From perfect love story to nightmare: The tragic end of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis’ marriage

Both Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh were beloved actors in their time.

Eventually, they married and found bliss together.

Little did they know that that their marriage would be most remembered for its disaster…

Tony Curtis was known for his charm, good looks, and versatility on screen. The New York-born actor was loved by many for his bright energy and talent in the film industry.

Like many stars of this golden Hollywood era, he did have more than one marriage that ended in divorce. He had a reputation for being a ladies’ man and was married multiple times throughout his life.

But Curtis is probably most remembered for the marriage he had with actress Janet Leigh.

The two met in 1950, at a publicity party. Curtis was not yet an established actor and Leigh, 23 at the time, was a stunning up-and-comer who had just signed her first professional contract.

Leigh had already been featured in films like The Romance of Rosy Ridge and Little Women. Curtis was trying to become a star as well, but had mostly had small roles in unsuccessful pictures.

Married American actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh at a formal event, circa 1955. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Curtis was not overcome by her fame when he met her, but was blown away by her kindness and beauty. In his autobiography, published many years later, the star recounted how struck he had felt by Leigh’s glowing face.

Similarly, Leigh revealed in later memoirs how interested in Curtis she was, impressed by his nature and personality. The two exchanged phone numbers then and there.

As their romance progressed, Leigh had the figure of Howard Hughes hanging over her. The Hollywood tycoon had affections for the young woman that she did not return, but his backing was necessary for her to continue getting anywhere in Hollywood.

Universal also offered Curtis tens of thousands of dollars if he would marry his co-star, Piper Laurie, for the publicity. He declined.

Instead, Curtis pursued Leigh. He once tested her loyalty with his strong Cary Grant impersonation. Leigh realized who it was immediately and politely – but amusedly – turned down the fake offer. The two bonded immediately.

As their relationship progressed, Curtis would often be seen on the sets of films that Leigh starred in. They would struggle when forced to work apart from one another, and rejoiced when they were reunited.

They were married in 1951 despite pressures from studios and friends regarding how marriage could hurt their careers.

The public adored the marriage of two megastars at the time. They would often interview together and appear at events arm-in-arm.

Unfortunately, the bliss did not seem to last.

Curtis was reportedly very jealous of Leigh and any men in her like, despite there being no evidence of infidelity. He viewed her as manipulative because she held more fame and acclaim than he, and the building conflicts eventually led to an all-out war in their relationship.

In the midst of the conflict, 5 years into their marriage, they had their first daughter – Kelly. The two forced themselves to stay together for the sake of their child, but it seemed all of the love in the home had been sucked out.

Their marriage still looked strong in the public eye, but at home Curtis was battling with drug addiction. The actor also reportedly had more than one affair, such as those with actresses Gloria DeHaven and Natalie Wood.

The pressure of fame and constant conflict at home led to Leigh’s own alcohol and pill abuse.

In 1958, their second daughter was born. Jamie Lee Curtis, now a star in her own right, was the couple’s final attempt to meld their disintegrating relationship.

The divorce came in 1962, much to the surprise of Leigh. Curtis served her with papers after deciding to openly pursue a relationship with German actress Christine Kaufmann. Kaufmann was 17 at the time. The two had co-starred in Taras Bulba.

Yet again, Curtis appeared as though he found love with Kaufmann. Despite the divorce not looking great for his career, he pursued it and the German actress. In the end, his subsequent 5 additional divorces demonstrated that he just might not be meant to be married.

The divorce between Leigh and Curtis hurt his career, but also hurt his relationship with his children. Despite some years of distance between them, Jamie Lee Curtis has still spoken of her father as a talented actor.

Janet Leigh passed away at age 77 on Oct. 4, 2004. Tony Curtis died on September 29, 2010, of cardiac arrest.


We feel poorly for this formerly happy couple! What do you think about their tumultuous marriage? Let us know!