Janet Leigh actually had a long, productive career, in addition to being the mother of actresses Kelly Lee Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis. She appeared in such classic movies as Bye Bye Birdie and Touch of Evil, as well as the delightfully named “How to Smuggle a Hernia Across the Border,” the first short Jerry Lewis filmed in his experiments at directing. It doesn’t matter, though; all of her career that really clinched her spot in history, including gaining her an Oscar nomination, was one week she spent soaking wet.
Janet Leigh was born into Depression-era poverty. She was academically gifted and graduated early despite a marriage at fifteen, which was later annulled. She went to Stockton College, then University of the Pacific, where she studied music and psychology. During vacations, she worked retail. One day, Norma Shearer was at the ski resort where her parents worked and saw a photograph of young Jeanette, as she was then, which Shearer showed to Lew Wasserman. She brought him the picture, and Janet was put under contract at MGM.
Jeanette became Janet because it was a shorter version of the name. Van Johnson, her costar on her first film, suggested the “Lee” part, spelled “Leigh,” because they were doing a Civil War picture. He pointed out that, if the public could handle two Vans—him and Heflin—they could handle Janet and Vivian Leigh. When she gave the middle name to both her daughters, it went back to “Lee,” as it wasn’t exactly a family name anyway.
And, yes, she worked with Hitchcock. He used to put the dummy, which Leigh called “Madame,” in her dressing room to gauge if it was horrifying enough by the level of her screams when she saw it. Jamie Lee says that her mother had “kind of a Pollyannaish” view of the industry and was “nothing but grateful” to the Hitchcocks while also suggesting that things weren’t great for her mother. It’s certainly true that Leigh never worked with Hitchcock again because he said it wouldn’t be right to work with her, presumably because the audience had a very clear image of her from that single movie.
But even without it, Leigh had a career to remember. Oh, I’m sure it’s why John Carpenter later worked with her—including in movies with Jamie Lee, which must have been nice for them both—but it’s almost certainly more likely to have worked against her for Bye Bye Birdie. And if it got her the role in Night of the Lepus, she wouldn’t consider that a benefit, since she basically didn’t want to talk about that movie after making it. Who can blame her?