Article © 1998 Darlene Arden. First published in Car & Travel, March/April 1998.

Janet Leigh's Own Private Idaho

This leading lady gladly trades the Hollywood spotlight for Sun Valley's skies.

When it comes to favorite places, Sun Valley, Idaho, is Janet Leigh's undisputed choice. She and her husband, stockbroker Bob Brandt, have been going there regularly for more than 30 years. "It's our hideaway and our home-away-from-home," she explains. "It's just our treasure! It's a beautiful spot." Captivated by "the mountains and the rivers and the people," they ski Sun Valley's slopes in winter and fish, bicycle, hike and play tennis in summer. "Our daughter also has a place there, so it's great!" Leigh says. "We really feel very much at home there. Eventually, I feel that we'll move there."

With more than 50 feature films to her credit --- including Hitchcock's classic thriller, Psycho, --- Janet Leigh has always been one of the brightest stars in the Hollywood firmament. But the accomplished actress-cum-author has found success in front of the keyboard as well as in front of the cameras. Her books include her autobiography, There Really Was a Hollywood, and On Psycho, her account of her work in that film. And her first novel, House of Destiny --- a romance spanning three generations --- is now selling briskly in softcover both here and overseas.

With the demands of her dual career and her husband's business, the two find themselves traveling more for business than for pleasure. "But we have fun at the same time," she adds. Leigh calls herself "a great tourist" and especially loves to check out historic sights in cities like Boston and Washington, D.C. Just last May, she and her husband took in the sights in the nation's capital. "The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Park had just opened," she says. "I went through it and brought some commemorative pamphlets for my grandchildren."

But nothing matches the pleasures of Idaho. For the long drive from their California home, Leigh and Brandt load up their four-wheel-drive Subaru station wagon with maps flashlights, and a cooler with soft drinks, cheese, fruit, and sandwiches. Leigh also packs "the dog kit" (and plenty of food) for Sara, their black Lab, and Joe, their golden retriever. "Out animals are like our children," Leigh admits. "Our two-legged children have gone, you know --- they have their own little nests. And so we have four-legged ones living at home now. They sleep with us. They run our whole lives!"

They also dictate the family's choice of accommodations on the road, since it's hard to find hotels that allow pets. One night, after getting only as far as Las Vegas, "we went to 40 places and they wouldn't take dogs!" she says. Desperate, they called a friend, Las Vegas hotelier and entrepreneur Steve Wynn, who said, "Come on in!" "We had the only dog in the Golden Nugget!" Leigh chuckles. Wynn even sent a "doggy burger" up to their room. Taking her dog for a walk the next morning, Leigh passed through the casino. "Here are these bleary-eyed people at the slot machines, and I'm walking out with my dog. They looked as if they were seeing an apparition!" she laughs.

A longtime AAA member, Leigh relishes the drive to Sun Valley. "It's very interesting because you go through such diverse territory," she says. "I mean, you go from L. A. to Vegas, which is one panorama, and then about 20 miles or so past Vegas, you turn north on Route 93 headed toward the rest of Nevada. It's wild and empty and gorgeous for miles and miles and miles. You just don't realize how vast our country is." (Apparently, AAA road reporters agree, designating the 175-mile stretch of SR 93 between Hiko and Ely the longest scenic drive in the state.)

Leigh is now hard at work on her second novel. "I'd better be, because I have a deadline!" she says. Although she has finished more than 100 pages, "I really have to hop to because I've been so damned busy," she adds. Her CBS movie-of-the-week, In My Sister's Shadow, aired this fall, and she's also writing TV scripts based on There Really Was a Hollywood.

And besides, Idaho beckons.