Anthony Perkins
Perkins in a Paramount publicity still, circa. 1960
Born(1932-04-04)April 4, 1932
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedSeptember 12, 1992(1992-09-12) (aged 60)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other namesTony Perkins
Alma materColumbia University
Occupation
  • Actor
  • director
  • singer
Years active1953–1992
Spouse(s)
(m. 1973)
Partner(s)Tab Hunter (1955—1959)
Grover Dale (1967–1973)
ChildrenOz Perkins
Elvis Perkins
Parents

Anthony Perkins (April 4, 1932 – September 12, 1992) was an American actor, director, and singer. Perkins is regarded an influential figure in popular culture, and was best known for his work in horror films, where he often played distinctive villainous roles.

Perkins' acting breakthrough came with the film Friendly Persuasion (1956), which earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best New Actor of the Year and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He rose to prominence for playing Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and its resulting three sequels, which established him as a horror icon and garnered him nominations for a Bambi Award and a Saturn Award. Perkins was also praised for his role in the film Goodbye Again (1961), which won him the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor.

Perkin's other acclaimed film roles include Fear Strikes Out (1957), The Matchmaker (1958), On the Beach (1959), Tall Story (1960), The Trial (1962), Phaedra (1962), Five Miles to Midnight (1962), Pretty Poison (1968), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Mahogany (1975), The Black Hole (1979), North Sea Hijack (1980), and Crimes of Passion (1984).

Early life

Before his father's death, 1932–1937

Infant Anthony Perkins with his mother Janet at the beach, circa. 1933
Infant Anthony Perkins with his mother Janet at the beach, circa. 1933

Perkins was born April 4, 1932, in Manhattan, son of stage and film actor Osgood Perkins (1892–1937) and his wife, Janet Esselstyn (née Rane; 1894–1979).[1] His paternal great-grandfather was wood engraver Andrew Varick Stout Anthony.[2] Perkins was also a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Howland, Myles Standish and William Brewster as well as Roger Conant. Through an entirely paternal line he is descended from John Perkins, who arrived in Boston from England in 1630 as part of the Puritan migration to New England.

Throughout his early years, Perkins didn't 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.[3] During this time, the Perkinses, lovers of all things French, hired a French nanny, Jeanne, to look after their son. This led to Perkins learning French just as well as he did English, which would come in handy years later when he moved to France.[4]

Between his father's absences, Perkins was often surrounded by a feminine presence, the most insistent of which being 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.”[5] 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.

On September 21, 1937, Osgood Perkins would die of a heart attack just after a successful opening night of his newest play, Susan and God.[6] He's said to have told his wife coming home, "I like that role. I hope the play never closes."[7] This caused Perkins intense feelings of guilt. “I was horrified," he said years later. "I assumed that my wanting him to be dead had actually killed him. I prayed and prayed for my father to come back. I remember long nights of crying in bed. For years I nursed the hope that he wasn’t really dead. Because I’d see him on film, it was as if he were still alive. He became a mythic being to me, to be dreaded and appeased.”[5]

After his father's death, 1937–1947

Anthony Perkins in a school photograph, 1940s
Anthony Perkins in a school photograph, 1940s

With the last masculine presence in his life gone, Perkins was surrounded wholly by women once again. He was raised alongside a repulsion of religion and constant feminine presence, which manifested in the sexually-ambiguous way he carried himself later on in life. Besides his mother, a consistent female companion in Perkins's life was young, burgeoning playwright Michaela O'Harra, whom his mother had taken an acute liking to. "My mother said–I don't know if she used the word lesbian... but that was just [what it felt like] to me: 'Oh, they're having a lesbian relationship.' You know, something like that," recalled Perkins's childhood friend, John Kerr, about the relationship between O'Harra and Perkin's mother. Although her sexuality has been disputed, it's widely agreed that Perkins's mother was at the very least not heterosexual.[8][9] However, it was also during this time that Perkins's 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 right up to my crotch." This behavior continued on into his adulthood.[5]

In 1942, when Perkins was ten, the family uprooted and moved to Boston. Due to her connections in the theatre industry, Janet was able to gain a position at the nearby American Theatre Wing's Boston Stage Door Canteen. It had been successful in numerous other cities, including the country's capital, and experienced similar growth in Boston. Janet, who managed much of the canteen's activities, shared in this abrupt yet steady wealth, which gave them money to live off of.[10] On days when she was busy, which was often, Perkins was sent to stay with his grandmother, whom he'd affectionately taken to calling Mimi.[11]

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, leading him to be labelled a "gifted drifter." To quell his rebellious habits, Janet shipped him off to Brooks School,[12] forty minutes outside of Boston. The placement was disastrous: Perkins's childhood habit of stuttering returned again and he shied away from all athletics. Janet, however, forced him into baseball. It was the first time in his life where Perkins was overwhelmed by a solely masculine presence and therefore singled out for being "different."[13] The pressure bore down on him, leading him to leave school in long absences during his second year after he came down with back-to-back cases of scarlet fever. After missing so many classes, Perkins sunk to the bottom of his class in grades.[14] This led Perkins and Janet to make a deal: if he got good grades, she'd allow him to return to Boston the next year for schooling. Perkins stayed true to his promise, ranking in the top third of his class and inspiring his headmaster to comment, "Tony Perkins is considerably more mature than the rest of his contemporaries, and is impatient with many of their schoolboy interests."[15]

Summer stock, 1947–1950

It was during this time that Perkins's absence of a father began to bear down on him again. "As Tony grew older and saw other boys with their fathers," Janet remembered, "he badly missed his own father. And the only identification he could have with his father was through theater... I began to realize that he was acquiring an unusual interest in [performing]... A friend was running a summer stock company, and I approached him to ask whether Tony might play some small parts."[16] 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 plays Junior Miss, Kiss and Tell, and George Washington Slept Here if he manned the box office. This earned him both twenty-five dollars a week and an Equity card.[17]

Keeping her word, Janet sent Perkins to another school the following year, this time Browne & Nichols School. At the time, it was an all-boys school located in Cambridge, with a high percentage of football players and overly-masculine types.[18] With smaller classes, Perkins stood out more, leading him to earn a reputation as the class magician and piano player.[19] He was also renown for his lisping Roddy McDowall impression, which he often performed in the halls between classes, much to his fellow students' delight.[20] It was around this time that the public was first introduced to the groundbreaking yet controversial Kinsey Reports exploring the layers of human sexuality.

In summer 1948, Perkins again returned to summer stock, this time under a different company. Janet had found a job as a manager for the Robin Hood Theatre in Arden, Delaware, where Perkins once again manned the box office and earned stage experience.[21] His most memorable performance was in Sarah Simple where he played a near-sighted twin, though it was at the Robin Hood Theatre that Perkins first met Charles Williamson, who'd later have an important impact in Perkins's life.[22]

In 1949, Perkins dove into school activities. He joined the varsity tennis team and the glee club at the same time he was made co-literary editor of the school paper, The Spectator. Occasionally, he contributed articles.[23] It was around this time that Perkins began to question his sexuality, which was on the mind of a lot of boys his age, who were constantly shoving their heterosexuality down their peers' throats. Once again, Perkins felt singled out as the "other."[24]

College, 1950–1953

Anthony Perkins in a summer stock company, circa. 1950
Anthony Perkins in a summer stock company, circa. 1950

Around the time Perkins's sexuality began to burgeon, many of his fellow students were thinking about college. Many Browne & Nicholas alums were looking forward to a future at Harvard University, and Perkins, whose grades were too low to qualify, was the only student persuaded to attend Rollins College when a representative toured the school.[25] However, this didn't keep him from returning to Delaware that summer, where he once again worked at the Robin Hood, which was now one of the most prosperous and important summer stock programs in the country. It was there where he grew reacquainted with old friend Charles Williamson, going out to lunch with him and swimming together during breaks.[26] It was at this time that Perkins developed a crush on Williamson, who recalled, "He never expressed his homosexuality during the summer of 1950. He did not act on it at all. At the time, I was very much in the closet and repressed. We both shared that."[27] It was also around this time that Perkins played Fred Whitmarsh in the play Years Ago, who he'd perform again just a few years later in the screen adaptation.[28]

If Perkins was expecting a similar camaraderie at Rollins that autumn, he was disappointed. Heralded as a Christian, all-American school, Rollins College was nestled in the heart of Florida, and Perkins had arrived just at the time Congress had named homosexuals and Communists an enemy of equal danger.[29] There were a few exceptions: Fred Rogers, who would graduate the college the following year, gave Perkins use of his piano, something Perkins greatly appreciated.[30] Perkins appeared in numerous stage productions at the school and moved around fraternities constantly, something which got on the nerve of Jane. However, it was at Rollins that Perkins reportedly first started experimenting with his sexuality and other men.[31]

Shortly after Perkins's arrival, a large group of homosexual students, many of whom were Perkins's friends, were expelled from Rollins and even arrested after a fellow student beat one of them.[32] However, due to Perkins's connections with the theater professor, he was spared. This only led to high levels of tension between him and the rest of the students, who now knew of Perkins's sexuality.[33] This later led Perkins to transfer to the elite Columbia University.[34]

Career

Film and Broadway debut, 1953–1955

While still attending Rollins College, Perkins went out to California over summer vacation, hoping to make it into the movies. Having heard that MGM was making a screen adaptation of Years Ago, he lingered on the lot, hoping a casting director would spot and test him.[35] As Perkins later recalled:

"I hung around the casting gate all summer, running errands and picking up sandwiches for the guards. One day they were testing Margaret O'Brien and they needed the back of someone's head. They didn't know who to use. Then someone piped up and said, 'How about that kid that's always hanging around here? We could use the back of his head!'

"They called me in and I stood right in front of the camera, almost obliterating poor Margaret O'Brien's face and causing a director to say, 'Please move a little to the left.' When he said this, I turned around and said, 'Who, me?' and I was in the test."[36]

It was later that summer that he learned he'd been cast as Fred Whitmarsh in the film, now renamed The Actress (1953), alongside Jean Simmons and Spencer Tracy. He was also directed by George Cukor, who was a friend and collaborator of his late father. In the film, he played a fumbling Harvard student who chases the interest of Ruth Gordon Jones (Simmons), who wants to perform onstage despite her family's disapproval.[37] The film was a commercial disappointment, although it scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.

Perkins was first noticed when he replaced John Kerr on Broadway in the lead of Tea and Sympathy in 1954, where he 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's labelled as a "sissy" yet fixed with the love of the right woman, in an almost autobiographical role.[38] The play was a success and it renewed Hollywood interest in him.[39]

According to posthumous biographer Charles Winecoff, it was during the production of Tea and Sympathy that Perkins was drafted despite (or perhaps because of) the recent end of the Korean War. Without consulting anybody, he decided to tell the Selective Service he was a "practicing homosexual," which was an eligible way to be deemed unfit for service, rather than enter the military. Reportedly, this had disastrous results, leaving Perkins traumatized.[40]

Hollywood and Broadway stardom, 1955–1959

Serious roles

Anthony Perkins with Dorothy McGuire in the trailer for Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Anthony Perkins with Dorothy McGuire in the trailer for Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Just as his run in Tea and Sympathy was coming to an end, director William Wyler sent out his assistant, Stuart Millar, to search out talent on Broadway for his upcoming film, Friendly Persuasion. It centered around a bristled family of Quakers during the Civil War, and he was scouting an actor to play the oldest of the Birdwell children, Josh. When Millar saw Perkins in Sympathy, he gave him a page of script and let him to an audition. As Millar recalled: "About half a hour later, [Perkins] had the part. [William Wyler] was thrilled with the reading, he saw everything instantly. It was really one of the best, if not the best, readings I've ever seen."[41]

Anthony Perkins (left) and Gary Cooper (right) filming Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Anthony Perkins (left) and Gary Cooper (right) filming Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Perkins was soon after shipped out to Hollywood, where he began shooting alongside Dorothy McGuire, who played his mother, and Gary Cooper. After rushes of the film were shared around, the advance praise of his performance became so strong that Paramount Pictures took an interest in him. They soon after signed him under a seven-year semi-exclusive contract, which gave him room to return to Broadway whenever he wanted. He was their last matinee idol and was called the "fifteen million dollar gamble."[1]

Perkins's first film for the studio was a 1957 biopic about Boston Red Sox baseball player Jimmy Piersall entitled Fear Strikes Out. It followed his father's pressure to become a legendary baseball player and how it led to his highly publicized mental breakdown, as well as detailing his efforts to get better in a mental institution. The set of the film was hostile and riddled with homophobia, something which put Perkins on edge so much that the cast and crew feared he was actually having a mental breakdown while filming the scene.[42] Although he wasn't nominated for any Oscars, his performance was widely praised by critics. The Hollywood Reporter proclaimed of the film: "Every recent young star has been compared to James Dean. From now on the standard is Tony Perkins."[43] Perkins also starred two Westerns: The Lonely Man (1957) (with Jack Palance) and The Tin Star (1957) (with Henry Fonda).

Around this time, Friendly Persuasion opened to huge success. The film was largely praised by critics, who took a liking to Perkins. The film earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best New Actor of the Year and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[1]

Teen idol status

Anthony Perkins in a 1957 publicity still for Modern Screen
Anthony Perkins in a 1957 publicity still for Modern Screen

Perkins released three pop music albums and several singles in 1957 and 1958 on Epic and RCA Victor under the name Tony Perkins.[44] His single "Moon-Light Swim" was a moderate hit in the United States, peaking at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957. 1958's "The Prettiest Girl in School," though a flop in the United States, was also popular in Australia.[44] As then-partner Tab Hunter noted years later, "Tony always joked that his tremulous voice could make any happy love song sound sad."[45]

Having come from New York, Perkins was a life member of the Actors Studio,[46] and in 1957, he exerted the freedom of his studio contract and returned to Broadway in Look Homeward, Angel. The play was an autobiographical coming-of-age story about its writer, Thomas Wolfe, and he took on the role of Eugene Gant, with his mother being played by Jo Van Fleet. The play enjoyed a successful run, and in 1958, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.[47]

Perkins with Jo Van Fleet in the Broadway play Look Homeward, Angel, 1957
Perkins with Jo Van Fleet in the Broadway play Look Homeward, Angel, 1957

Perkins was teamed up again with Van Fleet in This Angry Age (1958, also known as The Sea Wall) for Columbia, replacing James Dean. The story followed a mother who, unlike her restless children, attempts to cling onto her dissipating rice farm in southeast Asia. He also starred Desire Under the Elms (1958) for Paramount with Sophia Loren and was her first American screen kiss. As Loren remembered in her 2014 memoir, "Perkins [was] as neurotic and handsome as we all remember him in [a later film] Psycho. A gentle, polite, somewhat sullen young man, he didn't know how to hide his restlessness. Between us there was a certain complicity. He helped me with my English, and I tried to make him laugh."[48] Although Loren was proud to have scored the role, the unanimous decision upon its release was that Perkins came off weakly.[49]

Between the filming of Desire and his next movie, Perkins received an offer to appear in what would become the 1959 comedy Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe. He was given the role of Shell Oil Junior and Frank Sinatra was considered for the role of his companion who both dress up in drag in order to board an all-women train car. Paramount, despite the appeal of a big star like Monroe, balked at the idea of having their already sexually-ambiguous heartthrob wear drag for an entire film and forbade Perkins from accepting the role. It ultimately went to Tony Curtis instead.[50] However, studio executives begged Perkins to return from Broadway to star in The Matchmaker (1958) alongside Shirley MacLaine and Shirley Booth, during which him and a male companion dress up in women's clothing in order to enter a public function.

Paramount decided to take Perkins's status as a teen idol one step further and cast him as Audrey Hepburn's love interest in Green Mansions (1959), one of Hepburn's few flops. It was based around an explorer who stumbles upon both a girl who lives in the woods and the Native Americans nearby who want to kill her. Speaking about the project later in life, Perkins said, "[Hepburn] was wonderful to work with, like a real person, almost a sister... [The film] was good but unusual."[51]

Anthony Perkins and Audrey Hepburn in a publicity still for Green Mansions
Anthony Perkins and Audrey Hepburn in a publicity still for Green Mansions

Perkins's next film, On the Beach (1959), however, did little to promote his teen idol status, and was his last serious film before his legendary Psycho performance later that year. Playing a doomed father, thousands of Australians are stranded in their country, being the last to survive the atomic war which killed all other continents. He supported legendary actors such as Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and even Fred Astaire in his first dramatic role. All filming took place in Melbourne on-location over the course of three months, and a soundstage was even made out of a warehouse for the crew's use.[52] Unlike other films, Perkins got on well with his fellow cast members and even helped Astaire prepare for his serious scenes.[53] Years later, in an infamous interview with People, Perkins would list Gardner as the first of many female stars who tried to put the make on him, although due to his sexuality, he very cautiously declined.[5]

If Perkins was proud of his serious roles, it wouldn't be for long. His next film, Tall Story (1960), was best remembered for being Jane Fonda's film debut, and he had to play a college basketball champion. As a man who'd never been talented in sports, he had to be trained to play basketball for his performance, but, unlike his teachings on the set of Fear Strikes Out, the lessons were able to stick. Perkins recounted to reporters, "I've been working out at the Warner Brothers gym, discovering what basketball is all about. I spend about an hour and a half a day dribbling, passing, shooting baskets, and going after rebounds... It's a good game. Like chess in a way."[54] Also unlike Fear Strikes Out, the set of Tall Story was hospitable to him from what he could see. Having already worked with Fonda's father, they had a connection to assume upon, though not many could foresee the chemistry they'd have both on- and off-screen. As Fonda later recounted to Patricia Bosworth, "Tony [Perkins] told me, 'Forget about the lights, just forget about the lights.' And I did. And he taught me fascinating things, like the audience's eyes always move to the right side of the screen so you should always try to get on the right side of the set." Fonda also credits solely Perkins for helping her learn how to play before the camera when acting.[55]

A repeat of On the Beach, Fonda also developed a crush on Perkins. Perkins would later recall a moment when she sat in his dressing room, completely naked, powdering her body.[5] Fonda, unlike others, was actually understanding of his homosexuality and became good friends with whomever he was seeing at the same. Behind the scenes, however, there was more turmoil: Fonda would recall, "Both Joshua Logan [the film's director] and I were in love with Tony Perkins, and so that caused a problem."[56]

Psycho and Greenwillow, 1960

Anthony Perkins in a publicity still for Psycho (1960)
Anthony Perkins in a publicity still for Psycho (1960)

Perkins in youth had a boyish, earnest quality, reminiscent of the young James Stewart, which Alfred Hitchcock exploited and subverted when the actor starred as Norman Bates in the film Psycho (1960). Hitchcock would later say that he'd had Perkins cast ever since seeing him in Friendly Persuasion.[57] The motion picture was about Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a young woman who steals forty-thousand dollars from her work and flees to the Bates Motel, run by Norman Bates (Perkins), where she meets her end in her room's shower. The film culminates with the revelation that Bates's mother has been dead for ten years and that Bates has been dressing up and even assuming her personality. This leads him to murder all young girls he's attracted to, including Marion, under the "Mother" personality.

With Ellen McCown in rehearsals for the Broadway musical Greenwillow, 1959
With Ellen McCown in rehearsals for the Broadway musical Greenwillow, 1959

During filming, Perkins was involved in the 1960 Broadway musical Greenwillow, written by Frank Loesser. The plot followed the magical town of Greenwillow, where the men are meant to wander and women (if they can keep their husbands) are supposed to settle down and have children. Despite his call to isolation, Gideon Briggs (Perkins) wants to marry his sweetheart, Dorie (Ellen McCown). Loesser caught onto Perkins's homosexuality fast and, disliking him for it, decided to upstage him, writing his main solo, "Never Will I Marry," as something reminiscent of an opera ballad.[58] However, close friend Stephen Sondheim praised his performance of "Never Will I Marry": "[Perkins was] wonderful. One of the things that makes 'Never Will I Marry' so brilliant [on the recording] is the crack of his voice when he reaches the tenth." The show's director, George Roy Hill, also called Perkins "remarkably good. It didn't have the timbre of a real Broadway voice, but it didn't have the hard edge. 'Never Will I Marry' was a wonderful example of that."[59] Additionally, the song was later popularized due to its renditions by Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, and Linda Ronstadt.[58] Perkins was also nominated for another Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Psycho was also a trial, although not (entirely) due to homophobia. Even though Perkins would end the film in very sloppy drag (wearing a dress and wig in order to look like his mother), Paramount was more disgusted by the idea that the film would feature the first shot of a toilet when we see Marion flush evidence of her embezzlement at the motel. The film was also made cheaply: both Perkins and Leigh accepted low salaries to appear in the picture, and the crew was reused from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Even the famous shower scene, where Marion is stabbed to death, didn't feature the two main actors, since Perkins was in New York for Broadway rehearsals and Leigh's body-double was used for many of the shots.[60]

Despite this, Psycho was a critical and commercial success, and gained Perkins international fame for his performance as the homicidal owner of the Bates Motel. Perkins's performance gained him the Best Actor Award from the International Board of Motion Picture Reviewers. The role and its multiple sequels affected the remainder of his career.[61]

Troubles with Paramount, 1955–1961

Publicity photos like these (taken in 1959) served only to heighten Perkins's teen idol status
Publicity photos like these (taken in 1959) served only to heighten Perkins's teen idol status

After being signed in 1955, Perkins became Paramount's last matinee idol, and he was promoted relentlessly as that image through a string of leading man-roles on screen. Once he'd finished three films for the studio, they'd already invested fifteen million dollars in him before any of the motion pictures were even released. This would begin the infamous tension between Perkins and Paramount.[1]

Another reason for tension came from Perkins's side: he believed Paramount was ruining his career. Although he was given the option to do Broadway performances, his fame primarily stemmed from his performances on-screen, where Paramount was pushing him into leading-man roles. Perkins, however, wanted only to be a serious actor, not a teen idol. Their preoccupation with keeping Perkins's masculinity intact also led to him losing quite a few coveted roles, such as Shell Oil Junior in Some Like it Hot and Tony in West Side Story.[1]

Anthony Perkins (left) with Tab Hunter at Watson Webb's Lake Arrowhead Retreat on a private date, circa. 1956
Anthony Perkins (left) with Tab Hunter at Watson Webb's Lake Arrowhead Retreat on a private date, circa. 1956

This tension wasn't spawned from solely professional matters, though. Barney Balaban, the president of Paramount, disliked and even despised Perkins due to his homosexuality and femininity. They constantly had arguments, mostly revolving around his sexuality and on-going relationship with fellow actor Tab Hunter, which Balaban believed Perkins flaunted too much. He consistently pressured Perkins into breaking up with Hunter and going into conversion therapy for the five years Perkins was under contract with the studio. A later collaborator of Perkins's remembered to Charles Winecoff in 1996, “Tony said one thing that always endeared him to me… that when he was a rising young star at Paramount, he was seeing a great deal of [Tab Hunter], they went around town together, and finally the big studio head called him in and said, ‘You cannot do this anymore. We’re going to make you a star, and you can’t be seen around town with this guy. You’ve got to get a girl, you’ve got to stop seeing him.’ Tony replied, ‘But I love him!”–which left the studio head speechless–and walked out...”[62] Hunter remembered a similar scenario: "Warner Brothers never said a word about my sexuality, and that’s just the way I wanted it. However, Paramount did have something to say about my relationship with Tony, and they told him they didn’t want him to see me anymore... Despite the opposition we did continue seeing each other."[63]

According to all accounts, Perkins, until 1959, withstood Balaban's threats of expulsion and even protected his homosexual preference from his studio boss.[1] It wasn't until between filming Tall Story and Psycho that the studio executives succeeded in separating Perkins and Hunter, which many believe was a major factor into him buying himself out of his Paramount contract early, just like Hunter had done at Warner Brothers.[1]

Europe, 1961–1966

Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman in a poster for Goodbye Again (1961)
Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman in a poster for Goodbye Again (1961)

After buying himself out of his Paramount contract, Perkins moved to France and began making European films. The first of which was Goodbye Again (1961) with Ingrid Bergman, which was shot in Paris. Centered around a May-December romance, Paula Tessier (Bergman) tries to resist the charms of Philip Van der Besh (Perkins), who's the son of one of her clients, while stuck in an unfulfilling affair with a cheating businessman (Yves Montand). It was originally entitled Time on Her Hands, although Perkins suggested the English title Goodbye Again after one of his father's plays.[64] Once again, Perkins found himself under the romantic attention of his female costar, although he customarily declined.[5] Despite any off-screen tension this might've caused, Perkins's role in the film was greatly praised and earned him the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor.[64]

Perkins returned briefly to American to appear in a short-lived Broadway play, Harold (1962), though returned to Europe shortly thereafter. He was then cast in Phaedra (1962), shot in Greece with Melina Mercouri and directed by Jules Dassin, which was undoubtedly inspired by Mercouri's recent success in Never on Sunday. It was a modern retelling of a Greek tragedy where Alexis (Perkins) falls in love with Phaedra (Mercouri), who's his stepmother. When asked about Perkins, Mercouri fondly said, "Ah, Tony. He is attractive to women. He is dangerous to women. When you touch him, he goes away a little. He is an [eel]. Raf Vallone [who played Perkins's father and Mercouri's husband in the film] is a good-looking man, but Perkins... Ah, I’d pick Perkins any time." Perkins's role in the film was also met with praise.[65]

His next film was Five Miles to Midnight (1962), which was his second motion picture with Sophia Loren. It follows Lisa (Loren), who believes her husband, Robert (Perkins), died in a plane crash. When he reveals he's still alive, he urges her to instead collect the life-insurance money from his death. The film was a major shift away from the romantic leads he'd played in Goodbye Again and Phaedra and leant more toward his Psycho persona. The film was a moderate success.[65]

Perkins continued on with his mentally disturbed performances in Orson Welles's version of The Trial (1962, from the Kafka novel). Perkins, however, didn't mind the type-casting as long as he was able to work with Welles. The film was also a success and later on became a cult classic. It was the first of four collaborations between Perkins and Welles.[66]

Anthony Perkins embracing Brigitte Bardot, his least favorite costar, in a publicity still for Une ravissante idiote
Anthony Perkins embracing Brigitte Bardot, his least favorite costar, in a publicity still for Une ravissante idiote

His final disturbed role before another romantic motion picture was in Le glaive et la balance (1963), shot in France. It had a very insignificant impact.[66] His next film, however, would be in Une ravissante idiote (1964) with Brigitte Bardot, which was a comedy. It followed a Russian spy (Perkins) who employs a gorgeous but dim witted woman (Bardot) as his accomplice in procuring secret documents. Perkins made history as the first American actor to play B.B.’s love interest,[66] although Perkins would later openly admit Bardot was his least favorite costar, calling her “Bardot-do-do.”[51] Bardot was another woman on Perkins’s roster of suitors, although Perkins always denied Bardot’s invitations to her penthouse. There were rumors that Bardot, even after Perkins admitted he was gay, was sexually assaulting him on the set, though these were never confirmed. Even if they weren't true, Perkins was incredibly uncomfortable around Bardot.[66]

After Une ravissante idiote failed at the box office, Perkins made a film in Mexico, The Fool Killer (1965).[67] This film was also insignificant, and Perkins returned to France for a cameo in Is Paris Burning? (1966). This was his second Welles collaboration.[68]

Return to the US, 1966–1968

With Charmian Carr in Evening Primrose, 1966

Despite the fact that he was still living in France at the time, in 1966, Sondheim began writing a horror musical Evening Primrose, which was set to be aired on ABC Stage 67, for Perkins.[66] Perkins returned to America to star in the musical alongside Charmian Carr, who was fresh off her success in The Sound of Music. The plot followed Charles Snell, a struggling poet who decides to live in a department store by night and pretend to be a mannequin by day. He encounters a secret society who already had the idea, and falls in love with Ella Hawkins (Carr), who is the maid of the society’s leader and is forbidden from speaking to Snell. If they attempt to leave the department store, the Dark Men will kill them and turn them to mannequins.[69]

Filming was quick and on a low budget, though they were able to shoot in color. The department store was originally set in a Macy’s, though the company decided they didn't want to be associated with such a dark theme and the filming was moved to a Stern Brothers department store (which closed in 1969). Just like Idiote , Carr developed a crush on Perkins and flirted with him constantly. He, once again, denied.[69]

The program was originally broadcast in full color, although the original color master has long since been lost. There are theories that an over-hyped Sondheim fan stole the master, though this has been unconfirmed. Twenty minutes of silent color test footage exist and were released alongside a DVD in 2010. Sondheim referred to it as one of his favorite musicals he ever wrote, and announced Perkins as the lead of Company shortly thereafter. Perkins, however, withdrew from the role, though he would remain something like a muse for Sondheim for quite a few years.[69][66]

After his return to American television, Perkins then went to Broadway to appear in a play by Neil Simon, The Star-Spangled Girl (1966–67). Among his costars was Connie Stevens, and they both earned respectable reviews. This, however, didn't keep Perkins in the US, and he starred in another French film, The Champagne Murders (1967), for Claude Chabrol. He once again played a murderous villain.[66]

Finally, Perkins made his first Hollywood movie since Psycho, Pretty Poison (1968) with Tuesday Weld, where he was typecast in the role of a psychotic young man for a fifth time. This was the first of two films with Weld, whom he'd dated in the early 60s, although they were reportedly chilly but respectable to each other on set.[66] It was not a box office success and Weld labeled it as her worst film,[70] but has become a notable cult favorite.[71]

Supporting actor, 1970–1973

In the 1970s, Perkins moved into supporting roles in Hollywood-feature films. The first of such motion pictures was 1970's Catch-22, playing Chaplain Tappman. Although never explicit in the film, Tappman at the very least inspires another male character to fall in love with him:

It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

This would mark the first of three films where Perkins played a homosexual character.[66]

Filming 22 proved to be a grueling endeavor, which left the cast stranded in Mexico for long periods of time. Perkins, however, attributed this experience with helping him open up and connect with people, especially those he didn't know well.[8] He wasn't fully surrounded by strangers, though: the film reunited him with both Orson Welles and Martin Balsam, who played the doomed detective Aborgast in Psycho ten years earlier.[66]

Perkins's next film was WUSA (1970), starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, where he made a brief appearance. Many attributed his fleeting role to the fact that Perkins had befriended Newman and Woodward in the 50s and socialized with them in Europe in the 60s, although Perkins was praised for his performance of anxiety. This marked the first of two collaborations with Perkins and Newman. Off-Broadway, he appeared in and directed Steambath (1970).[66]

After that, Perkins shifted his focus away from movies briefly to star on the made-for-television film How Awful About Allan (1970), where he once again played a psychotic character. Although the film was insignificant at the time, it gained a cult following over the years.[66] He returned to motion pictures soon after, assisting Charles Bronson in the French crime drama, Someone Behind the Door (1971), playing yet another mentally disturbed man. This was also an insignificant endeavor.[66]

It seemed that Perkins couldn't escape his murderous image on screen, especially after he starred in Chabrol's murder mystery Ten Days' Wonder (1971), his third film with Orson Welles. It was also the third film where he fell in love with his step-mother (after 1958's Desire Under the Elms and 1962's Phaedra) in an odd twist of fate. Perkins was reunited with another one of his older costars when he supported Tuesday Weld in Play It as It Lays (1972), based on the Joan Didion novel. It follows Maria (Weld), a washed up model who pursues a meaning in life beyond her dull marriage. She's friends with B.Z. (Perkins), a closeted producer who's being paid by his mother to also remain in a loveless marriage. For both stars, their roles were almost autobiographical, resulting in stunning performances. The Chicago-Sun Times gushed, "What makes the movie work so well on this difficult ground is, happily, easy to say: It has been well-written and directed, and Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins are perfectly cast as Maria and her friend B.Z. The material is so thin (and has to be) that the actors have to bring the human texture along with them. They do, and they make us care about characters who have given up caring for themselves."[72] Weld received a Golden Globe for her role, and both actors were expected to be nominated for Academy Awards. Neither were. However, Perkins would publicly lobby the film as being his best performance.[66]

Anthony Perkins in the film trailer for The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
Anthony Perkins in the film trailer for The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

Perkins changed genres for his next film, a successful western The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972). In the movie, he plays a wandering minister who assists the title character (Newman), following him as he causes mayhem in the town. This was his second film with Paul Newman and his only film with ex-partner Tab Hunter, whom Hunter later recalled he bumped into at the Tucson location:

"We hadn't seen each other in nearly ten years... What I didn't know at the time of our brief union was that Tony's long-running battle with his personal demons had reached a breaking point. He was ending a long relationship with dancer Grover Dale and had started therapy with Mildred Newman... Newman convinced Tony that his personal problems stemmed in large measure from him being gay, and she prescribed a course of action–including electroshock therapy–to turn him straight."[73]

According to Perkins himself, he had his first heterosexual experience on the set of the film with costar Victoria Principal.[5]

Sondheim-Perkins collaborations and unconventional roles, 1973–1980

Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim writing The Last of Sheila
Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim writing The Last of Sheila

In 1973, Perkins reunited with close friend Stephen Sondheim to co-writeThe Last of Sheila, a 1973 American neo noir mystery film directed by Herbert Ross. It was based on the games Perkins and Sondheim made up together and revolved around a movie producer who tries to discover who murdered his unfaithful wife by taking his rich friends on a maze through exotic locations. The characters were said to have been influenced by people Perkins and Sondheim knew in real life.[74]

The film was a commercial success, being heralded as the most "highly plotted murder mystery film of all time" by critics. Perkins and Sondheim went on to share the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay for the film, which led them to try to collaborate again two more times. The next project was announced in 1975 entitled The Chorus Girl Murder Case. "It's a sort of stew based on all those Bob Hope wartime comedies, plus a little Lady of Burlesque and a little Orson Welles magic show, all cooked into a Last of Sheila-type plot", said Perkins.[75] He later said other inspirations were They Got Me Covered, The Ipcress File and Cloak and Dagger.[76] They had sold the synopsis in October 1974.[77] At one point, Michael Bennett was to direct, with Tommy Tune to star.[78] In November 1979, Sondheim said they had finished it.[79] However, the film was never made.[80] In the 1980s, Perkins and Sondheim collaborated on another project, the seven part Crime and Variations for Motown Productions. In October 1984 they had submitted a treatment to Motown.[81] It was a 75-page treatment set in the New York socialite world about a crime puzzle – another writer was to write the script. It, too, was never made.[82]

Perkins was one of the many stars featured in Murder on the Orient Express (1974), adapted from a popular Agatha Christie novel. He played the suspicious McQueen, and was reunited with previous costars Ingrid Bergman (1961's Goodbye Again) and Martin Balsam (1960's Psycho), as well as being teamed up with legendary actors like Lauren Bacall. The film was a moderate success in the box office.[66] Also in 1974, Perkins co-starred with Beau Bridges and Blythe Danner in Lovin' Molly.[83]

He enjoyed success on Broadway in Peter Shaffer's 1974 play Equus (where he was a replacement in the leading role originally played by Anthony Hopkins). In the show, he played a psychiatrist who attempts to rid his patient of their unnatural obsession with horses, shedding his stereotypical performance as a mentally disturbed man. His role was received to rave reviews, perhaps some of the best of his Broadway career.[84] He continued with his stage work and directed the Off-Broadway production The Wager (1974), which had an insignificant impact.[85]

Anthony Perkins photographing Diana Ross in the film trailer for Mahogany (1975)
Anthony Perkins photographing Diana Ross in the film trailer for Mahogany (1975)

Perkins returned to film supporting Diana Ross in the romantic drama Mahogany (1975), where he played a queer-coded photographer bent on making a young model (Ross) into a star. Perkins and Ross were good friends on set, to the point where Perkins’s wife joked about them running off together, though Perkins thought the film was mediocre. It was popular at the box office and set attendance records shortly after its release.[86]

Anthony Perkins posing for the intro of his Saturday Night Live episode, 1976
Anthony Perkins posing for the intro of his Saturday Night Live episode, 1976

Continuing in the vein of comedy appearances, Perkins hosted television's Saturday Night Live in its first season in 1976. During his hour-long special, he poked fun at his serious image, crying out for his “good luck panties.” He briefly addressed the audience during his opening monologue, thanking them for seeing “the real Tony Perkins,” before launching into a skit about Norman Bates’s School for Motel Management, reprising his infamous role from Psycho. He also played a singing psychiatrist (perhaps influenced by Equus, something also mentioned in his opening monologue) and a victim in numerous pretend horror films. Towards the end of the program, Perkins posed and chatted with The Muppets. [87]

Two years after his SNL appearance, Perkins co-starred with Geraldine Chaplin in Remember My Name (1978), an insignificant flick. He also had more roles on television, playing Mary Tyler Moore's husband in First, You Cry (1978) and Javert in Les Misérables (1978), the latter of which being based on the famous 1,000-page novel. He projected a more kid-friendly light when he was featured in Walt Disney's science fiction film The Black Hole in 1979, where he reunited with some crew members from Fear Strikes Out, whom he hadn’t seen in twenty-two years.[88]

Shortly thereafter, Perkins returned to the boards in another Broadway success with Bernard Slade's 1979 play Romantic Comedy, who was the famed author of Same Time, Next Year. He played playwright Jason Carmichael who meets Phoebe Craddock (Mia Farrow) and falls in love with her, and they decide to work together on a production. The show was a wild success and ran for 396 performances.[89] The New York Post wrote: "A darling of a play...zesty entertainment of cool wit and warm sentiment."

Perkins was a villain in the action film North Sea Hijack (1980), starring Roger Moore, and one of many names in Winter Kills (1980). He also starred in the 1980 Canadian film Deadly Companion (also known as Double Negative) with famous comic actor John Candy. The got on well on set.[90]

Later career

Perkins in 1983
Perkins in 1983

Perkins reprised the role of Norman Bates in Psycho's three sequels. The first, Psycho II (1983), was a box-office success 23 years after the original film, and followed Norman Bates’s life after being released from a mental institution.

Later that same year, former-partner Tab Hunter met Perkins at his Mulholland Drive home, accompanied by the latter’s wife and children, and asked him to the cast of Lust in the Dust. Lust was a Western and spoof of Duel in the Sun, and Hunter’s love interest would be played by drag performer Divine, whom he’d already caused a stir with in John Waters’s Polyester. He’d been suggested to Hunter by his partner at the time, Allan Glaser, who Hunter suspected had been influenced by the success of Psycho II. “I tried to convince him to [do the film]… but he denied,” Hunter recalled in his 2005 memoir. “I choose not to think about the reasons for his turning down what would have been a wonderful role. When Tony and I said good-bye that afternoon, I was sincerely happy for him… It would be the last time we ever saw each other.”[91]

After turning down Lust, Perkins went to Australia to appear in TV mini-series For the Term of His Natural Life (1983). After The Glory Boys (1984) for British television, Perkins made Crimes of Passion (1984) for Ken Russell.[92] The film centered around a minister who attempts to rid a sultry woman of her sexual ways, but the movie was proved so explicit that it retained an X-rating for its first cut. The motion picture was majorly edited and received an R-rating instead. Although Perkins believed the editing ruined the film, it’s become a cult favorite.[93] He then starred in and directed Psycho III (1986), which was less successful (both critically and commercially) than its preceding sequel.

After the disappointment of Psycho III, Perkins returned to television and had supporting roles in Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987), and the slasher film Destroyer (1988). He directed but did not appear in the comedy Lucky Stiff (1988), which was a humorous take on cannibalism and incest. While a box office failure, the film developed a cult following due to its quotable dialogue and exposure in Fangoria, who did a feature on the film.[94]

Following his directorial pursuit, Perkins starred in additional horror films, including Edge of Sanity (1989), Daughter of Darkness (1990), and I'm Dangerous Tonight (1990). He gave into the vicious typecasting and played Norman Bates again in the made-for-cable film Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990). His first son, Oz Perkins, made his film debut in the prequel as a young Norman Bates. [1] It was on the set of this film that Perkins learned he was HIV-positive, though he hid the disease from the public. [95]

Perkins appeared in six television productions between 1990 and 1992 while privately battling with AIDS, including Daughter of Darkness (1990) and hosting a 12-episode horror anthology series titled Chillers (1990). He made his final appearance in In the Deep Woods (1992) with Rosanna Arquette, which was released posthumously. All of these appearances tied back into horror, further solidifying the typecasted role he’d fallen into. [1]

Perkins had agreed to provide the voice for the role of the dentist, Dr. Wolfe, in The Simpsons episode "Last Exit to Springfield" but died before the part could be recorded. In the end, the character was voiced by Simpsons regular Hank Azaria.[96]

Public image

Persona

Anthony Perkins displaying his trademark body language in a 1957 episode of Person to Person

Throughout his career, Perkins often played roles of shy, sensitive young men. Whether this was the morally-split Josh Birdwell or the unconfidently homicidal Norman Bates, they all distinguished him as one of the rare male actors unafraid to be vulnerable with the audience. "He was supposed to be gawky, you know," costar Jean Simmons recalled, "with the sleeves too short and all that stuff."[97] Former partner Tab Hunter spoke similarly about Perkins: "Beneath the boyishness, however, there was a lot of tension–not news to anyone who's seen Tony on-screen. The familiar body language wasn't an act. He slouched around with his hands shoved deep in his pockets, and he jiggled his foot unconsciously–a nervous twitch."[98]

Despite his well-documented habits, the authenticity of them has been challenged by some of Perkins's friends and colleagues. Alan Sues, who worked with Perkins on Tea and Sympathy, noted, "You know, if you play that kind of sensitive, I-don't-know-if-I-can-get-through-this sort of thing, people come to you. His approach was that he was suffering, that stuff was going on inside of him, and I don't think it was. His strong suit was knowing how to project an image."[99] Although Hunter expressed similar doubts ("I began to wonder how much of his sheepish appeal was genuine," he wrote in 2005, "and how much was manufactured, used to mask very calculated, methodical intentions"[100]), he did believe overall that Perkins was dealing with a lot of backlash from Paramount over his sexuality, which therefore led him to become as brooding as he was.[101]

However real or fake the mannerisms were, they caught on in the press, who had a field day when Perkins (who didn't know how to drive) was photographed hitchhiking to the set of Friendly Persuasion.[102] He was often described as "boyish" by fan magazines,[103] and his odd habits, from the way he dressed[104] to the meals he ate,[105] were written about in detail. Photoplay called Perkins a "barefoot boy with cheek" in a 1957 issue,[106] while later portraying him as an embarrassed singer when they photographed him during recording sessions.[107] Perkins seemingly played into this quirky yet insecure persona, venting to McCall's:

"I'm not really suited to be a movie star. I have no confidence in myself. I'm not interested in money. I'm not good-looking. I have a hunch in my spine. I can't see worth a damn. I have a very small head. I haven't many opinions. I dislike nightclubs–the kind of things that give you easy publicity. I have no string of French girls. I'm not tough. I can't put on a show in public. I'm much too sensitive for Hollywood. I'm an easy target."[108][109]

Sex symbol and teen idol

Anthony Perkins and Sophia Loren in a publicity still for Desire Under the Elms (1958)
Anthony Perkins and Sophia Loren in a publicity still for Desire Under the Elms (1958)

Perkins was relentlessly promoted by Paramount Pictures as a sex symbol and teen idol throughout his career, something Perkins saw as a sacrifice to his serious acting career. This was done by forcing him through a succession of romantic lead roles, whether they were beside relative-unknowns like Norma Moore and Elaine Aiken or powerhouses like Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn. Although he was depicted in drag in The Matchmaker with Shirley MacLaine, Perkins's image in these films was largely heterosexualized, no matter how odd the more feminine Perkins appeared. Despite his less than 160-pound stature, Perkins delivered a shirtless performance in both Desire Under the Elms and Green Mansions, if only to accentuate his "masculinity."[1] This ended up being possibly detrimental to Perkins's career, costing him the leads in both Some Like it Hot[110] and West Side Story.[111]

Even if the masculinity of Perkins's image was forced, his beauty wasn't. As friend Gwen Davis remembered, "He was intellectually dazzling, physically beautiful. At twenty-four, he was already Dorian Gray."[112] Costar Joan Fickett spoke similarly of Perkins: "Tony had a quality that was fantastic... He was also a beautiful-looking young man."[113] Even his post-Hollywood friends like Melina Mercouri agreed: "He was the most intelligent and the most beautiful actor that I played with. He was extremely generous [and gorgeous], a gentleman."[114]

Perkins's popularity as a teen idol only sprung tenfold by the plentiful stories circulating about Perkins's active dating life. Although they ultimately ended up stumped as to how an attractive star such as Perkins could remain a bachelor, Perkins was constantly "losing his heart" to somebody, whether it was Natascia Mangano[115] or Elaine Aiken.[116] Perkins was often claimed to be "infatuated" with many of his leading women, whether they were married or not. Soon, Perkins's dating life became as prominent as his career, something Perkins was deeply irritated and annoyed by.[1]

Personal life

Marriage

There are many conflicting answers as to how Perkins met his future wife, photographer Berinthia "Berry" Berenson, the younger sister of actress and model Marisa Berenson. There were stories that it was at a party in Manhattan in 1972.[5], which some insist it was on the set of Play It as It Lays.[1] The one sure answer was that it was in 1972.

Anthony Perkins posing with future-wife Berry Berenson for the cover of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine
Anthony Perkins posing with future-wife Berry Berenson for the cover of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine

Although not romantically, Perkins and Berenson saw each other often even though she was engaged to Richard Bernstein at the time.[117] Slowly, the attachment became romantic and then sexual, leading Berenson to become pregnant out of wedlock. Once telling her fiancé this, Bernstein reportedly reacted by telling her that Perkins was gay and didn't reciprocate her feelings. Berenson was said to have replied, "No, he's going to Mildred Newman and he wants to be straight! He wants to be straight!" Berenson left Bernstein the same day.[118]

Perkins and Berenson married when he was 41 and she was 25, on August 9, 1973, with Berenson three-months pregnant. Their first son, director Oz Perkins, was born in 1974, and and musician Elvis Perkins followed two years later in 1976.[119] Many friends were surprised by this marriage and believed it wouldn't last long. Venetia Stevenson admitted to Charles Winecoff, "[I]t was a big shock when I heard [Tony] got married. [I went,] not Tony. He was very gay, totally gay."[1] Even Berenson admitted some reserves:

"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."[120]

Despite this, Perkins and Berenson remained married until his death.

In 2001, on the day before the ninth anniversary of his death, Perkins's widow died at age 53 in the September 11 attacks aboard American Airlines Flight 11. She was returning to her California home following a vacation on Cape Cod.[121]

Sexuality

Rumors about Perkins's sexuality had persisted since the beginning of his career, when he made his Broadway debut in Tea and Sympathy playing a gay character.[1] Posthumous biographer Charles Winecoff linked him with a mass-expulsion of gay men at Rollins College in Florida which he was attending, claiming a large group of his friends had been arrested on charges of homosexuality but that Perkins's links to the theatre professor saved him from dismissal.[122] However, there's been no evidence of this besides the interviews Winecoff conducted with Rollins alums.

Perkins reportedly had his first experience with a woman at age 39 with actress Victoria Principal[123][124] on location filming The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean in 1971.[5] He was in therapy with psychologist Mildred Newman, whom Stephen Sondheim later described to author Mark Harris as “completely unethical and a danger to humanity.” In his 2021 biography of Mike Nichols, Harris wrote that “Perkins and his longtime boyfriend, Grover Dale, had both become convinced that their homosexuality was obstructing their happiness and wanted to restart their lives with women,” adding that Newman and her husband–partner Bernard Berkowitz “clung to the belief that male homosexuality was a form of arrested development, and made a small fortune convincing willing clients that it was an impediment to getting what they wanted.”[125] When interviewed for a 1999 documentary on Perkins, friend and collaborator Sidney Lumet said, "I [asked him why he went into therapy and] said, 'Well, how about you?' [He said,] 'I'm a homosexual...' From then on, he spoke about it completely openly, and I remember when... he said that period of his life was over with, and I said, 'Well, how come, Tony? How did it happen?' And he said, 'I just didn't want it anymore.'"[8]

Partners like Tab Hunter and friends like Venetia Stevenson and Sidney Lumet have consistently said he was homosexual rather than bisexual.[126][1][8] This is due to the fact that, up until this point, Perkins had only homosexual relationships and expressed little interest in women. However, Perkins noted in 1983 that his mother and her sexual abuse might have had something to do with it: "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." This behavior continued on into his adulthood.[5] This reportedly led to Perkins "being unable to see a beautiful woman," but many costars and collaborators remembered situations where he'd gawk and drool over a woman walking down the street.[127] Tab Hunter has since called moments like these a rouse: "You always saw what Tony wanted you to see, which was kind of sad in many ways... An actor plays a role, and pretty soon he takes on that persona. And we’re all guilty of having done that. I think perhaps Tony’s persona was the persona that he wanted people to see. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s that fine line of knowing how to divorce yourself from yourself."[128]

Romantic relationships

According to the posthumous biography Split Image by Charles Winecoff, Perkins had exclusively same-sex relationships until his late 30s, including with actor Tab Hunter, artist Christopher Makos, and dancer-choreographer Grover Dale.[1] Perkins has also been described as one of the two great men in the life of French songwriter Patrick Loiseau.[129]

Relationship with Tab Hunter, 1955–1959

Anthony Perkins in two photos taken by Tab Hunter, 1957 and 1958

Tab Hunter publicly admitted to his relationship with Perkins in his 2005 autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star after having met him at the Chateau Marmont during the filming of Friendly Persuasion in 1956:

"I went for a swim and when I came out my friend Venetia Stevenson said, 'Oh I want you to meet Tony – do you know him?' We hadn’t met, but I already knew that he was a very fine actor. He was at Paramount and I was with Warner Brothers. We just chatted and got on and soon we were starting to see each other."[130]

Their relationship went on for four years[131] and had its ups and downs. Although he remembered fondly how he attempted to teach Perkins how to water-ski and ride a horse[132][133] (something Perkins shyly reciprocated by purchasing him a deluxe Abercrombie and Fitch ping-pong set for Christmas[134]), there were also some moments of strain. The worst came just a few months after their relationship began, after Perkins announced to Hunter that Paramount had cast him as Jimmy Piersall in Fear Strikes Out, a role Hunter had originated on television and was trying to convince Warner Brothers to introduce on the screen.[135] Hunter, however, stated that even after the incident, "we continued to see each other, privately, as much as our schedules allowed."[136] This included a multi-week stay together in a private villa in Rome in March 1957[137] and an appearance on Jukebox Jury that May.[138]

Perkins (far left) with Tab Hunter (far right), whom he dated
Perkins (far left) with Tab Hunter (far right), whom he dated

During their relationship, Paramount Pictures constantly targeted Perkins for their romance. Many people reported arguments between the studio heads and Perkins, many revolving around Hunter and their relationship. Hunter, however, notes that for many years this had no effect on how they treated each other within their relationship, calling it "a wonderful time in my life."[139] Despite this, Paramount succeeded in separating the couple in 1959, just before Psycho went into filming. Their power on Perkins was effective: after their separation, Perkins and Hunter didn't see each other more than twice in the thirty-three years until Perkins's death. Once was on the set of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean in 1971, the only film Perkins and Hunter starred in together, and another was at Perkins's home in 1982 to convince Perkins to play the villain in Hunter's upcoming film Lust in the Dust, costarring Divine. This didn't mean that Hunter or Perkins didn't attempt to contact each other, as Hunter remembered: "I had a hunch to call [Perkins after hearing he was very sick with AIDS] and touch base, and when I picked up the phone, I heard on the radio that he’d passed away." Hunter later told The Advocate that watching himself speak about Perkins's death was one of the most impactful moments of his 2015 documentary.[140]

In addition, he remembered Perkins as a "special part of my journey. If he was shooting a film, I’d pick up a car and drive out to see him and we’d spend time together... He wanted to be a movie star more than anything. I wanted that too, but not with the same kind of drive he had. We were such opposites - but then maybe that was the attraction."[141]

Friendships

Throughout his time in Hollywood, Perkins brushed shoulders and worked with a host of famous and legendary personalities, many of whom remembered him fondly. Tab Hunter, even after their infamous 1959 studio-sanctioned breakup, recalled Perkins with great fondness and admiration. As Jeffrey Schwarz, the director of his 2015 documentary, recounted, "There was definitely great affection between the two of them, even later in life."[142]

Anthony Perkins was friends with many of his female costars, including Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren

Among his costars and leading ladies, there was usually mutual endearment. Sophia Loren playfully remembered Perkins's dressing room for 1958's Desire Under the Elms as looking like a monk's cage, and she was often photographed smiling and laughing with him when they reunited in Europe a few years afterward.[143] In the press, Perkins discussed how his main objective of making 1959's Green Mansions was only to make Audrey Hepburn laugh every day, something photos prove he succeeded in. Elaine Aiken recalled that Perkins would often divert her attention away from her plate on "dates" so he could steal some of her food. "I don't think we ever discussed [him being gay, which Aiken knew about], it didn't matter," she recalled. "It didn't bother me. I just wanted a friend."[144] A similar bond was forged between Perkins and Venetia Stevenson, to whom he'd "unburden" himself. "[Perkins] would sleep over and tell me sad stories," Stevenson told Tab Hunter. "He was totally crazy about you."[145] She also mentioned to biographer Charles Winecoff, "We were real friends, and he would sleep over at my house [which was a block away from Perkins and Hunter's apartments] in the same bed. But there was never, ever any... well, you know. If you have a friend of the opposite sex who's gay, it's just in the air. You know what I mean?"[146]

Although he got on famously with women (just not for the reason many thought), he also harbored many friendships with men. Despite Alfred Hitchcock's infamous saying that "actors are cattle,"[147] he got along famously with Perkins on the set of Psycho. Hitchcock accepted many of Perkins's ideas for the character of Norman Bates, including the suggestion that he should nibble on candy corn. Even after Perkins moved to France, he was a common addition to Hitchcock's dinner table.[148] Perkins was also a favorite of Orson Welles, who he collaborated with four times.[149]

Perhaps the most famous (and fruitful) of his male friendships was with Stephen Sondheim, whom he briefly lived with for a time. Since penning Evening Primrose for Perkins, which would end up being the only project of Sondheim's Perkins actually starred in, Perkins became a muse to him, inspiring many musicals, where Sondheim casted him in all the leads. Perkins, however, turned all of these down, mostly due to scheduling conflicts.[150] When discussing Perkins and the process of writing The Last of Sheila together, Sondheim said, "I knew he had exactly my mind and take and he's much more into murder mysteries than I am, so we started to plot it. We spent a couple of months plotting it, and had such a good time we decided to go ahead and write it. I think the most fun I've ever had writing anything was writing [The Last of Sheila's] screenplay."[151] During this time, Sondheim was also helping Perkins through his mentally and physically taxing conversion therapy, often letting Perkins use him as a brace to walk after a strenuous day of electroshock. Sondheim was later named the godfather to both of Perkins's children.[152]

Political views

Anthony Perkins (back, far right) with Harry Belafonte (far left), Martin Luther King Jr. (center), and Coretta Scott King (front, far right), during the Selma march
Anthony Perkins (back, far right) with Harry Belafonte (far left), Martin Luther King Jr. (center), and Coretta Scott King (front, far right), during the Selma march

Perkins never specified his political views during his lifetime. However, he voiced his support for many left-wing causes, such as civil rights and feminism. Perkins took place in the 1965 Selma march for the right for African Americans to vote, and there are numerous photos and videos documenting his participation, most notably where he stands to the left of Martin Luther King Jr., who is being waved at by Harry Belafonte. He was one of the many performers at the "Stars for Freedom" rally during the marches who entertained King and the rest of the marchers, singing folk songs and giving brief speeches. He also continued onto Montgomery, the Alabama state capitol, the next day.[153][154][155][156]

Despite the fact that he remained mostly closeted for his entire life, Perkins did express his liking of LGBTQ+ rights occasionally. In an interview with Boze Hadleigh, he stated that the idea that marriage is primarily between a man and a woman was "archaic," and that, if having children was the sole reason to get married, "gays can adopt."[51] Even before getting diagnosed with the illness, Perkins also regularly volunteered at Project Angel Food, a non-profit organization which delivered meals to HIV and AIDS patients.[157]

Perkins promoted feminism as well.[51]

Religion

Although his mother had been born in a strict religious household, Perkins was not. The only discussions that arose about religion while growing up were spawned by Perkins, usually to disgust his mother. It was because of this that Perkins classified himself as an atheist throughout his lifetime, though he celebrated holidays like Christmas in a non-religious context.[1]

Perkins rarely discussed religion outside of his character's faiths (for example, he played a minister in Crimes of Passion). Whenever he did talk about it personally, it was almost always tied with how religion was often used as an excuse not to legalize same-sex marriage. Speaking to Boze Hadleigh later on in life, he said, "Common sense isn't really that common, particularly when religion enters the picture."[51]

Death

During the filming of Psycho IV: The Beginning, Perkins was undergoing treatment for facial palsy. According to his wife, the nurse who was treating him secretly took his blood samples and tested them for HIV. When the results came back positive, she shared them not with Perkins but with the tabloid magazine The National Enquirer, which aired an issue in March 1990 stating that Perkins had AIDS. Perkins himself learned he had the disease while standing in the grocery checkout line.[95]

Perkins hid the fact that he had AIDS from the public for two years, going in and out of hospitals under assumed names. During this time, his wife and children regularly tested; they all always came back negative. It wasn't until a few weeks before his death that he went public with the disease, although he'd been working on movies during the time of his illness. He died at his Los Angeles home on September 12, 1992, from AIDS-related[158][95][159] pneumonia at age 60.[160] In a statement prepared before his death, Perkins said, "I chose not to go public about [having AIDS' because, to misquote Casablanca, 'I’m not much good 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. 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."[159] Perkins never disclosed how he got the disease.

His urn, inscribed "Don't Fence Me In", is in an altar on the terrace of his former home in the Hollywood Hills.[161]

Legacy

Anthony Perkins's star on the Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures, located at 6821 Hollywood Blvd.
Anthony Perkins's star on the Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures, located at 6821 Hollywood Blvd.

Perkins is considered a cultural icon and an influential figure in film because of his long career, most notably spawning from his defining role as Norman Bates in Psycho. Countless references, spoofs, and documentaries have been made about the thriller and his homicidal character, and it's led many to pronounce the motion picture as the greatest horror film of all time.[162][163][164]

Perkins has also been considered an icon of the New York actors of Hollywood's Golden Age, often being compared to and spoken about in same breath as legendary performers Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and even James Dean, who he was once set to replace. He became a poster child for neurotic and shy men, many of whom felt outcasted and misplaced in average American society. Other times, he was the model for odd boys with murderous tendencies. Either way, Perkins was always praised for his heartfelt and dedicated performances, just like Brando, Clift, and Dean who preceded him.[159]

It wasn't just his professional life, no matter how revered, that became part of Perkins's legacy. He was outspoken about politically far-left causes, making him appealing to vintage and modern liberals. He was recognized by numerous minorities, including the ones he belonged to, as a tireless advocate for the causes he stood for, such as civil rights, feminism, and (even despite his own closeted nature) LGBTQ+ rights and same-sex marriage.[165][159]

His death from AIDS-related causes also greatly affected how he was remembered. Alongside Rock Hudson, Perkins is considered one of the most significant actors to have died from the disease.[166] There were countless tributes to him around the world, pouring in from news stations and average citizens. In New Zealand, Perkins was one of the many famous people honored in their national AIDS remembrance quilt in 1994.[167]

Anthony Perkins on the cover of LGBTQ+ magazine The Advocate, October 1, 1996
Anthony Perkins on the cover of LGBTQ+ magazine The Advocate, October 1, 1996

Although rumors had always persisted, Perkins wasn't officially classified as gay until a posthumous biography by Charles Winecoff entitled Split Image: the Life of Anthony Perkins was published in 1996. The book delves deep into Perkins's personal life and his battle with his sexuality while being a poster-child for heterosexual men, something the author claimed deeply tormented him.[1] The biography's publication led to Perkins being featured in numerous gay magazines, most notably Advocate.

In 2005, former-partner Tab Hunter released a memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential, in which he publicly came out as a gay man.[168] In the autobiography, he admits to his relationship with Perkins for the first time after having previously denied it to biographers. He detailed their three- to four-year affair, with its many ups and downs. "We were both drawn to each other because we were both ambitious young actors swimming in the Hollywood fishbowl," Hunter wrote, "where the waters are dark and murky and treacherous, especially if you've got a 'secret.'"[169] This returned public interest to him once more, this time as both a cinematic and gay icon.

Nearly a decade later, Perkins was portrayed by British actor James D'Arcy in the 2012 biographical drama Hitchcock, which starred Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, about the filming of Psycho. His homosexuality was never explicitly mentioned though heavily implied, adding to his LGBTQ+ legacy.

Three years afterwards, Hunter released a Jeffrey Schwarz-directed documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential, where he further elaborated as his life as a closeted movie star and surviving show-business. Perkins was a substantial addition in the film, whom Hunter said he had a "wonderful relationship with. I was comfortable with him. I did trust him." He also spoke for the first time about his reaction to Perkins's wife, children, and conversion therapy.[170]

In 2018, Zachary Quinto and J. J. Abrams announced that a new project was in the works. Entitled Tab and Tony ("hesitantly," as they later reported), the film would follow the Tab Hunter/Anthony Perkins relationship from Hunter's point of view, and was based on both Hunter's documentary and memoir.[171][172][173][174] Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning writer Doug Wright was attached to create the screenplay,[175] and even after Hunter's death a month after the announcement, Quinto announced plans to create the film were still in place.[176] In 2019, Allan Glaser, Tab Hunter's husband who's working on the film, made a positive update about the film's progress and stated Andrew Garfield was a possible candidate to play Perkins.[177]

For his work, Perkins received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures (6821 Hollywood Blvd.) and one for television (6801 Hollywood Blvd.).[178]

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes
1953 The Actress Fred Whitmarsh
1956 Friendly Persuasion Josh Birdwell Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Male
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1957 Fear Strikes Out Jim Piersall
1957 The Lonely Man Riley Wade
1957 The Tin Star Sheriff Ben Owens
1957 This Angry Age Joseph Dufresne Alternative title: The Sea Wall
1958 Desire Under the Elms Eben Cabot
1958 The Matchmaker Cornelius Hackl
1959 Green Mansions Abel
1959 On the Beach Lt. Commander Peter Holmes
1960 Tall Story Ray Blent
1960 Psycho Norman Bates International Board of Motion Picture Reviewers for Best Actor
Nominated—Bambi Award for Best International Actor
1961 Goodbye Again Philip Van der Besh Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor
David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actor
Nominated—Bambi Award for Best International Actor
1962 Phaedra Alexis
1962 Five Miles to Midnight Robert Macklin
1962 The Trial Josef K
1963 Le glaive et la balance Johnny Parsons English titles: The Sword and the Balance and Two Are Guilty
1964 Une ravissante idiote Harry Compton / Nicholas Maukouline English title: The Ravishing Idiot
1965 The Fool Killer Milo Bogardus
1966 Is Paris Burning? Sgt. Warren
1967 The Champagne Murders Christopher Belling French title: Le scandale
1968 Pretty Poison Dennis Pitt
1970 Catch-22 Chaplain Tappman Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
1970 WUSA Morgan Rainey Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
1970 How Awful About Allan Allan Colleigh Television film
1971 Someone Behind the Door Laurence Jeffries French title: Quelqu'un derrière la porte
1971 Ten Days' Wonder Charles Van Horn French title: La Décade prodigieuse
1972 Play It as It Lays B.Z. Mendenhall
1972 The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean Reverend LaSalle
1973 The Last of Sheila N/A Co-writer with Stephen Sondheim
Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay [Shared with Sondheim]
1974 Lovin' Molly Gid Frye
1974 Murder on the Orient Express Hector McQueen
1975 Mahogany Sean McAvoy
1978 Remember My Name Neil Curry
1978 First, You Cry Arthur Heroz Television film
1978 Les Misérables Javert Television film
1979 Winter Kills John Cerruti
1979 Twice a Woman Alfred Boeken Dutch title: Twee vrouwen
1979 The Black Hole Dr. Alex Durant
1980 North Sea Hijack Lou Kramer Alternative titles: ffolkes and Assault Force
1980 Deadly Companion Lawrence Miles Alternative title: Double Negative
1983 The Sins of Dorian Gray Henry Lord Television film
1983 Psycho II Norman Bates
1984 Crimes of Passion Reverend Peter Shayne
1986 Psycho III Norman Bates Also director
Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Actor
1988 Destroyer Robert Edwards
1988 Lucky Stiff N/A Director
1989 Edge of Sanity Dr. Henry Jekyll / Jack "The Ripper" Hyde
1990 Daughter of Darkness Anton / Prince Constantine Television film
1990 I'm Dangerous Tonight Professor Buchanan Television film
1990 Psycho IV: The Beginning Norman Bates Television film
1991 A Demon in My View Arthur Johnson
1992 The Naked Target El Mecano
1992 In the Deep Woods Paul Miller, P.I. Television film (released posthumously; final film role)

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1953 The Big Story Ralph Darrow Episode: "Robert Billeter of the Pendleton Times of Franklin, West Virginia"
1954 Armstrong Circle Theatre Philippe Episode: "The Fugitive"
1954 The Man Behind the Badge Pedro Episodes: "The East Baton Rouge Story", "The Case of the Narcotics Racket"
1955 General Electric Theater West Wind Episode: "Mr. Blue Ocean"
1955 Windows Benji Episode: "The World Out There"
1956 Kraft Television Theatre Willie O'Reilly Episode: "Home Is the Hero"
1956 Studio One Clyde Smith Episode: "The Silent Gun"
1956 Front Row Center Dexter Green Episode: "Winter Dreams"
1956 The Goodyear Playhouse Joey Episode: "Joey"
1966 ABC Stage 67 Charles Snell Episode: "Evening Primrose"
1968 Play of the Month Tommy Turner Episode: "The Male Animal"
1976 Saturday Night Live Himself – Host / Norman Bates / Various Episode: "Anthony Perkins/Betty Carter"
1983 For the Term of His Natural Life Reverend James North Television miniseries
1984 The Glory Boys Jimmy Television miniseries
1987 Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story Talleyrand Television miniseries
1990 Chillers Himself – Host 12 episodes
1990 The Ghost Writer Anthony Strack Unsold television pilot

Stage

Year Title Role Theatre Notes
1954–55 Tea and Sympathy Tom Lee Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City Broadway (replacement for John Kerr)
1957–59 Look Homeward, Angel Eugene Gant Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City Broadway
1960 Greenwillow Gideon Briggs Alvin Theatre, New York City Broadway
1962 Harold Harold Selbar Cort Theatre, New York City Broadway
1966–67 The Star-Spangled Girl Andy Hobart Plymouth Theatre, New York City Broadway
1970 Steambath Tandy Truck and Warehouse Theater, New York City Off-Broadway (also director)
1974 The Wager N/A Eastside Playhouse, New York City Off-Broadway (director)
1975–76 Equus Martin Dysart Plymouth Theatre, New York City Broadway (replacement for Anthony Hopkins)
1979–80 Romantic Comedy Jason Carmichael Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City Broadway

Discography

Year Album Label
1957 Orchestra Under the Direction of Martin Paich Epic Records
1958 On A Rainy Afternoon RCA Victor
1958 From My Heart... RCA Victor
1964 Anthony Perkins Pathé

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Further reading