Monday, October 2, 2017

Anthony Perkins

Stardust: TCM’s Star of the Month

By Ed Garea

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.”

He made his mark in films playing troubled young men. His portrayal of troubled young Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho cemented the typecasting and he was never able to escape.

Born in New York City on April 4, 1932, he was the only child of actor Osgood Perkins and Janet Esselstyn (née Rane). Osgood Perkins was a leading man on the stage, appearing in 22 major Broadway productions. But Hollywood saw him in character roles and he rarely appeared in films, amassing only 21 credits with his most famous role being that of Johnny Lovo in Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1932). On September 21, 1937, Osgood died from a heart attack after performing with Gertrude Lawrence in a road show version of the play Susan and God in Washington D.C.

Janet moved young Anthony to Boston in 1942. He was educated at Brooks School (North Andover, Mass.), Browne & Nichols School (Cambridge, Mass.) and Rollins College (Florida), before transferring to Columbia University in New York City. Like his father, Anthony chose acting as his profession. In 1953, while still a student at Columbia, he made his film debut in George Cukor’s The Actress.     

In 1954, shortly before he was to graduate, he auditioned with Elia Kazan for a role in East of Eden. Though he lost out to another young unknown actor, James Dean, Kazan was impressed enough to ask Perkins to replace John Kerr in the role of Tom Lee, the sensitive adolescent, in the Broadway play Tea and Sympathy.     

He was so sensational in the play that he caught the attention of Hollywood, where the archetype of the sensitive, troubled adolescent was in fashion at the time. In his second film, Friendly Persuasion (1956, William Wyler), he played Josh Birdwell, the son of Jess Birdwell (Gary Cooper). Josh was a young Quaker torn between his religious beliefs and the need to defend his family's homestead. His performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. In addition he received a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year - Actor.

His next film role was as troubled young Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall in Paramount’s Fear Strikes Out (1957, Robert Mulligan). During filming rumors began flying that Perkins was in a homosexual relationship with Tab Hunter, who reportedly visited Perkins on the set. Because Confidential magazine had recently outed Hunter as a homosexual, Paramount was uncomfortable with the association between their star and Hunter. Sensing the need for damage control and to also promote the film, the studio sent Perkins and Norma Moore (who played Piersall’s wife Mary in the film) out on several public dates. In a bit of irony, Perkins and Moore even publicly double-dated with Tab Hunter and whatever beard he was squiring around. 

In 1959 Perkins’ career hit a rough patch with co-starring roles in the box-office flops Green MansionsOn the Beach (1959) and Tall Story (1960), in which he played a college basketball player. Alfred Hitchcock, who had seen Perkins in several films, deemed him perfect to play Norman Bates in Psycho (1960). The film made Perkins an international star, but also typecast him as the monster next door. 

After the film’s release, Hollywood offers dried up and Perkins went to Europe, where he received critical acclaim, named Best Actor at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, for his role in Goodbye Again (1961) opposite Ingrid Bergman. Other European films included Phaedra (1962) with Melina Mercouri, Five Miles to Midnight (1962) with Sophia Loren, Orson Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1962), The Sword and the Balance (1963), The Ravishing Idiot (1964) with Brigitte Bardot, and The Champagne Murders (1967) for director Claude Chabrol.

Returning to America, he made Pretty Poison (1968) with Tuesday Weld, Catch-22 (1970), Play It As It Lays (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), and Mahogany (1975) with Diana Ross. He returned to the character of Norman Bates with three Psycho sequels: Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986) and Psycho IV: The Beginning (made for cable, 1990).

In 1973 he married photographer Berinthia “Berry” Berenson, the younger sister of actress Marisa Berenson. They had two sons: actor Oz Perkins and Musician Elvis Perkins. Diagnosed with HIV during the filming of Psycho IV, Perkins died at his Los Angeles home on September 12, 1992, from AIDS-related pneumonia at age 60. His wife tragically died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.    


8:00 pm – THE ACTRESS (MGM, 1953): Spencer Tracy, Jean Simmons & Teresa Wright. Based on the true story of Ruth Gordon’s struggles on the road to stardom. Perkins’ first film. He plays Fred Whitmarsh, the boyfriend of aspiring actress Ruth Gordon (Jean Simmons,

9:45 pm – FRIENDLY PERSUASION (Allied Artists, 1956): Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire. When Southern troops pass through Indiana, a Quaker family finds its pacifist principles are tested. Perkins is Josh Birdwell, son of Jess Birdwell (Gary Cooper).

12:15 am – THE TIN STAR (Paramount, 1957): Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins. An experienced bounty hunter helps a young sheriff learn the meaning of his badge. Fonda is the bounty hunter, Perkins the timid sheriff.

2:15 am – TALL STORY (WB, 1960): Anthony Perkins, Jane Fonda & Ray Walston. Love puts a college basketball star into a tailspin. The film is best known today as the debut of Jane Fonda.


8:00 pm – FIVE MILES TO MIDNIGHT (U.A., 1962): Sophia Loren, Anthony Perkins. A wife tries to free herself from her husband by helping him fake his own death. Rather silly at times with Perkins as the husband of Loren.

10:15 pm – PHAEDRA (Lopert, 1962): Melina Mercouri, Anthony Perkins & Raf Vallone. A tycoon's restless wife seduces her stepson. Jules Dassin directed this modern-dress version of the classic Greek play Hippolytus. Mercouri is the wife and Perkins the stepson. opening to mixed reviews, the film was a box office failure in the US and did well in Europe.

12:30 am – GREEN MANSIONS (MGM, 1959): Audrey Hepburn, Anthony Perkins. A young adventurer falls in love with a mystical woman in the South American jungle. The film suffers from the fact that Hepburn was miscast. A box office failure, it’s best known day for introducing the Panavision process, an alternative to CinemaScope that quickly became the industry standard for wide-screen formats.


8:00 pm – MAHOGANY (Paramount, 1975): Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams & Anthony Perkins. A girl from the Chicago slums fights her way to a position as an international super model. A so-so film mainly for Diana Ross fans. Anthony Perkins is excellent as a photographer who can't decide between Diana Ross or her boyfriend Billy Dee Williams.

10:15 pm – WINTER KILLS (ICA, 1979): Jeff Bridges, Anthony Perkins. An assassinated president's brother investigates the unsolved crime. Perkins is wasted in this potboiler about the search for a presidential assassin.

12:15 am – THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (National General, 1972): Paul Newman, Roy Jenson. A self-appointed judge cleans up a corrupt western town twice. Perkins has a small role as Rev. LaSalle, who meets Roy Bean early in his career, just before he becomes a judge. This is Newman’s show and he makes the most of it. John Huston directed.

2:30 am – REMEMBER MY NAME (Columbia-Emi-Warner, 1978): Anthony Perkins, Geraldine Chaplin & Moses Gunn. A young woman released from prison begins stalking a married construction worker. After serving twelve years in prison for murder, a young woman (Chaplin) is looking for the man who was her husband (Perkins) at the time the murder was committed. Blah.


8:00 pm – PSYCHO (Paramount, 1960): Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, & Anthony Perkins. A woman on the run falls prey to a disturbed young man and his violent “mother.” A classic.

10:15 pm – PRETTY POISON (Fox, 1968): Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld. An unhinged young man gets into trouble with a young girl even crazier than he is. Better than its reputation. Perkins is a formerly institutionalized young man who meets up with cute, sexy high school cheerleader (Weld). In order to impress her he and pretends to be a CIA agent. Trouble ensues when she totally buys into the fantasy and gets them both mixed up in a murder.

12:00 am – THE CHAMPAGNE MURDERS (Universal, 1967): Anthony Perkins, Maurice Ronet & Yvonne Furneaux. A champagne tycoon’s (Furneaux) partner (Ronet) suspects his partner's gigolo husband (Perkins) of murders he's been framed for. Claude Chabrol’s tale of murder takes seemingly forever to get going, but once it does, watch for some great scenes and very to figure who is doing what to whom and why. 

2:00 am – FEAR STRIKES OUT (Paramount, 1957): Anthony Perkins, Karl Malden & Norma Moore. Major League star Jimmy Piersall fights to save his sanity. Perkins is excellent as Jimmy Piersall, whose desire to please his hard-driving father (Malden) leads to a mental breakdown. 

4:00 am – THE TRIAL (Astor, 1963): Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau. Orson Welles wrote and directed this adaptation of Franz Kafka’s existential masterpiece. Perkins is terrific in Kafka’s nightmare about a young bank clerk called Joseph K, who wakes one morning to find the police in his room who tell him that he is under arrest. Although he has committed no crime and has no idea of the charges, he finds himself being discussed and scorned by his neighbors, all of whom seem to know the details of his case. In order to find out about the reason of this accusation and to protest his innocence, he tries to learn why he is under suspicion, but all his queries come to a dead end. Visually stunning with excellent performances all around.

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