Friday, July 25, 2014
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Jamie Lee Curtis Remembers Mom Janet Leigh

Flickgrrl, who adheres to the principle that a million dollars should be spent financing an independent movie, not wining and dining potential investors, saw that belief dissolve in the second flute of champagne at a shindig celebrating the Ismail Merchant/James Ivory production A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998.

Jamie Lee Curtis Remembers Mom Janet Leigh

Mother´s Day and Daughter´s Day: Janet Leigh and daughter Jamie Lee Curtis cheer each other on.
Mother's Day and Daughter's Day: Janet Leigh and daughter Jamie Lee Curtis cheer each other on.

Flickgrrl, who adheres to the principle that a million dollars should be spent financing an independent movie, not wining and dining potential investors, saw that belief dissolve in the second flute of champagne at a shindig celebrating the Ismail Merchant/James Ivory production A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998.

This intimate party, lit by a coral-colored sunset on a yacht called the Crystal Island, was hosted by a Middle Eastern Jay Gatsby introduced by his staff as ``our host'' and by the late Merchant as ``our benefactor.'' Repeated inquiries into the ship's registration and into the host's identity proved fruitless. Knowing the courtly Ismail as all the guests did, it was understood that the Meditteranean of Veuve Clicqot and Alps of Beluga were not in honor of Soldier's Daughter, but bait for the moneymen who might underwrite the next I/M production.

 The weather was like silk, the view of Cannes from its eastern corner spectacular, and the guests, who included Jeanne Moreau and Janet Leigh, were indescribably glam. Lucky was Flickgrrl, who found herself between these two legends, bubbly as the libations.

``Who lives like this?'' wondered Moreau, happy to be a tourist aboard the floating Eden, and in agreement with Leigh that Cannes never looks so beautiful as when seen from afar.  

Leigh, in Cannes to promote the restored Touch of Evil, one of her best films,  visibly recoiled from guests who gushed about her body of work -- and her heavenly body. (One of her distinctive features was the chorus-girl bod that was such a startling contrast to her woman-of-the-world voice.) When Flickgrrl whispered to Leigh how much she enjoyed the children's books written by daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, Leigh, the star of Psycho and Manchurian Candidate plopped down, kicked off her Ferragamos and spoke candidly of the joys and disappointments -- but mostly the joys -- of motherhood and grandmotherhood. She came alive when talking about daughters Kelly and Jamie Lee and granddaughter Annie. Cradling Flickgrrl's  hands in hers, Leigh said that motherhood was the gift that kept on giving: "The older the girls get, the better it is."
 
This remembrance is triggered by reading an advance copy of Curtis' lovely and likewise candid tribute to her late mother in the May issue of More magazine where she reflects upon the joys and disappointments of having a celebrity Mom. According to Curtis, Leigh was supremely self-reliant and a dependable caregiver,  but not an especially intimate mother. Curtis thinks this may have been generational. And considers that Leigh's fear of intimacy may also have been a product of having had an alcoholic father.
 
"Janet was a public personality who always tried to make her fans happy and this too was difficult for my sister and me. She belonged to the people when really she should have been just ours," writes Curtis, adding, "I confess I now do the same thing." Curtis' honesty and acceptance is deeply moving, a very nice Mother's Day gift. It also has the interesting revelation that Leigh performed what has to be the greatest scene of her career -- a sequence on the train in The Manchurian Candidate where she gently calms an agitated Frank Sinatra -- the day she learned that Curtis' father, actor Tony Curtis, filed for divorce.
 
At twilight on the yacht in the twilight of her life, Leigh gave the impression that acting was her job but that motherhood was her life. It was gratifying and moving to read Curtis' tribute to Leigh, and her "Thanks, Mom," recognition that the apple didn't fall so far from the tree.
 
Leigh was a dependable leading lady who brought her distinctly modern temperament to a series of '50s costume dramas and stardust smile and no-nonsense sensibility to an immodest number of movie classics such as The Naked Spur (1953) , My Sister Eileen (1955), Touch of Evil (1958), Psycho (1960) and Bye, Bye Birdie (1963).  Raise a flute of bubbly to the star and starmom, and tell Flickgrrl your favorite Leigh and Lee Curtis film. By the way, and happy Mother's Day.
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Consider our Movies blog your essential guide to new movies and classics, interviews with filmmakers and stars, news and views on the latest screen trends, reviews and the occasional rant.

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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