Who was Marli Renfro?
Does the name Marli Renfro means anything to you?
You might not know the name, that's true. But I'd be willing to bet fifty cents that you've seen her. In fact, I'll raise that and bet you a dollar that not only have you seen her, you've seen her naked. Nonsense? Read on. Marli was an all American girl, born in 1938 in Los Angeles.
She definitely had everything going for her. She was an attractive outdoors girl who received a good education. She had a lively personality and, as she grew older, she was greatly admired. When she was in her early twenties (in 1960 to be precise) she took part in something that, if I were to show you a video, you (and people all over the world) would recognise.
And yet this is a story of several mysteries and more than that - it's the story of two murders, neither of which were what they appeared to be.All images via Wikimedia
The event that took place in 1960 and it happened in Hollywood. Marli wasn't an actress although, through her father, she had met several people in the movie business. She was certainly accustomed to being in front of the camera though.
Marli Renfro enters the movie world
She was employed by one of the most well-known directors of the day (a name that is still well-known today) but she wasn't going to be acting.In fact, even though she had an incredibly important part in the film, she was uncredited.
The first murder
In the film, there was a horrific murder, fictitious of course, but yet it wasn't what it seemed. And yes, it was Marli who was 'murdered' in the film, even though she wasn't an actress. Confused? Plus, she was to be 'murdered' again 'for real'. Read on.
Behind the curtain
In the movie, Marli was only seen behind a curtain. The sequence of film in which she appears lasts only for about three minutes. And yet is is probably one of the most recognised scenes in the history of the cinema. If you haven't already, I think you're starting to realise what Marli's role was...
The shower curtain, in fact
Yes, Marli was Janet Leigh's body double in the shower scene in Psycho. Janet Leigh could have worn a body stocking of some sort but director Alfred Hitchcock wanted to show naked flesh in this terrifying scene.Like all film actors, Janet Leigh had a stand in - someone who was used for lighting and so on - but Hitchcock chose Marli as the body double because he wanted someone who would feel comfortable being naked on the film set.
The second - real - murder
Now we fast-forward. Marli had just one more film role, she also was one of the original Bunny Girls, after which she disappeared into obscurity. One man hadn't forgotten her though, true-life crime writer, Robert Graysmith.He had been planning for years to write a book about her but in 2001, he heard that a man had been convicted for a violent 1998 murder - but he had also confessed to the murder of Marli Renfro in 1988.He was horrified.
He'd been trying to discover more about Marli's post-Psycho life for years. He'd been collecting memorabilia. And now it was splashed all over the newspapers that she'd been murdered almost twenty years before.The woman who had received a violent 'death' in one of the world's most famous movies had been brutally murdered herself.
Robert Graysmith read every report he could lay his hands on. They told him that the somewhat exotically named Marli Renfro was really called Myra Davis.
The media reported - sensationally - how the girl who had acted in the most famous ever film scene had actually been the victim of an even more brutal murder.In the few years that followed, Graysmith tried to put Marli/Myra out of his mind but in 2006 his interest was rekindled. There were two things that stood out in his mind from all the media reports he had seen. The first was that she was referred to as Janet Leigh's 'stand in'. This wasn't the case.
The stand in was employed to literally stand in for the star when lighting was being setup.The second, which was widely reported, was quite a revelation. Marli/Myra had actually been forty three years old when the shower scene was filmed.
The book that Graysmith wrote in 2010, The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower explains how he investigated the murder of Marli/Myra. There was some much material - there was even a book (Body Double) about how the girl in the Psycho shower scene had been murdered.
The two clues that intrigued Graysmith from the start was the fact that initial reports of Myra Davis' murder referred to her as the 'stand in'. In subsequent reports ( and the erroneous book) this morphed into body double.
Then there was the fact that the murdered woman was twenty years older than Marli had claimed to be.Graysmith read reports from Myra/Marli's granddaughter who said that although her grandmother was indeed involved in the shower scene, it surprised her that she had performed naked.
He realised that although it was by now generally accepted that Marli had been murdered in 1988, there were in fact two women. Myra, who had been murdered, was the stand in for setting up lighting and Marli was thebody double.Marli was still alive.
I have only been able to explain a fraction of this incredible story on this page.To read the full story - the mystery of Marli's disappearance in the early 1960s, the murder and her subsequent reappearance are recounted in full in this book - by the man who solved the mystery.Read the full details of this astonishing story and about the film industry - and the morality - at the beginning of the Swinging Sixties.
Questions this book will answer
- Where had Marli Renfro been since her disappearance in the early sixties?
- How was it that once the news broke in 1998 that she'd been 'murdered' ten years previously that she hasn't heard about the news of her own demise?
- How Graysmith eventually contacted Marli via eBay.
- Why she hadn't heard the news about her ex-colleague Myra Davis' death
- Why Hitchcock and Janet Leigh initially denied that a body double had been used in the shower scene.
- How the scene was painstakingly constructed.
See the scene
What's fascinating is that audiences were horrified by the violence of the shower scene.And yet no violence is actually shown - it simply the genius of Alfred Hitchcock that makes this scene so scary - and memorable.Whenever you see the girl, but not Janet Leigh's face, that's Marli.
For your collection
If you don't have this classic film in your collection, then I urge you to buy it now.I watched the film again after reading the book above and it's amazing to watch it knowing the insights revealed in the book.If you're buying either as a gift, the other makes the perfect companion piece.Note: If you haven't seen the movie before then I recommend that you do so before you read the book.
© 2014 Jackie Jackson