The Romance of Rosy Ridge
Leigh had very little acting experience but her test went well, which she partly attributed to Selena Royle being so kind to her. The following week she was called into her acting coach's office and told "the rushes had been excellent; the final cut was outstanding; the test would definitely be an asset to her future. But, although she didn't know for sure, it didn't appear that she would be doing the picture." Leigh, barely nineteen, was disappointed and went into the bathroom "where she could safely give vent to her emotions, indulge in a little self-pity." Someone started pounding on the door. She opened it and was hurried back to her coach's office where director Roy Rowland and producer Jack Cummings were waiting to tell her that she had won the part. "She burst into tears. She wasn't alone - Miss Burns was crying, and even Mr. Cummings and Mr. Rowland and Mr. Friedman were misty. They all started hugging and crying and laughing. Then level heads took command. She had to get to wardrobe immediately, if not sooner. All of her costumes had to be made and be ready to ship in two weeks. The company would locate in Santa Cruz for three months of exterior shooting and then return to the studio and complete the interiors...Jeanette had sunk back down in the chair and had started to sob again. 'For Pete's sake, now what's the matter?' 'I c-can't go. I can't d-d-do the picture.' 'In heaven's name, why?' 'I can't afford to stay in a hotel or pay tr-train fare.' She wailed even more violently. They gazed at her in utter disbelief, completely dumbfounded. How could she be this innocent, this naive? She really was Lissy Anne MacBean, the innocent heroine of The Romance of Rosy Ridge.
Leigh was immediately sent to the wardrobe department to be fitted for her costumes when "there was a knock and then a figure burst into the room. Holy cow, it was Van Johnson! Looking just like - Van Johnson! Reddish-blond hair, freckles, and sporting the famous boyish grin. Jeanette was absolutely tongue-tied; her prince, her dream man, was standing next to her. 'Saw your test - you were wonderful. Congratulations! Be seeing you soon' and he was off. She had barely stammered out a how-do-you-do."
The MGM publicity machine went into overdrive announcing their new actress and photographed her standing with Johnson and her 'discoverer' Norma Shearer. Leigh wrote "When the last shutter had clicked, Jeanette was told what her new name would be. Mr. Johnson had thought of it. She imagined how many girls in this country would have just loved to be named by Van Johnson, and she was the one out of millions. He had shortened Jeanette to Janet, and because the movie dealt with the Civil War, he thought of Lee (the General), but spelled it Leigh. 'Oh no! Vivien Leigh is already a great actress.' 'And Van Heflin is already a great actor.' He went on, 'Miss Vivien Leigh pronounces it 'Lay', we'll pronounce it as 'Lee.' And so it was. And Janet Leigh was born."
Leigh's first day on the set was physically painful. She was supposed to run across a field "yelling, 'Ben's a-comin' home! Maw! Paw!' There was a large reflector on a broad stand in the vicinity. When I started running, and I was pretty fast, I hit the foot of the stand and did a head-over-heels spread-eagle flop. Mr. Rowland thought I was a goner on the very first shot. And it wasn't over yet. Later one of Lissy Anne's chores was to milk the family cow. I had never come in contact with a cow in my entire young life. The cowboy in charge of the animals showed me the procedure. Bessie wasn't pleased with my hesitant hands and became restless. She then proceeded to step on my foot - all fifteen hundred pounds of her. It seemed not to be my day. But it was! It was a glorious day! It was a perfect day! It was a never-to-be-forgotten day! It was the first day of shooting on my first movie. And I loved it, every minute of it. I loved being Lissy Anne MacBean. I loved the camaraderie of everyone on the set. I loved the team effort. I even loved Bessie."
Audience reaction to both The Romance of Rosy Ridge and Janet Leigh was favorable and she was signed to a long-term contract with MGM.
Producer: Jack Cummings
Director: Roy Rowland
Screenplay: Lester Cole, MacKinlay Kantor (story)
Cinematography: Sidney Wagner
Film Editing: Ralph E. Winters
Art Direction: Richard Duce, Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Music: Lewis Allen, George Bassman, Earl Robinson
Cast: Van Johnson (Henry Carson), Thomas Mitchell (Gill MacBean), Janet Leigh (Lissy Anne MacBean), Marshall Thompson (Ben MacBean), Selena Royle (Sairy MacBean), Charles Dingle (John Dessark), Dean Stockwell (Andrew MacBean), Guy Kibbee (Cal Baggett).
BW-106m. Closed captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Janet Leigh, "There Really Was A Hollywood: An Autobiography."