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Playboy bunny, Janet Leigh’s ‘Psycho’ body double recalls stripping down in infamous shower scene

Marli Renfro’s life forever changed when she stripped down in the shower and was stabbed by Norman Bates.

The former Playboy cover girl was quietly hired by filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock to be Janet Leigh’s body double in his 1960 film “Psycho.” Nearly 60 years later, her role in one of the most iconic moments in film history was celebrated in the 2017 documentary “78/52.” She was previously the subject of Robert Graysmith’s 2009 book “The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower.”

The model has been keeping busy. She’s a frequent face at Comic-Con. The 85-year-old still makes appearances across the country to meet with fans, and she has plenty more coming up. Most recently, she participated in an upcoming documentary about the Playboy Club that is slated to premiere in the fall of 2024.

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“Someone once wrote that I was a female Forrest Gump,” Renfro told Fox News Digital. “I’ve done a lot of things. And I’m still having fun.”

Renfro was a pinup model in 1960 when she learned there was a casting call at Universal Studios. Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense,” was looking for a body double who perfectly matched his leading lady.

“He had me stripped down just to my underpants,” Renfro recalled. “I was a nudist and being without clothes was very natural to me. I put my clothes back on, and we went to see Janet Leigh. I had to strip for her also, to see if our bodies were about the same.”

“I was hired,” Renfro said. “My agreement was to be paid $500 for a few days. That was it. And that was fine by me. To tell you the truth, I would’ve done it for free just to be in [Hitchcock’s] presence because I always have been a big fan of his.”

Life on set wasn’t so glamorous. Renfro was filmed in an “itty-bitty” area of the soundstage. She required full body makeup and a wig that “took a while.” When she walked to the shower, there was a set of bleachers filled with mostly men – columnists and a few actors – waiting to see Renfro in action.

“I thought, ‘Oh, boy,’” Renfro recalled. “They’re thinking, ‘Here’s the stripper ready to put on a show.’ Well, my thing about being a nudist was to get a full tan, for one thing, but also to play volleyball.”

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Hitchcock instructed her, “You’re on now.” She took off her robe and stretched. There was silence.

“I had a very strong idea that he talked with everybody who was involved when I was on the set,” Renfro explained. “There was no snickering. Everybody was very professional. And it turned out that it was a very comfortable working situation. And I think everybody there just got used to seeing me with no clothes.”

While Renfro was only hired to work a few days, the film’s infamous shower scene required a whopping 78 setups and 52 cuts. Leigh’s appearance in the scene was nearly limited to camera angles above the neck, People magazine reported. Renfro was used for nearly all body close-ups. Hitchcock even got away with briefly showing Renfro’s navel, defying film censors at the time.

“It was slow,” she said. “The water was going … it was warm, not cold or anything. … I worked with [Anthony Perkins’] double … a woman who played ‘Mother.’ She was the same height and build as Tony Perkins. During the fighting [scene], with the water going … it was really the only hairy spot. Had the knife slipped or something like that, there would’ve been an accident. But thank goodness that didn’t happen. Otherwise, it was just me in the shower.”

Renfro said that Hitchcock treated her with “great respect.” She recalled being self-conscious over her ring finger, which had suffered a childhood accident involving a lawnmower. Hitchcock wasn’t fazed.

“I was so nervous to tell him,” Renfro recalled. “If I didn’t tell him, he would see it in the dailies, and he would get mad at me [for ruining the shot]. So, I just stopped him one day and I told him. He wanted to know the whole story about what happened. He then says to me, ‘It didn’t happen that way. You were picking your nose and sneezed, and that blew off your finger.’ Then he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”

When “Psycho” premiered in theaters, Renfro’s roommate was ecstatic to watch the film. Renfro wasn’t.

“I thought, ‘Oh, how boring,’” said Renfro. “[But] we went to see it, and it scared me half to death.”

Leigh was slashed to death 20 minutes into “Psycho.” The star’s brief performance earned her a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Leigh later told a reporter that she was so scarred by the scene that she stopped taking showers and resorted to baths instead.

After filming wrapped, Renfro signed a confidentiality agreement, promising not to disclose anything about the movie, including her involvement. Even when she appeared on the cover of Playboy in 1960, Renfro had to keep mum.

Renfro kept busy by working with a college-aged director on his first film: Francis Ford Coppola.

“He was a student at UCLA film school at the time,” said Renfro about the “Godfather” icon. They worked together on his 1960 film “Tonight for Sure.”

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“Just the way he … directed me, it just reminded me so much of Hitchcock,” she said. “I thought, ‘This young man’s going someplace.’ You just have that gut feeling. … I [recently] got a postcard from him. We started up a conversation again.”

And then Renfro received an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“I found out they were putting the finishing touches on the very first Playboy Club,” Renfro said. “I went back home [to Hollywood], squared everything away and moved to Chicago.

Renfro worked as a greeter at the door, but it was the waitresses who were earning big bucks.

“You go into a bar and drinks were 35 cents, this was 1960,” said Renfro, smiling. “It was 35 cents anywhere you go. But at the Playboy Club, it was $1.50. No one ever complained or anything. And I worked as a chorus girl in Las Vegas. I also had a job in New York City’s Latin Quarter.”

“I asked one of the managers, ‘Can I be a waitress?’” said Renfro. “He said, ‘Yeah, you have experience?’ I said no. And he said, ‘Well, no.’ So, I quit. I got a job as a waitress at a local jazz club, The Cloisters. I worked there for two or three weeks. Then I went back to the Playboy Club. I said, ‘I’m experienced.’ So, I got hired again.”

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As a Playboy Bunny, Renfro was required to slip into the iconic cocktail waitress suit, which was a high-cut corset that accentuated long, lean legs and an hourglass shape. It was paired with bunny ears and a fluffy tail. In 1962, the uniform got an upgrade with a collar and cuffs.

“I didn’t have men touch me, never,” said Renfro. “It was the women. Oh, they loved to pull your ears and try to get your tail. But it was no harm done or anything like that.”

Renfro’s involvement with films was seemingly forgotten until 2001. At the time, the Associated Press ran a story that a handyman had been convicted of “killing two people, including an actress who was a double for Janet Leigh in the film ‘Psycho,’” People magazine reported.

The actress was Myra Davis. However, some press outlets mistakenly reported it was Renfro.

According to the outlet, it was Graysmith who learned while writing his book that Renfro and Davis were two different people. He also discovered that Renfro was still alive. Davis, who died in 1988, worked on “Psycho” as a lighting stand-in.

Since the book’s publication, there has been growing interest about Renfro’s contributions to films.

One of Renfro’s proudest achievements? Having her name appear on “Jeopardy!” twice.

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“First time, it was on my 75th birthday,” she said. “We were all celebrating at a Mexican restaurant, enjoying margaritas and shots. … I got a phone call from a friend: ‘Your name’s on ‘Jeopardy!’ And then five years later, I was on again. I may not be famous, but I did do something famous.”

 

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