A few thoughts about Anthony Perkins

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.

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.

Norman Bates

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)

14 thoughts on “A few thoughts about Anthony Perkins

  1. It’s funny, I first really remember Perkins from “Tall Story”, with Jane Fonda, curiously pictured below. I wasn’t allowed to see “Psycho” yet, and “Tall Story” played as a throwaway on an independent channel, so I watched it – I had a thing for Miss Fonda early on. It was just a bit of a basketball fluff movie, not very interesting, but I realized I’d seen the tall guy before on a coupla films – Anthony Perkins. I always liked his work, altho he was in some pretty weak stuff towards the end, but I also got a weird vibe from him sometimes, like he was completely unreal, an automaton. “Psycho” had that air of unreality from him, and it worked for me, altho maybe I’m the only one who saw it that way. His old man, Osgood Perkins, was in the silent comedy “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em”, with Louise Brooks – I just watched that a week ago.

  2. I recently introduced a younger cousin of mine to Psycho. He loved it. I never saw Perkins in as many other roles as I would have liked. I want to catch up on more of his other work. I had no clue that Perkins ever recorded any music. I’ll always remember him as Norman Bates. He really owned that role. He could seem to be kind one minute and sinister the next. It’s one of those iconic screen roles.

  3. Thanks for uploading those tunes. They’re the swingin’est! I’ve always liked Tony Perkins and have meant to read his bio for a while but there just isn’t time. Perkins’ performance in Crimes of Passion is one that replays on the spinning CD-ROM of my brain (“Sing Hallelulah, come on get happy…”) and I’ve been meaning to revisit On the Beach recently.

    I’m tall but not lanky – could the teenage Kimberly maybe have had half a heart for me?

  4. Vanwall – I’ve never seen Tall Story but I usually avoid sports movies. You’ve made me curious about it though only because I like the idea of watching a young Perkins & Fonda together. I’d like to see one of Osgood Perkins’s films too. I read somewhere that Brooks said he was the best actor she ever worked with. It’s a shame that he died so young.

    Keith – I hope you get the chance to see some of his other films. He’s an interesting actor but I think most people know him as Norman Bates instead of as Anthony Perkins. He really owned the role of Norman Bates.

    Richard – I’m glad you enjoyed the tunes! I haven’t seen Crimes of Passion in years but what a movie (my memory tells me Perkins’ preacher was the best thing about it). I should revisit it again along with On the Beach too. It might make for an interesting double feature. Totally creepy and scary Perkins vs. totally sweet and enduring Perkins.

    p.s. If you had a cool Vespa scooter like the one Perkins’ is driving above, you’d have my whole heart, Richard! 😉

  5. Perkins is good in so many things but for some reason Mahogany comes instantly to mind; his rapport with Diana Ross (“You look like death warmed over”) is priceless. The Trial is also worth your time but I dig him in ffolkes, too, as Roger Moore’s nemesis (and Michael Parks’ boss). I can’t say Edge of Sanity is a particularly good movie but it must be seen to be believed. And of course Pretty Poison is right up there with Psycho.

  6. Richard – Why do I find the idea of being snapped up by a Russian circus strangely appealing?

    Arbogast – I’ve seen all the films you mentioned except Edge of Sanity. I’ve even written a bit about Mahogany and Pretty Poison. In all honesty I sort of avoided a lot of Perkins later horror films, including the Psycho sequels but when I finally started catching up to them I was surprised that they actually had a few interesting moments. Maybe I should give Edge of Sanity a look to.

  7. I’d do Richard in a second. I watched On the Beach again recently and it’s just a movie that underwhelms me. I’ve always liked Perkins but his accent is ever so slight and comes and goes throughout. Still, he does a nice job.

  8. Damn it, Jonathan! Take your flirting to your own blog. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to put with that kind of stuff from Richard here but I don’t want to have to read about you two and your escapades as well. 😉

    I can’t remember Perkins’ bad accent in On the Beach but I don’t remember a lot about the film in general. I saw it about 20 years ago. I do remember thinking his character was very sweet in the movie though. Maybe there’s a good reason the film has faded from my memory.

  9. Kimberly, I’ll keep my flirting to Bill from now on. With Perkins, his accent isn’t bad, it’s just barely there. I think it was done on purpose, people in 59 not being as familiar with a thick Australian accent like they are today. He is very sweet in the movie though. I think he and Peck do the best work in the movie. Astaire comes off as someone trying really hard to “act” in the movie and doesn’t come off as well. Still, underwhelming or not, I kind of like it, probably more to do with my obsession with all things atomic than anything else.

  10. Thanks so much Rodney! I’m glad you liked the post and I hope you enjoy the Perkins’songs.

    I hope to write some more about one of my favorite Perkins’ films soon.

  11. Tony and his wife Berry, two of the nicest people, they made me feel like family. I think about them all the time, God Bless.

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