The Up And Down Marriage Between Hollywood Stars Tony Curtis And Janet Leigh
She was known, recognizable, and already on her way to being Hollywood royalty.
He, on the other hand, was a newcomer, still trying to blaze a trail that might someday lead to the Walk of Fame.
When Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis met in 1950 at a publicity party, she had been married twice before, but professionally was enjoying high profile success. Curtis was trying to leave behind memories of his rough childhood, when, for a brief time he was a member of a gang. He eventually joined the Navy, and later was discovered by Janet Selznick. At the tender age of 23, he was on his way to becoming a Tinsel Town sensation.
When Curtis first met Leigh, he admitted he found her attractive. She, in contrast, seemed to be bowled over by Curtis, whom she described as 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.”
In 1951, Curtis was pressured by his studio to marry Piper Laurie for publicity purposes, but he realized that he wanted to marry Leigh instead. After Curtis proposed to her, the studios for which they were working tried to dissuade the couple from going forward with the marriage, but to no avail. Curtis and Leigh married on June 4, 1951; comedian Jerry Lewis served as a witness. Not long after they were married, Curtis became an in-demand movie fave, and the couple became Hollywood darlings adored by the public.
In 1953, the couple began appearing in films together, including Houdini and The Black Shield of Falworth. But by 1954, cracks were already starting to appear in the fairytale marriage. Leigh took issue with Curtis’s behavior when he was in public, and he chafed at her corrections.
Additionally, Curtis suspected that Leigh was indulging in extramarital affairs, especially after he found what was believed to be a love letter from Bob Fosse, one of her co-stars. Curtis then began having affairs himself, and was linked to actresses Natalie Wood and Gloria DeHaven. He would later say, “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.” Career differences also added to the marital woes, as Leigh was being offered better, more substantial roles than Curtis.
Hollywood’s Next Generation
Curtis and Leigh had their first daughter, Kelly, in 1956. They continued to appear in films together, including The Vikings in 1958, the year their second daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis was born.
Jamie Lee has called herself a “save the marriage baby,” but the new baby proved to be no panacea for a marriage that was falling apart. After Leigh’s standout role in Psycho, she started drinking heavily. According to Curtis, at one point Leigh consumed an excessive amount of sleeping pills, which he made her cough up.
In 1962, when Leigh was filming The Manchurian Candidate, Curtis filed for divorce, claiming that Leigh kept “bossing me around, just as my mother had bossed my father around.” Leigh, however, contends their divorce came about as the result of “outside problems,” including Curtis’s affair with 12-year-old German actress Christine Kauffman.
After the divorce, Curtis married Kauffman; that marriage also ended in divorce. Curtis would eventually marry a total of six women before his death in 2010; at the time of his death, he was married to Jill Vandenburg, his sixth wife. After her divorce from Curtis, Leigh married Robert Brandt, and they remained husband and wife until her death.