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Janet Leigh: A Star from Stockton

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One of San Joaquin County’s brightest stars was a Hollywood superstar who lit up the silver screen with her electric smile and supernatural stage presence. Jeanette Helen Morrison, known around the world as Janet Leigh, was born in Merced, California, on July 6, 1927. Her family relocated to the larger city of Stockton shortly after her birth. A graduate of Weber Grammar School and Stockton High School, Janet Leigh was a top student and excelled in her arts and drama courses. She attended Stockton College, now San Joaquin Delta College, and spent three years at the College of the Pacific, now University of the Pacific. 

Janet got her big break when actress Norma Shearer noticed a photo of her at the Sugar Bowl Lodge in Placer County, recalling later that it was “the most fascinating face I had seen in years.” Shearer was able to help Leigh get signed with MGM Productions by 1946, when she was just 19 years old. She adopted the last name Leigh as a stage name. For the next 20 years, Leigh would go on to lead in dozens of acclaimed films, including Scaramouche, Touch of Evil, Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate and Bye Bye Birdie. 

Leigh had two early marriages to local men in Stockton, John Carlisle and Stanley Reames, though each marriage lasted less than three years. In 1951, just three years into her career as an actress, she married heartthrob Tony Curtis, with whom she starred in multiple roles and with whom she would have two children, Kelly Lee Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis. While the couple would divorce in 1962, they remained in touch for the rest of their lives. Both daughters would go on to have major careers in show business, with Kelly Curtis maintaining a long career in production and television, and Jamie Lee Curtis having starred in close to three dozen films, most recently in Academy Award®-nominated Knives Out. 

Janet Leigh would be memorialized with the naming of the Janet Leigh Theatre at the University of the Pacific and the naming of a major plaza in downtown Stockton as the Janet Leigh Plaza. A true hometown hero, Janet Leigh should be seen as an inspiration to all women from the San Joaquin County community.