaven and Natalie Wood, and going to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. He justified his behavior by saying that “I was 30 years old, in my prime, and… beautiful girls with fantastic figures were constantly throwing themselves at me… I decided that from that point on I would partake more fully of the bounty being offered me.” Their careers also created difficulty as Leigh was getting good roles, and Curtis was a little jealous. They had their first daughter, Kelly, in 1956. 

At the 25th Academy Awards. Source: (Wikipedia).

After Their Divorce

They continued to appear in films together, including The Vikings in 1958, the year their second daughter was born. Jamie Lee Curtis called herself a “save the marriage baby,” but as she said, she “failed.” After Leigh’s role in Psycho, she started drinking heavily; according to Curtis, during one episode, she started consuming sleeping pills and he made her cough them back up. Leigh was filming The Manchurian Candidate in 1962 when Curtis filed for divorce. He claimed that Leigh kept “bossing me around, just as my mother had bossed my father around.” According to Leigh, their divorce happened because of “outside problems.” One of those problems was that he was having an affair with a 12-year-old German actress, Christine Kauffman. The divorce, which they settled in Mexico, was over quickly, leaving Curtis to marry Kauffman, a marriage that was also doomed to end in divorce. Curtis would, in fact, marry a total of six times before his death in 2010. When he died, he was still married to his sixth wife, Jill Vandenburg. After his divorce from Leigh, his career started to go into decline. For her part, Leigh remarried as well, and her marriage to Robert Brandt lasted until her death. 

Tags: Janet Leigh | Tony Curtis

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.