08/07/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
If you ever plan on having Janet Leigh as a houseguest—and why wouldn't you?—just make sure your bathroom comes equipped with a tub. "I don't take showers," says the actress. "Or, if there is no other way to bathe, I make sure all of the doors and windows in the house are locked, and I leave the bathroom door and the shower curtain open so I have a perfect, clear view."
All these precautions mean "the room gets very wet," the actress says, but Leigh has her reasons. As motel guest Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 movie Psycho, she succumbed to knife-wielding Anthony Perkins (as Norman Bates) in one of the most terrifying—though not obviously graphic—stabbing scenes in movie history.
Now, Leigh, 68, has added to the Psycho legend with Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller (Harmony). Written with celebrity biographer Christopher Nickens, the slim, 197-page book is chock-full of Hitchcock anecdotes (the director delighted in startling Leigh by hiding wax dummies of Mama Bates in her trailer) and discussions of the film's development. Leigh won an Oscar nomination for her role in the movie, a part she played for $25,000, one-fourth her usual fee at the time. "I would have done it for nothing," she says.
Leigh's book also scotches those rumors that a naked double took her place in the shower scene. "Unquestionably, unequivocally, I was in that shower," says Leigh. "I was beginning to look like a wrinkled prune." She was also, yes, nude, except for bits of strategically placed moleskin. "Looking up at the showerhead," she writes, "I was surprised at how many gaffers [electricians] were on the overhead scaffolding."
In fact it wasn't filming the scene, which took a week and involved more than 70 camera angles, that gave Leigh the shakes about showers. It was watching it in the finished film. "I felt every thrust of that knife, screamed with every lunge," she writes. "I was completely terrorized." But the actress also believes that Psycho is more than a horror film. "People forget that the movie is so sad," she says. "You really care about Marion Crane. You even care about Norman."
An infrequent screen presence since 1980's The Fog, Leigh now leaves the acting to daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, 36 (who, with older sister Kelly, is the offspring of a decade-long marriage to Tony Curtis). She lives in Beverly Hills with her stockbroker husband, Bob Brandt, and plans to keep writing. Her first novel, House of Destiny, the saga of a Hollywood family, is due in bookstores this fall, and she's thinking of writing a biography of director Orson Welles, with whom she worked in 1958's Touch of Evil.
"There's a difference between retiring from a profession and retiring from life," Leigh says. "I choose not to do the latter."
F.X. FEENEY in Los Angeles