Across A Crowded Room
“Hey, Tony! What’s this about you being in love? Going to get married—or something? What about this Janet Leigh? What’s with her—crazy in the head, or something? What’s so special about you?”
This is the way it’s been since I first met Janet. I get it from all sides. In Hollywood, when they like you, they let you have it. It’s their way of showing you that you’re “in.” You’re the new boy so, as far as you’re concerned, none of it’s ever happened before! When you take things big, they actually get a kick out of it. So they rib you and tease you and try to take the wind out of your sails. It makes you feel warm and wanted—inside. I hope they never stop Sometimes it kind of scares me too. So much keeps happening so fast, it’s hard to believe that people around you are personally interested. That’s when Janet comes to my rescue.
“Always remember,” she quietly reassures me, “you wouldn’t be here, Tony, if there wasn’t a place for you. When people go out of their way to be kind and friendly, they want to share with you because you’re sharing with them. You’re giving something of yourself, too, so don’t ever question it or be afraid of it. Just accept it—and be grateful.”
I’m grateful, all right, grateful for lots of things and to Photoplay Magazine at this particular time, for giving me this opportunity to pay a personal tribute to Janet Leigh. Just knowing her has been a pretty exciting thing. Up to the time we met, I never even had a girl I could talk to—I mean someone who would listen and understand.
As a sensitive kid growing up in the Bronx, I guess I was kind of a misfit. For several reasons I was regarded as being some kind of a freak. For one thing, all the other kids in the neighborhood had dark eyes and mine were blue. Either it was a fist fight with the boys, or my feelings were hurt by the girls. The ones in my class thought I was conceited and then, when I avoided them, they said I was annoying them and reported me. It didn’t break my spirit but it kind of got dented in a couple of places!
Maybe I just didn’t have the equipment to cope with girls. Anyway, I know I didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand me. Actually, I was afraid of girls until I was fifteen and from fifteen to nineteen I didn’t like girls as people—at all. But I’d force myself to make a date, sweat it out right up to the time I’d get to the door. Then I’d take a fast powder, ending up at the beach—alone. I was known as the most disappearing suitor on our block!
After I met Janet I was still ready to run. Any little indication that she was bored and I would have made like Houdini. Instead, a great thing happened to me. Suddenly I didn’t want to run any more, because Janet is the first girl who made me feel that I could run and next time when I’d see her—she’d still say hello to me. Up to this moment I just didn’t know what I had been missing.
Janet really amazes me. No matter what happens, she always seems to know how to handle the situation. Like the night of the “Harvey” premiere. Wear a tuxedo and take a pretty girl, the studio said—the fans will expect to see you! The fans will expect to see—who? I wanted to ask them to repeat it to make sure it wasn’t a dream!
Well, I didn’t have a tuxedo and I couldn’t afford to buy one. When I told my trouble to my good friend, Jerry Lewis, he opened his clothes closet.
“I’ve got four of them,” my favorite comedian cracked. “Don’t be a chump, chum, grab one!”
The day of the premiere I polished my car, cleaned the white tire walls and bought a new top on the cheerful credit plan. That night, in Jerry’s tuxedo and with Janet looking like moonlight, we drove up in front of Carthay Circle Theater. It was my first Hollywood premiere and I felt my knees turning into jelly. When the fans in the bleachers screamed out our names—that finished me! “I’m going to die, Janet,” I gasped. Then I felt a small, quiet hand in mine. It squeezed encouragingly.
“No, you’re not going to die,” she barely whispered. “The fans love you and want to see you. Let’s go over and talk to them.”
I felt so useless, so inadequate standing there. I wanted to shout back—“What do you want from me? what can I do for you? Here, take my money—take everything!” Crazy things go through your head at an exciting time like this. I kept thinking, just five years ago it would have been me up there in the bleachers! How glad I am I had this experience in the beginning and, because of Janet, I’ll know what to do in the future.
For my role in “The Prince Who Was a Thief” I had to wear my hair longer. So the gang at the studio ribbed me, they called me “Romeo” and someone even sent me a prop violin! The day the picture started, when I walked on the set a chair with my name on it was standing there. Another gag, I thought. It’ll probably collapse when I sit in it.
“You’re a star in this one, Tony,” they told me—and they weren’t kidding. I nearly died!
That evening when I saw Janet, I told her how everyone kept trying to help me. Then a few days before the picture was finished, she called me.
“I know how you feel about the people on the set,” she said. “But you can’t afford to give each one a present. So may I suggest that you write personal notes, instead of just saying thank you.”
It was so thoughtful of her and it never would have occurred to me. I rushed out and ordered stationery with my name on it, yet! If only the kids back at P.S. 82 could get a load of me now, I wished. I broke myself up just thinking about it!
Now that I know Janet, I get weak all over when I think how close I came to not knowing her. It was about eight months ago when a friend of mine was invited to a party given by the Sazerac people. Why didn’t I come along and we’d go to a movie later, he suggested. Well, across a crowded room (just like Pinza!) I saw this girl who suddenly made the evening seem enchanted. She was wearing a black dress, there was a bun-thing on her head, and she was so super-special, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
When a cameraman asked if I’d mind posing with Janet Leigh, we were introduced and boom—it happened. I felt just like I’d been smacked with a steam roller! Before I left I found out who had brought her there. “What has Arthur Loew Jr. got that I should have?” I asked kiddingly.
“Janet Leigh!” they came back at me.
“I’ve got news for you,” I said. “I’m working on it!”
The next time I saw Janet we were in the same class at the Actors’ Lab. For a month and a half I kept waiting for a chance to invite her to Schwab’s around the corner, for a cup of coffee. But there was always some ham hovering and I couldn’t make any progress. Finally, the Mel Tormes invited me to go swimming at Donald O’Connor’s house. When I heard Janet was coming, I was practically there before I learned another guy was bringing her. I ended up at the movies.
When the Tormes had their housewarming, this time I went and took a date. Janet was there with her date and later asked us to stop by her house to watch television. There was a new class in acting that might be formed and we talked about it. When Janet said she was interested, I “casually” suggested that if she would give me her telephone number, I’d be glad to make inquiries and relay the information.
I’m not a bit shamefaced when I say that the acting class never got started— but guess who did! For our first date I thought it was a good idea to also invite the Mel Tormes, so Janet and I wouldn’t have to pay too much attention to each other. Leave us face it, I wasn’t too sure of my luck—either! On our fifth date I asked Janet to go out with me alone. I couldn’t afford to take her to Ciro’s or Mocambo, but I didn’t apologize because somehow I knew it wasn’t necessary.
Happily I remembered the Villa Nova, a crazy kind of an attractive place with very good food. I’d been there before with my friends Howard Duff and Mike Meshikow, so I knew I wouldn’t have too much trouble ordering. Later on we could go to a movie. Janet listened to the plans and loved them. What a girl, I sighed to myself. We were in business!
In Hollywood after you’ve finished a picture and until you start another, they put you on “layoff.” Literal translation: “No money!” When they put me on layoff after “Kansas Raiders,” it made no difference as far as Janet was concerned. We went for long hikes, we had picnics at the beach. We’d stop at a drive-in for a hamburger.
“If we get too hungry,” Janet exclaimed gleefully, “we’ll eat with my family one night and your family the next. If you still have an appetite, I’ll fry you an egg!”
For the Sadler’s Wells ballet, Janet paid for her ticket and I paid for mine. No, I’m not kidding and furthermore, instead of it embarrassing a fellow, with her understanding, she made it seem all right. Through her understanding, I’d like to add, I’ve become a much more tolerant person.
At times people have disappointed me and I’ve been hurt. Supposing someone asks you something—you tell them the truth because you have no secrets. Then you’re criticized or ridiculed as a result. I get mad when this happens and then I make snap judgments. When I talk it over with Janet, with her great faith in people, she’s sharp enough to analyze it.
“We all stick our necks out and get rapped,” she says, “but even with all the wrongs done, one right will still come along and compensate. Regardless of how often a person disappoints us, we’ve got to figure out why he does it. There has to be a reason. Usually he has great insecurity and if you’ll remember this, next time you’ll understand him better and yourself too.”
How’s that for a girl who’s still in her early twenties? But then Janet’s humility and sincerity help to make sense about everything—and I’m including those crazy ties and sharp suits I used to go for.
“Actors automatically attract enough attention,” she wisely pointed out. “Actually, they detract from their personal qualities when they make spectacles of themselves.”
Did I get it? I did.
Janet is a very special and important milestone in my life. Whether she will become a permanent milestone, is not for me to say. Naturally I think of marriage and how wonderful it would be. I have all those thoughts about one world for two, with someone like Janet sharing it. But, from a practical standpoint, I can’t consider marriage seriously right now.
Being new in pictures—or maybe I should say I’m still starting—my salary is comparatively small. Now that my mother, father and little brother have moved out from New York, I’d like to see them have a nice, comfortable home of their own. Of course I’ve heard the following said so often:
“If people really want to get married, that’s all that matters in the long run. Whether they’re ready for it, whether they’re financially fixed or have any guarantee toward their future, is beside the point. Love will find a way!” The future will tell if this is true. In the meantime I’m happier and more contented than I’ve ever been in my life.
No story on Janet would be complete without mentioning her wonderful humor. Like one night when I was fussing and fuming, trying to decide where I could take her to have a real wonderful time. When I first arrived in Hollywood, I arrived with a Bronx accent. I worked hard to lose it but occasionally, when I get excited, it comes creeping back. Finally I stopped pacing the floor, turned to Janet and groaned:
“I give up. I can’t think of a place. I’m dead!” Those wonderful warm eyes began to sparkle. Stealing my Bronx line, she quietly answered, “Why, Tony! It doesn’t matter where we go. After all, I’m witcha!”
You see what I mean? That girl can really handle herself. I guess I’m wit’ her too—all the way.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1951