Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins

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Charles Winecoff’s biography on the late, great slasher icon Anthony Perkins reveals the actor was much more complex, more troubled, and sometimes more crazed than any of the characters he portrayed. Now, out of respect to Perkins, I’m not going into all of the lurid details of his private life, but I will mention his drug use when it is relevant to his genre films.

When Anthony Perkins first arrived in Hollywood he dated Vampira and was groomed by the studios to be the next James Dean after Dean’s death. That didn’t work so studio bosses tried to make Perkins into an Elvis clone, a dual threat teen idol singer and actor. After Psycho made Perkins into a screen icon, the actor fled to Europe to escape Hollywood type casting. Despite working with legends like Orson Wells and Ingrid Bergman, Perkins could never duplicate his Psycho success and his film career began to flounder. The time in Europe stripped away Perkins’ boy-next-door charm which left his acting stiff and robotic.

Psycho II was Perkins big return to glory but he almost didn’t get the role because he demanded one million dollars to reprise Norman Bates. Universal was ready to give the part to Christopher Walken (!) so Perkins backed away from his high price tag. Another interesting bit of casting news revealed in Split Image is producers wanted Jamie Lee Curtis (double !) to play Marion Crane’s niece but Perkins and director Richard Franklin fought for Meg Tilly. During filming, however, Perkins would insult Tilly and tried to have her fired.

The sad truth about Perkins’ performances in Psycho II, Crimes of Passion, Psycho III, and Edge of Sanity is they were inspired by the drugs he ingested before takes. All of those nervous ticks and facials twitches were caused by either speed or amyl nitrate. Other times Perkins smoked pot and took LSD. While the drugs may have given his performance a dangerous edge, they also retarded his decision making abilities which severely damaged his directing skills. Psycho III and Lucky Stiff both suffered because Perkins was getting bombed out of his skull before he stepped on set to shoot a scene.

After he was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 1990′s, Perkins agreed to any part he could get his hands on in an attempt to leave his family financially stable after his death. For The Destroyer (a.k.a. The Shadow of Death) Perkins replaced Roddy McDowall on short notice, took an immediate dislike to costar Clayton Rohner, and ranted about Rohner’s poor acting performance to anyone that would listen. A Demon in My View and In the Deep Woods were the last films Perkins made before the illness left him bedridden and unable to breath. He had agreed to several other projects (a remake of the Mummy being the highest profile job) but died shortly after agreeing to appear in them.

Charles Winecoff’s Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins is an amazing read. This sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but often shocking account of Anthony Perkins life reveals more than you ever wanted to know about the first slasher star. Slasher fans will enjoy the stories concerning the making of Psycho and Perkins other slasher films. Interested fans shouldn’t have too much trouble tracking down a copy as a tenth anniversary expanded edition was published back in 2006. The new chapters deal with the death of Berry Perkins, Anthony’s widow, who was murdered by terrorist on 911.

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5 Responses to “ Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins ”

  1. Wow, some intriguing facts there. Sounds like a really interesting read… I’m ordering it.

  2. I guess the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis would have made sense with Psycho 2 as she had become the scream queen and her mother in real life was Marion Crane, but Meg Tilly is excellent in the role so glad it worked out the way it did. Sounds like a cool book!

  3. Loved the book, but didn’t know there was an updated version. I know I must go get it, but wonder if I’m ready for the inevitable depressing events that seem to plague the late Mr. Perkins and his legacy.

  4. I trying to imagine Christopher Walken as Norman Bates.

  5. Perkins was such a talented and natural actor when he was young. His performance in “Fear Strikes Out” was absolutely brilliant, far more so I thought, than in “Psycho.” He was good in the latter but magnificent in “FSO.” He should have won an Oscar for it. I agree that his later performances became stilted and he seemed to lose his natural acting ability. A sad decline as the years went by. I remember watching him in “How Awful About Allan” in 1970 (on television) and I was very disappointed. The actor who, just 10 years earlier had made Norman Bates a household name and had regaled us with his wonderfully charming performances in “The Matchmaker,” “Friendly Persuasion,” “Fear Strikes Out,” and even “Goodbye Again” (wherein he was at his most appealing), seemed stiff and uncomfortable playing the bland Allan Collie (I think that was his character’s name). It was obvious he had lost his earlier charm and almost effortless abilities. I wasn’t aware he had developed a drug problem and I always thought it was odd that he married. I think everyone in Hollywood was aware of his homosexuality, something with which he was sadly unable to come to terms. I don’t think one decides they are no longer homosexual, and of course he announced he had become straight (or overcome homosexuality) in 1970 or thereabouts. Obviously he had not “become straight” and according to the book, continued his homosexual lifestyle during his marriage. In any event he was multi-talented (his early acting, singing – yes singing – and piano playing). The singing and piano playing were quite good and many people are surprised to hear that he cut a few record albums. Anthony Perkins was indeed one of a kind and probably had perhaps, one of the most unusual personas ever to grace the screen. His physical attractiveness (at least in the early years of his career) also added greatly to his entire package.

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