Jamie Lee Curtis Recalls Her Mom's Troubles and Their Complicated Bond
By PopEater Staff Posted Apr 26th 2010 04:29PM
More Magazine. Part eulogy and part autobiography, Curtis writes for the first time about her late mother's life, including her parents' divorce and her mom's body image obsession. The mother-daughter scream-queen team had a "special, but not always easy bond" that carried them through the ups and downs of Hollywood and personal issues. "The truth is, I have few memories of my childhood and surprisingly few of her," Curtis wrote.
Leigh secured a contract with MGM in the late 1940s and appeared in dramatic films like Orson Welles' 'Touch of Evil' (1958) and 'The Manchurian Candidate' (1962), but she achieved her most lasting recognition as Marion Crane, who famously met her end as the victim of a shower stabbing, in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' (1960). For the role, she was awarded a Golden Globe for best supporting actress and was nominated for the Academy Award.
Leigh married her third husband, Tony Curtis, on June 4, 1951. They had two children, actresses Kelly and Jamie Lee. But as Leigh's career began to take off, her marriage fell apart. "By the time I came along, following my sister, Kelly, by two and a half years, my parent's bond had deteriorated precipitously as their stardom grew. And like any other save-the-marriage baby, I failed," Curtis wrote.
The couple divorced in 1962. "Janet suffered public embarrassment as Tony [Curtis] chose a 17-year-old replacement, a German actress with whom he was working, and she felt the slings and arrows of tabloid gossip and innuendo," Curtis wrote.
The same year, Leigh married stockbroker Robert Brandt in Las Vegas, and they remained married until her death. "My mother persevered through it all and survived; I'm not sure if my sister and I did. There was no Demi-and-Bruce amicable divorce or joint family vacations for us. No love was left between them," Curtis continued.
Growing up with a famous mother in Hollywood wasn't always easy for Curtis, though, and she never felt like the two bonded like a typical mother and daughter. "She took good care of me -- my needs were always met and she showed up to everything -- but there was no real intimacy. I think it was a generational issue as much as one of her own making, for many people my age have expressed a lack of connection with their parents," she said. "She belonged to the people when really she should have just been ours."
Plus, maintaining her image was important. Leigh prided herself in being one of the smaller women in movies, and Curtis admits even then the industry fueled an obsession with weight. "I think the most complicated relationship my mother had, both loving and often cruel, was with her own body ... Like anyone who becomes famous for what they look like, when that commodity starts to change, the relationship with it deteriorates," she said. "My mother was incredibly proud that she returned to her 20-inch waist mere weeks after pregnancies; she judged other actresses whose bodies grew and softened. I think she was afraid that it would happen to her, too," she added.
In 2002, Curtis became a victim of her mother's weight obsession when she appeared in More without retouching, styling or makeup. "By acknowledging my own changing body, I rebelled against my mother's fear of it. I know the article and the attention it got were difficult for her."
Most recently, Leigh appeared in Jamie Lee's 1980 thriller 'The Fog,' and co-starred again with her daughter in 1998's "Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later."
Leigh died October 3, 2004, at her Beverly Hills home of vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels. She was 77. Curtis was with her when she died in her sleep and recalled the following days as she prepared for her mother's funeral.
"My mother, a control freak till the very end, actually wrote into her will the opening line of what was to be her own memorial, a gathering of friends and family with photos and funny memories. I delivered the line, which was, 'Well, I bet she tripped on her way through the pearly gates,' a reference to her klutziness. People spoke of her tidiness, her sweetness, her strength, her beauty and, yes, her great talent," she said.
But it was Curtis' daughter, Annie, then just 17, who left a last impression at the funeral. "She described seeing my mother after she had died and mused that she felt her death might in fact be her greatest accomplishment -- because at that moment she was finally able to let go of the clenched control of her life, she was able to trust in her family, that she could go and we'd all be fine."
Even though it has been five years since her mother's death, Curtis deeply misses her. "My mother was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. There are moments when I remember her beauty, unadorned, unposed, not in some artificial place like a set or a photo call but rather captured outdoors in nature, where she took my breath away. When those moments surface, I miss her the most," Curtis said.
Jamie Lee Curtis Photos
Jamie Lee Curtis speaks during the PBS portion of the 2010 Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 13, 2010 in Pasadena, California. More photos >>
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