Anthony Perkins, circa 1960
|Date of birth:
|April 4 1932
|Date of death:
|September 12 1992 (aged 60)
|Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States
(1973-1992) (his death) 2 children
Anthony Perkins (April 4, 1932 – September 12, 1992) was an Academy Award-nominated, Golden Globe-winning American stage and screen actor, best known for his role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and its three sequels. In addition Perkins tried his hand at pop singer, director, screenwriter, and songwriter.
He appeared in more than 40 films and earned a 1956 Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor in Friendly Persuasion. He also received Tony Award nominations in 1958 and 1960. Perkins was featured on the cover of the March 3, 1958 Newsweek magazine and heralded as the heir apparent to Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and James Stewart.
While he was very successful as an actor his personal life was a struggle with sexual identity. He claimed to have been exclusively homosexual until his late thirties, when he underwent gay to straight therapy. In 1973 at the age of 40 he married 25 year old Berry Berenson; they had two children.
Tragedy struck in 1990 when he discovered he had AIDS. He died in 1992 of complications from AIDS. One day before the ninth anniversary of his death, his widow, Berry Berenson, died on American Airlines Flight 11, the flight that was hijacked and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the September 11, 2001 attacks by terrorists.
Perkins was born in New York City, the son of Janet Esselstyn and stage and film actor James Ripley Osgood Perkins. Although Perkins' father passed away when he was only five, Perkins' interest in the film industry can be credited to his father's film career. Throughout his early years, Perkins did not see much of his father, who was busy in a variety of film and stage roles. The most prominent of these was his supporting role in the original motion picture adaptation of Scarface, which was released the year Perkins was born. Perkins's only fond memories of his father came primarily from a 1937 summer excursion to Fire Island, although they did little together on the trip.
Between his father's absences, Perkins was often surrounded by a feminine presence, the most insistent of which was his mother. "I became abnormally close to my mother," Perkins recalled to People in 1983, "and whenever my father came home I was jealous. It was the Oedipal thing in a pronounced form, I loved him but I also wanted him to be dead so I could have her all to myself." He also felt betrayed by his father, believing he easily scorned Perkins and his mother for the more illustrious company of Clara Bow, Tallulah Bankhead, and Elia Kazan.
After his father died of a heart attack on September 21, 1937, Perkins was surrounded wholly by women. It was also during this time that Perkins' mother began to sexually abuse him: "She was constantly touching me and caressing me. Not realizing what effect she was having, she would touch me all over, even stroking the inside of my thighs." This behavior continued on into his adulthood.
In 1942, when Perkins was ten, the family uprooted and moved to Boston. On days when his mother was working, which was often, Perkins was sent to stay with his grandmother, whom he had affectionately taken to calling Mimi. However much he loved his grandmother, the feeling of a parent's absence was too much for Perkins, who began to rebel at the overcrowded public school he was attending. His mother sent him to Brooks School, a private school outside of Boston. Perkins was out of place there, not having any athletic inclinations. In the summer, his mother noticed his interest in theater and asked a friend who was running a summer stock company, whether he might play some small parts. This launched Perkins's adolescent summer stock career. The first summer stock company Perkins played for was at the Brattleboro Summer Theater in Vermont, where he played some minor parts in the plays Junior Miss, Kiss and Tell, and George Washington Slept Here, and manned the box office. This earned him both twenty-five dollars a week and an Equity card.
His mother sent Perkins to another school the following year, this time Browne & Nichols School, which was an all-boys school located in Cambridge, with a high percentage of football players and overly-masculine types. Perkins earned a reputation as the class magician and piano player. In summer 1948, Perkins again returned to summer stock, this time under a different company, the Robin Hood Theatre in Arden, Delaware, where Perkins once again manned the box office and earned stage experience. His most memorable performance was in Sarah Simple where he played a near-sighted twin.
Sexuality, marriage, and death
During the late 1950s and early 1960s Perkins kept his homosexual tendencies a closely guarded secret, and the movie studios helped to deflect suspicion by arranging dates with pretty young actresses, thereby providing cover for actors they knew had no interest in women. His homosexual partners included actor Tab Hunter, who publicly admitted to his relationship with Perkins in his 2005 autobiography, as well as artist Christopher Makos, and dancer-choreographer Grover Dale.
In 1973 Perkins married Berinthia (Berry) Berenson, a photographer and actress 16 years his junior, whom he met at a cast party. Berenson, the sister of actress Marisa Berenson, had fallen in love with Perkins as a pre-teen watching his early films. She actively pursued a relationship with him once they met as adults.
Although the marriage was greeted with considerable skepticism by many of Perkins' friends it was seen by others as the happy culmination of the actor's long and torturous quest to "cure" his homosexuality. Even Berenson admitted some reservations:
A lot of people looked at the two of us and said, 'Who are they kidding? This is never going to work.' I was so naïve I couldn't figure out what they were talking about. He told me [that he was gay], and it just didn't register. I had been very sheltered.
Despite this, Perkins and Berenson remained married until his death.
Their sons Osgood "Oz" Perkins (b. 1974), also an actor, made his film debut as the young Norman Bates in the 1986 film Psycho III and has since appeared in several films; Elvis (b. 1976) is a musician.
In 1990 a headline in the National Enquirer proclaimed, "Psycho Star Has AIDS Virus." Stunned, he quickly had himself tested and discovered that he was indeed HIV-positive. (Earlier in 1990, Perkins had given a blood sample as part of a treatment for a palsy on the side of his face. The National Enquirer illegally obtained the sample and had it tested for the AIDS virus.)
On September 12, 1992, Perkins succumbed to severe complications of AIDS at the age of 60. Before his death, however, he made a public statement stating:
There are many who believe that this disease is God's vengeance, but I believe it was sent to teach people how to love and understand and have compassion for each other. I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life.
Further tragedy struck their family when his wife was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, and died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Although Perkins was primarily interested in film, he pursued a variety of avenues in the entertainment industry. In 1953, Perkins forged his path to Hollywood after delivering a strong performance in a supporting role in his film debut, The Actress. He played alongside Spencer Tracy and Jean Simmons in the George Cukor film.
However, it was not until 1956 that he was signed to another film, after being noticed for his performance on Broadway in the lead of Tea and Sympathy in 1954. He replaced John Kerr in the role and was directed by the legendary Elia Kazan, who had been a friend of his father's. In the play, he took on the role of Tom Lee, a college student who is labelled as a "sissy" and fixed with the love of the right woman, an almost autobiographical role.
The 1956 William Wyler film, Friendly Persuasion earned him the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year and an Academy Award nomination, effectively launching his acting career to the next level. In the film, Perkins played a member of an Indiana Quaker family trying to cope with both its pacifist principles and the problems of defending the homestead during the American Civil War. Gary Cooper played his father. He followed that with another critically acclaimed film in 1957, Fear Strikes Out. Based on the autobiography by James A. Piersall, he played the former outfielder and shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.
Nearly becoming a teen idol after crooning "A Little Love Goes a Long, Long Way" in the Goodyear TV Playhouse production Joey, Perkins was signed to Epic Records and later RCA Victor shortly before earning his Oscar nomination. Between 1957 and 1958 he released three pop albums under the name Tony Perkins. His single Moon-Light Swim was a hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957
Psycho: The Cursed Blessing
Perkins acted in numerous acclaimed performances thereafter, but his legacy as an actor was cemented in Hitchcock's 1960 action-thriller, Psycho. He played the character of Norman Bates, a murderous man with a split personality suffering from Dissociative identity disorder. The legend of Norman Bates would again surface in Psycho II, Psycho III (which he directed), and Psycho IV: The Beginning.
Although Perkins received national acclaim for the film, many people viewed him as unstable and strange. In fact, after Psycho, Perkins found it nearly impossible to earn a role in another genre in the United States. There were no more romantic, comedic or heroic films for him with the exception of Goodbye Again in 1961, Phaedra in 1962, and The Ravishing Idiot in 1964.
Following the success of Psycho, Perkins had an illustrious career in Europe. He created a portrayal of Joseph K. in Orson Welles' The Trial (1962), a cinematic adaptation of the novel by Franz Kafka. Upon returning to America, he took the role of a disturbed young murderer in Pretty Poison (1968). He also played Chaplain Tappman in Catch-22 (1970). Perkins also co-wrote, with composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, the screenplay for the (1973) film The Last of Sheila, for which the writers received a 1974 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and an Academy Award nomination for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.
Among his Broadway credits are the Frank Loesser musical Greenwillow (1960) and Bernard Slade's 1979 play Romantic Comedy opposite Mia Farrow.
In 1955, he won a Theatre World Award for his performance in the famous stage drama Tea & Sympathy.
In 1957 received a nomination for the Best Actor Oscar, for his touching portrayal of Quaker Josh Birdwell in Friendly Persuasion. Also in 1957 he won the Golden Globe award for Most Promising Newcomer in the Male category.
In 1958 he was nominated for the Tony Award for Outstanding Dramatic Actor in Look Homeward, Angel. In 1960 he won a Tony for his performance in the musical Greenwillow.
Although Perkins was overlooked for the Oscar in Psycho the United Kingdom praised his efforts and presented him with their equivalent to the Oscar — a BAFTA (British Academy for the Film and Television Arts) award for Best Actor as Norman Bates in 1960.
In 1961 he won the award for Best Actor as Philip Van Der Besh in Goodbye Again. This film also won him several foreign awards too, including Italy's David of Donatello Trophy, Belgium's Grand Prix International Award, France's Victoire de Cinema and Germany's Gross Otto Award. All for best actor!
In 1974 he won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Written Motion Picture for The Last of Sheila, which he co-wrote, with Stephen Sondheim.
In 1987 the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (USA) presented Tony with the Saturn Award for Best Actor, for the reprise of his most famous role in Psycho III, which he also directed.
At the San Sebastian International Film Festival in 1991 he won the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the Film and Television Entertainment Industries.
- Charles Winecoff, Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins (New York, NY: Dutton, 1996, ISBN 0525940642.
- Brad Darrach, Return of Psycho People 19(23) (June 13, 1983). Retrieved September 2, 2022.
- Tab Hunter, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (Algonquin Books, 2006, ISBN 978-1565125483).
- Bernard Weinraub, Anthony Perkins's Wife Tells of 2 Years of Secrecy The New York Times, September 16, 1992. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
- `Psycho' Actor Kept AIDS Secret Until The End Associated Press, September 14, 1992. Retrieved September 2, 2022.
- Tony Perkins AllMusic. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
- Anthony Perkins 'Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Bergan, Ronald. Anthony Perkins: A Haunted Life. London: Little, Brown and Co., 1995. ISBN 0316906972
- Hunter, Tab. Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. Algonquin Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1565125483
- Palmer, Laura Kay. Osgood and Anthony Perkins: a comprehensive history of their work in theatre, film, and other media, with credits and an annotated bibliography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1991. ISBN 0899505775
- Winecoff, Charles. Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins. New York, NY: Dutton, 1996. ISBN 0525940642
All links retrieved July 31, 2023.
- Anthony Perkins Internet Movie Database
- Anthony Perkins Turner Classic Movies
- Anthony Perkins Internet Broadway Database
- Anthony Perkins All Movie
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