Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller by Janet Leigh & Christopher Nickens


1995 – Harmony Books – 197 pages

Janet Leigh published her autobiography There Really Was a Hollywood in 1984.  So why in 1995 would she publish a book completely devoted to Psycho?  As Janet herself explains in the book, fans were constantly mentioning this movie, more than any other film in her career.  So when some friends “from the literary world” suggested she should write a book, she decided to give it a go.

She decided to forego the standard memoir format, and go for something a little different.  First, she partnered with co-author Christopher Nickens.  And second, Janet Leigh and Nickens began to do research of their own.  They contacted many of the people associated with the film, they looked through archival material, and the result is this short, but pleasant read.

The book includes several chapters written by Janet Leigh in the first person, in which she not only recalls her memories, but outlines the general history of the film.  Also included are numerous quotes from the people she spoke with in preparation for the book, including screenwriter Joseph Stefano and assistant director Hilton Green.   She even has some comments from John Gavin, who played her boyfriend Sam Loomis in the film.  Gavin had remained tight-lipped for decades, never granting an interview on the subject of Psycho, but he broke his silence for his charming co-star Janet.

Interspersed with Janet’s contributions are a couple of chapters titled “Intermission”, presumably written by Nickens.  These offer an even deeper dive into the subject matter of the film’s production.   This book was released after Stephen Rebello’s book on the making of Psycho, and Janet Leigh refutes a couple of statements made in that book.  She doesn’t mention it by name, instead referring to it as “one of the other Psycho…books.”  Rebello quoted Janet as saying that she stood as good a chance as her fellow nominees of winning the Oscar.  According to Janet she never said that.   Joseph Stefano also clarifies a comment attributed to him in the Rebello book about Hitchcock wanting a “bigger actress” than Leigh, implying that he was referring to her physical stature, not her box office appeal.

The book breezes along at a tad under 200 pages, and is full of great stories, and the charm and wit of Janet Leigh.  I’m not sure how much of the book her co-author Nickens penned, but the voice is definitely that of Janet Leigh.  If you have heard some of her archival interviews, you will feel as if she is conversing with you while reading the book.

This book makes a nice supplement to the Rebello book;  even though they cover much of the same ground, Janet Leigh’s book is more breezy and conversational in tone, and gives a different, insider perspective.   Recommended for all fans of Psycho.

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