I’ve had the late great Anthony Perkins on my mind a lot lately. September 12th marked the 16th anniversary of his death and whenever September 11th rolls around I’m reminded of Perkins’ wife Berry Berenson (and the mother of his two sons, Oz and Elvis Perkins) who was killed when the plane she was traveling on hit the World Trade Center. Thanks to an unfortunate twist of fate or terribly bad luck, Perkins and his family will always be linked to 9/11 in my mind.
Earlier this year I stumbled across some albums the actor recorded in the late 1950s and I’ve been listening to Perkins croon love songs to me all summer long. I had no idea that Perkins had a singing career before he became an actor and it has been fun discovering this aspect of his career.
Perkins’ recording career began in 1956 after he sang “A Little Love Goes a Long, Long Way” during a Goodyear TV Playhouse production of Joey. Executives at Epic Records were impressed with his vocal abilities and they offered him a recording contract, which led Perkins to record a self-titled album for Epic in 1957 under the name Tony Perkins. Afterward he recorded two albums for RCA called From My Heart (1958) and On a Rainy Afternoon (1958). When his role in William Wyler’s film Friendly Persuasion (1956) began receiving a lot of praise Perkins decided to pursue his acting career more seriously and he never recorded another album.
All of Anthony Perkins’ albums have a jazz influence. His first record was produced and arranged by West Coast jazz legend Marty Paich who’s better known for his work with artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Shorty Rogers and Mel Tormé. Perkins’ smooth vocal stylings make a lot of old standards like “Better Luck Next Time” and “Swinging on a Star” sound fresh and new to me. There’s even a hint of Chet Baker’s influence in some of his recordings. I think the actor has a really lovely singing voice and I’m not surprised that he had a hit single in 1957 with the song “Moon-Light Swim.”
I’ve upload a couple of my favorite tracks from Perkins’ 1958 record From My Heart for anyone who might be interested in giving them a listen:
– Swinging on a Star
– This is My Lucky Day
– The Careless Years
I first heard of Anthony Perkins after coming across pictures of him in various film books when I was a kid. My grandmother owned a wonderful coffee table book about actors and it had a listing for Anthony Perkins along with a photograph of him as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In the book’s brief write-up about Perkins it mentioned that the actor had lost his father when he was a child and that caught my eye at the time because I had lost my own father early in life as well.
After reading about Psycho I really wanted to see the film and I can clearly remember lots of arguments I had with my mother every time Psycho was about to play on television. As I’ve mentioned before, my parents allowed me to watch anything when I was growing up so I was exposed to a lot of movies before most kids my age but the only film that was off limits in my house was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. My mother had first seen Psycho in 1960 when it debuted and it absolutely terrified her. For months afterward my 19-year-old mother refused to take a shower or a bath unless her father (my grandfather) would stand by the bathroom door and protect her from Norman Bates. My mother decided she didn’t like horror films after seeing Psycho and she refused to watch them but somehow she ended up married to my father who was obsessed with horror movies and enjoyed reading Famous Monsters in Filmland while he was assembling monster model kits. This occasionally made things complicated at home since I inherited my dad’s love for horror.
When he died my mother didn’t try to interfere with my viewing habits. She knew that some of my fondest memories of my dad were of watching horror films with him and she respected that but Hitchcock’s Psycho remained off-limits for years. Even after my mother and grandparents took me to Universal Studios and we visited the infamous Psycho house there, I was still forbidden from watching the movie. Making the film taboo only made me want to see it more and I became slightly obsessed with Anthony Perkins.
The first Anthony Perkins’ film I can remember seeing was the bittersweet romantic drama Goodbye Again (1961), where a young Perkins tries to seduce a much older but still lovely Ingrid Bergman. I was completely taken with Perkin’s melancholy performance in that film and I can remember weeping for a good half hour when the movie ended with Perkins stumbling into the streets trying to reconcile his broken heart. After seeing him in Goodbye Again I came across Desire Under the Elms (1958) playing on TV one afternoon. In Desire Under the Elms Perkins’ gets to romance the beautiful Sophia Loren and even though my memories of the film are a little fuzzy, I can still remember a very sexy Perkins spending most of the movie shirtless and sweaty. He wasn’t a typical romantic leading man and I think that’s why I found him so appealing.
I was attracted to his dark good looks and I’ve always had a thing for tall lanky actors like James Stewart and Gregory Peck. Perkins’ awkwardness seemed reminiscent of countless adolescent boys I’d known so he was familiar and yet somehow alien. There was something incredibly charming about Perkins’ self-conscious behavior that made him very alluring to me. Unlike many other awkward adolescent boys, Perkins seemed more sensitive than most and often painfully aware of the world around him. He also appeared to be wound-up tight and ready to burst at any moment but I was drawn to that edgy aspect of his personality. In retrospect, I think his personal struggles with his sexuality and the complicated relationship he had with Hollywood due to being gay (or bisexual according to some) encouraged him to be extremely introspective and that came across to audiences when he was on screen.
When I finally had the opportunity to see Perkins in his infamous role as Norman Bates I was floored. Watching him transform from a guy who I’d like to date into a psychotic killer for the first time was mind-blowing. All the anger I had directed at my mother for not allowing me to see Psycho early on melted away. I felt incredibly lucky that I had been given the opportunity to become familiar with Perkins as a romantic leading man first. I think this helped me appreciate his performance as Norman Bates even more.
Psycho not only lived up to my high expectations, it exceeded them. It is a classic film with a well-earned reputation, but without Anthony Perkins’ unforgettable performance as Norman Bates, I’m not sure that the film would still maintain its power to shock audiences some 50 years after it was made. Hitchcock clearly saw that deliciously dark and edgy element in Perkins’ on-screen persona and the director fully exploited it in Psycho. Unfortunately for Perkins he would never be able to shake off the role of Norman Bates. For better or worse, Perkins never regained the trust of the movie-going public again and audiences would forever view him with a suspicious eye.
This October Universal Studios will be issuing a Special 2-Disc Edition of Psycho on DVD just in time for Halloween and Cinefantastique recently published an interview that Perkins did about his role in the film that you can read online. It’s a fascinating read if you’re a fan of the actor and the film.
Over the weekend I’m going to revisit one of my favorite and often overlooked Anthony Perkins’ films so you can expect to see another post about Perkins soon. I finally finished the piece a year later: The Fool Killer (1965)