Janet Leigh: “How I Felt While Giving Birth To My Baby”
A few nights before the baby came, Janet and Tony had been to a party with about thirty couples, all good friends. Of course the Curtises managed to swing the conversation around to the subject which interested them most—D-day, or delivery day. Everyone insisted that they call them the moment they were ready to leave for the hospital. After thinking about it for a while they all decided that that was pretty impractical—babies aren’t apt to wait around to get born until a list of thirty phone calls is finished. So they worked out an elaborate chain-reaction arrangement. Tony was to make one call, and the friend he called would phone another friend, on down the line, until all thirty couples had had the glad word.
That’s the way they had it planned, that’s not quite the way it happened. First off, Janet began to realize that Things Were Happening late Saturday night. They’d been to a movie, and Tony had gone straight off to bed as soon as they got home. Janet stayed up for a while, creaming her face, putting up her hair—woman stuff. When it dawned on her what was happening, she went in, roused Tony, and told him she thought their big scene was coming up.
Always before, when they had had the false alarms, he’d been awake immediately, all solicitous and fussing over Janet. This time he rolled over, opened one sleepy eye, mumbled something about “Really-honey-well-wake-me-up-again-if-it-gets-any-worse.” And went back to sleep. Wake him up again, indeed! He hadn’t even waked up that time!
Janet tossed and turned for a while, but wasn’t able to get to sleep. It was no use calling Tony, she figured, so finally she called her doctor. The doctor didn’t seem very excited either—told her to take a sleeping pill, and call again in the morning. Janet took the pill, which generally knocks her out in minutes. Nothing happened.
“So about 6 o’clock in the morning, I called the doctor again. She still wasn’t excited, but said maybe I’d better go on over to the hospital. Suddenly I was panic stricken for fear this wasn’t The Time yet, and they’d only send me home once I got to the hospital. So I asked her please, would she come over and go to the hospital with us? She’s a doll, and she said sure she would.
“Now I go in and wake Tony again—he’s had a good night’s rest, and I feel no guilt about getting him up. ‘This is it, honey,’ I tell him as he comes out of it. He stretches, yawns, and comes up with the brilliant suggestion, ‘Maybe you’d better call the doctor, hmm?’ Whereupon I inform him that I have already done this, and she’ll be over in half an hour to ride with us to the hospital. And hadn’t he better get up and put his pants on?” All of a sudden the mists cleared, and Tony realized what was happening. He leapt out of bed.
Tony dressed in considerably less time than he ordinarily takes. By the time he was done, his head was whirling. He dashed downstairs while Janet finished packing her bag and puttered about in the bedroom. She heard him on the phone, and figured he was making that initial call to set off the series.
It wasn’t until several days later that she found out he’d called all thirty! And he hadn’t stopped then! Ecstatically, he’d kept on calling, any name that popped into his head, until Janet, finally came downstairs to answer the doorbell when the doctor arrived.
For instance, he’d called Dean Martin. Dean didn’t happen to be on that “list” they’d made up. So he wasn’t exactly lying awake waiting for Tony’s call. The phone awakened him at 6:30 in the morning, and he heard an unidentified voice on the other end pronounce dramatically, “We’re on our way!” and hang up.
Dean did what any sensible man would have done. He went back to sleep.
Late that afternoon, playing golf, he suddenly remembered that phone call. When he got home, he remarked to Jean, his wife, “D’ya know, I think Tony Curtis called early this morning. I believe he said Janet was having the baby.” Jean flipped!
Kelly makes an appearance
Janet checked into the hospital about 8 am., and Kelly made her appearance early that afternoon. Janet was given spinal anaesthesia, so that she was fully conscious, and able to see Kelly seconds after her birth. It was a thrill like none other.
“I was conscious all during the delivery, of course,” Janet recalls, “but the doctors had given me some sort of medication which gave me a deliciously float-y feeling. Couple that with the fact that I was practically delirious with happiness over Kelly’s safe arrival, and with relief that the whole tiresome nine months was over, and you’ll see I was in a fine state.
“I swear I don’t remember any of it, but they tell me that when they wheeled me from the delivery room to my room, the hallway was lined with our friends who had come down to help Tony sweat out the waiting time. And I called gay greetings like a hostess at a party, gestured gracefully like a queen waving to her subjects, even expressed grave concern over a friend limping along on a cane. He’d been using it for weeks, but I acted like it was Big News! I really put on a performance!
“Of course the whole gang poured into the room after me, and it must have been quite a kaffee klatsch until the doctor arrived, and shooed them all out.
“But next day they started arriving, individually and in small groups, and I held court the whole week I was in the hospital. The doctor took a fairly dim view of my having so many visitors, but since I was recovering with such disgusting speed, she was good natured about it.
“Even the hospital staff made regular visits to my room—to see my flowers. It looked more like a high class flower shop than it did like a hospital room. There were seventy-five bouquets. There were bouquets with trapezes in them, for Tony’s picture which had just been released. There were teddy bears holding bouquets, baby shoe vases with bouquets—all the cute gimmicks.”
So doggoned happy
“And when I wasn’t having visitors I was on the phone. It sounds like it would have been awfully tiring, when I tell about it. But I was so doggoned happy, and besides I’m a pretty gregarious individual, and I just thrived on it.
“Tony was working that week, so he couldn’t spend all day with me. But he’d come over every morning about 6:30, before he went to the studio. And then he’d come straight from work, have dinner at the hospital, and spend the evening with me. It meant a lot of driving—from our home in Beverly Hills to the hospital in Santa Monica, then clear back across Hollywood to the Universal-International studios in Universal City, where he was working on Cory. And the whole thing reversed in the evening.
“One of the nicest evenings we had while I was at the hospital was our candlelight dinner. Chasen’s restaurant is one of our favorite hangouts, and while I was in the hospital they sent over a complete dinner for the two of us one evening. They even sent along Tommy, the maitre de, to serve it—wine, candlelight, the works.”
When young Miss Kelly’s eyes began to focus, she had an endless variety of animated music boxes to gaze upon—music boxes with fluttering butterflies, whirling ballerinas, gamboling lambs. Because she was a “Sunday’s child,” there were ever so many gifts adorned with that image, including a silver spoon from her godparents, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Gershwin, and several pieces of jewelry. There were car seats, and a Kiddie Koop crib, and a feeding table, and a “clothes horse” for her pretty dresses—which arrived by the dozen.
“And the presents from the fans! It will take me months, but I shall write a note to every one, eventually. There were sweaters and toys from England, a tiny kimono from Japan, several silver and gold crosses from South America, and gifts from all over the United States.”
A major crisis
A few days later, with Kelly wrapped in her arms, and Tony hovering anxiously around, Janet went home. At the hospital door she turned to wave goodbye, grinning.
“Why didn’t somebody tell me?” she demanded. “Why didn’t someone let me know it could be so easy?” And with that, Janet and Tony walked smack into their first Major Crisis.
“I figured,” she recalls ruefully, “that I’d met most of the emergencies before they arose—I hired a baby nurse. I even arranged that she would come about the middle of June. That would give her three weeks, before I was due to go to the hospital, to get acquainted with us and the house, learn our routine, and brief us on things we ought to know. But I had forgotten the customary Curtis luck.
“She arrived on Friday morning, and on Sunday morning I was on my way to the hospital! A fast two days we had together. The briefest briefing in history!
“Even that didn’t disturb me. But I was due to come home from the hospital the following Saturday afternoon, and on Saturday morning the nurse was rushed to the hospital for an emergency operation. We practically shook hands in the corridor—me checking out as she was checking in.”
The happiest time of our lives
“You don’t find a baby nurse, poof, just like that, on a Saturday afternoon. So Tony looked at me, and I looked at Tony, and we decided that we two great big grown-up people ought to be able to handle one absolutely minute human being, all by ourselves, without help. Besides, Tony had been to prep school for expectant fathers, and I’d watched the diapering demonstration at the hospital.
“Looking back at it now, I doubt if there will ever be another time in our lives when we will. enjoy ourselves as completely as we did those first two days we had Kelly at home. Here was the thing we’d been wanting so long, and we had her absolutely all to ourselves, to care for and play with just as we wanted.
“Baby nurses are wonderful creatures, and of course, working as I do, I couldn’t possibly get along without one. But those first two days, getting acquainted with Kelly, it was heavenly not to have to give her up to anyone else for a single minute.
“I guess we probably didn’t get much sleep—but we didn’t miss it. When Kelly was sleeping, we found excuses to be in the room, just watching her—‘checking’ much more than was necessary, of course.
“It turned out I was pretty clumsy at the diapering bit at first, so Tony took over, and showed me how they’d taught him to do it at school. And the first night, Tony even did the floor walking routine. I’m convinced it wasn’t necessary, but he figured it was in his New Father role.”
A blonde Tony Curtis?
“Neither of us was the least bit timid about handling the baby. We’d heard other couples go on at great length about how they were afraid to pick up their first born—how the baby looked so small and fragile, as if it might break at a touch.
“Now I’d never been near a new baby before. But Tony was fifteen when his brother Bobby was born, and he’d helped take care of Bobby a lot. So new babies were no terror to him—and I guess his calm was contagious. Besides, even if Kelly was tiny, she seemed so strong and husky it never occurred to us to think of her as fragile. Otherwise I guess we’re pretty typical. We spend whole hours figuring out who she looks like. You know, Tony steps back a few paces, like an artist, stares at her, and says, ‘Well, I guess she sort of looks like you, honey.’
“I know what’s expected of me, so I say, ‘Oh, no, dear, I. think she definitely has your mouth and chin.’ My husband’s chest swells about five inches. He blushes. He says, ‘No-o-o,’ and then he gives up. ‘You really think so?’ he says.
“ ‘Oh, definitely, honey,’ I tell him. He beams, he picks her up, he holds her out at arm’s length. Then he shudders. ‘A blonde Tony Curtis?’ he says. ‘Poor baby!’
“But personally, I hope she is!”
—as told to MAURINE MYERS REMENTH
Janet will soon be seen in RKO’s Jet Pilot. Watch for Tony Curtis in U.A.’s The Sweet Smell Of Success and U-I’s Cory
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1956