ByAlexandra Ekstein-Kon, writer at
Editor at MP. Twin Peaks, Mr. Robot, a bit of this, a bit of that. Tweet me at @alexa_ekon
Alexandra Ekstein-Kon

Anthony (or Tony) Perkins is most often remembered for his iconic performance as , the deranged killer with a severe case of mommy issues in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960's classic, . Perkins's vivid portrayal of the insane murderer captured audiences' attentions world-wide, but while this role boosted his recognition, it also had an eclipsing effect on his entire career.

Sharing some eerie similarities with the character who brought him fame, struggled throughout his life to recover from a damaging relationship with his mother, as well as with coming to terms with his own sexuality while being closeted in Hollywood. Although this enigmatic actor's life was far from simple, his emotional depth and complexity showed through markedly in the characters he portrayed, giving them a rare sensitivity on screen, the likes of which continue to be a treasured rarity.

His Father's Death And Childhood Trauma

Anthony Perkins was born on April 4, 1932 to successful screen and stage actor Osgood Perkins and his wife Janet Rane. Because of the nature of his profession, Osgood was often not home and little Anthony developed an unhealthy attachment to his mother. Jealous of his father whenever he was home, he often wished him dead, and when he did actually die of a heart attack when Anthony was just 5 years old, the young child was consumed with guilt.

After his father's death, Anthony's relationship with his mother became more damaging. In a 1983 interview with People Magazine, he opened up about his mother:

"She wasn't ill-tempered or mean, just strong-willed, dominant... She controlled everything about my life, including my thoughts and feelings."

In the same interview, Perkins also discussed his mother's inappropriate touching:

"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 right up to my crotch."

He went on to say:

"...[I] completely repressed what my mother was doing — blanked it out."

Despite this emotional repression, Anthony found comfort in the same profession as his father. After years of hearing stories about how successful and seemingly carefree his father was, Anthony decided to follow in his footsteps and try his hand at acting:

"There was nothing about me I wanted to be, but I felt wonderfully happy being somebody else. I made up my mind to be a great actor, greater than my father."

He certainly succeeded.

Success In The Film Business And Psycho

When Anthony was just 15 years old, he started doing theater performances. Then, in 1953 he made his big-screen debut in The Actress, starring Spencer Tracy. The following year he received praise for his role in Broadway production Tea and Sympathy, and in 1957 he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Friendly Persuasion. Over the next few years, Anthony became known for his ability to play roles with great emotional depth and sincerity, starring in anything from Westerns to romance movies, including a standout performance in Fear Strikes Out.

In 1960, Anthony got the casting call that would change his career forever. In a 1990 interview, Perkins remembered the moment:

"'Hitchcock wants you in his new picture. One of his last.' In those days that's all Hitchcock had to say."

Anthony was chosen to play the part of Norman Bates, the seemingly innocent innkeeper with a terrible secret. The world was transfixed by Anthony's performance in Psycho. His ability to capture the shy, demented psyche of Norman Bates, twisted by his malevolent "Mother," was no doubt a revolutionary portrayal of a tortured soul. Anthony went on to star as the iconic character in both Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986), and Psycho IV (1990).

Struggles With Type-Casting

Given his extraordinary performance as Norman Bates, Perkins often found himself directed toward similar roles featuring emotionally disturbed characters with sinister motives.

When asked in a 1983 interview with Bobbie Wygant if the role in Psycho helped or hurt his career, Perkins responded:

"Well, it hurt it in that people started associating me with that kind of role. It helped it because people could — rather than saying 'here comes what's-his-name down the street,' they were able to put a name to the face. So, it did both those things."

In The Closet In Hollywood And Marriage

At the time, being openly gay or bisexual in Hollywood was considered unacceptable, especially with vicious tabloids such as Confidential on the loose, trying to out celebrities for what was seen as a shameful preference. Obviously, the knowledge of his sexuality could have had severe consequences on his career, and given that Perkins was an intensely private figure, he made sure to hide his sexuality as much as possible.

However, Anthony was far from being the only closeted homosexual in Hollywood, and he was heavily rumored to have been romantically involved with a number of iconic stars including Grover Dale, Teno Pollick, Tab Hunter, and (take this rumor with a huge grain of salt) the iconic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid actor Paul Newman, to name a few.

When Anthony shot to fame, he became highly sought after by some of the leading starlets of the time including Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Jane Fonda and Sofia Loren. Recalling one uncomfortable encounter in which Brigitte Bardot made her romantic intentions clear, Perkins said:

"Sooner than get close to her, I would have crashed through the window and fallen to the pavement 10 stories below."

In Ronald Bergan's book Anthony Perkins: A Haunted Life, he states that while struggling with his sexuality, Perkins underwent psychotherapy to "'cure' his homosexuality," and at the age of 39, Perkins had his first sexual experience with a woman while filming The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (allegedly with his co-star, Victoria Principal). Then, in 1973 he married Berinthia "Berry" Berenson, a young photographer, with whom he had two children, Elvis and Oz.

Every indication points to their marriage having been a happy and mutually fulfilling one.

About her husband, Berenson said:

"We had a very satisfying life together. It was a wonderful love affair. If anything else was happening, I certainly didn't know about it, and I don't think he intended to hurt me in any way."

When he became sick, she stayed by his side, and helped him as best she could during his last years.

Death From AIDS And Reflection

In 1990 Perkins was diagnosed with AIDS, although he decided to keep it hidden from the public until his death. In 1992 he passed away, but in a parting statement he wrote:

"I chose not to go public about (having AIDS) because, to misquote 'Casablanca,' 'I'm not much at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of one old actor don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.'"

Elaborating on his experiences with AIDS, he added:

"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."

Sadly, his widow, Berry Berenson, was killed aboard American Airlines flight 11, when the plane was hijacked and flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

His Legacy: Sons Oz And Elvis

Oz in 'Secretary' (left) and Elvis on Twitter (right) [Credit: Lionsgate / @ElvisPerkins Twitter]
Oz in 'Secretary' (left) and Elvis on Twitter (right) [Credit: Lionsgate / @ElvisPerkins Twitter]

His sons have both gone on to have successful careers in music and film; the aptly named Elvis is a folk-rock musician and Oz is an actor and director. (Also, did you know that Oz was David Kidney in Legally Blond? Yeah, mind blown.)

Anthony Perkins's life was certainly full of ups and downs, just like all of our lives. What is remarkable is how insightful and profound he came across, even as an exceptionally private person. He certainly had his fair share of struggles, from type-casting to living in the public eye during a time when he could not be open about his sexuality.

I'll leave you with this quote from him from 1983:

"It's satisfying to have grown from where I was to where I am. But there is so much growing still to be done. As long as I live, I'll be cleaning the past out of my mind, getting rid of those old cassettes I play over and over — my memories, my beliefs. I want to keep up with my life. Live it so completely that when death comes like a thief in the night, there'll be nothing left for him to steal."

Did you know about the life on Anthony Perkins?

(Sources: LA Times, People(1), People(2), Interview with Bobbie Wygant, The Guardian, Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins, EW, Anthony Perkins: A Haunted Life)


Latest from our Creators