The response was pure, undiluted shock. Not just at Janet Leigh’s stupefying death 47 minutes into the movie, but at the creeping deviance of a scene that simply felt different. The shower surprise in Psycho, which first assaulted audiences on June 16, 1960, is cauterized now — dulled by imitators and a pervasion of pop-culture violence — but despite its being among the most overanalyzed scenes in film history, misconceptions still swirl around its creation. So, here are five myths and truths about Marion Crane’s demise in that shabby little California motel:
STORYBOARD ARTIST SAUL BASS ACTUALLY DIRECTED THE SCENE
Though Bass did sketch out virtually every shot of the sequence — and has in the past claimed to have directed it — Alfred Hitchcock called every shot himself. Forty years later, Leigh says: ”Why Saul decided to say that he directed it, I’ll never know.”
IT TOOK A FULL WEEK TO SHOOT
Both Hitchcock and Leigh have remembered it that way — and with over 50 separate shots for almost two and a half minutes of film, it seems likely. But before the release of his (tepidly received) 1998 remake, director Gus Van Sant told EW ”our main source of information of how they shot the original comes from the production reports…and we couldn’t [confirm] the classic stories that it was shot [several] days in a row.”
DIFFERENT PEOPLE PLAYED MOTHER DURING THE SHOWER SCENE…
and none of them were Anthony Perkins, who was in New York prepping for a Broadway role. ”Mr. Hitchcock used different people so the audience could never get a fix,” remembers Leigh.
MOVIEGOERS WEREN’T ALLOWED IN THEATERS AFTER THE FILM STARTED
Paranoid that word of Leigh’s unexpected elimination would spread, Hitchcock and Paramount mandated that no one was to be let in once the film started to roll. The publicity gambit didn’t hurt: The $800,000 movie grossed over $15 million in its initial release, then Hitchcock’s richest box office windfall.
JANET LEIGH HAS NEVER TAKEN A SHOWER SINCE
Until recently, true. The 72-year-old actress had a shoulder operation in 1997 that prevented her from taking her usual bath — and forced her back into the shower. ”I had to, but it was with the bathroom door open, the shower door open, and my housekeeper Laura in the room,” she says. ”I know it sounds stupid, but Psycho showed me how truly defenseless we really are [while showering] — naked, deaf, and blind from water running — I don’t ever want to be put in that position.”
Time Capsule: June 16, 1960
At the movies, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are hapless romantics in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (it would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar). In music, the Everly Brothers’ ”Cathy’s Clown” spends its fourth week atop the Billboard singles chart. In bookstores, Allen Drury’s political thriller Advise and Consent is No. 1 on the Publishers Weekly fiction list. And in the news, the 23rd Amendment, which would grant residents of Washington, D.C., the right to vote for President and Vice President, is passed by the Senate.