Jump to: navigation, search

St. Petersburg Times (09/Jun/1990) - He's 'Psycho'



He's 'Psycho'

The movies couldn't have staged it better.

It was a dark and stormy night before the grand opening Thursday of Universal Studios Florida. So with the backdrop of a noisy downpour and flashing lightning, enter Psycho star Anthony Perkins, who is staying at the Peabody Hotel here while participating in some Alfred Hitchcock hoopla for the Universal opening.

Actually, Perkins' visit to Orlando will total about 30 days, because he is also starring in Psycho IV: The Beginning, a cable TV movie for Showtime that began production this week at the new Universal facilities.

The lanky actor has scared the showering habit out of filmgoers for nearly 30 years now, with his memorable portrayal of mama's boy and "hospitable" motel owner Norman Bates in Hitchcock's black-and-white classic. But Perkins wasn't exactly mingling in the hotel the night I drove over to have dinner there.

No, in fact, the actor who is forever linked with one of film's most famous nut case characters did something rather strange: He begged off from a dinner party for 15, after showing up one hour and 14 minutes late.

At Capriccio, the hotel's pricey pasta place, the maitre d' let it slip to me as I sat dining with a few friends that there was a Perkins group all set up for 9 p.m. Wednesday at the very next table to mine.

Imagine how thrilled I was to think that I had unsuspectingly stumbled on Perkins and would be able to observe the actor with the moody, introspective reputation as he dined with acquaintances.

The setting was too, too perfect, as I said, for the Psycho peeping I planned to do. The foul weather resembled that night in the 1960 thriller when Marion Crane, played saucily by Janet Leigh, unwittingly drove to the Bates Motel and checked into cabin No. 1, thus changing screen horror forever. Marion's shower, where she is stabbed to death by a demented Bates, is a three-minute scene that required one week of shooting, a 40-person crew and 78 different camera angles. It's considered a classic in cinema.

But back to Perkins, who was 27 when he made Psycho and is now 58. What is he really like when he relaxes over dinner? Well, he never did. After letting a tableful of Showtime executives fidget with their bread sticks for more than an hour, Perkins showed up, his hair on end like a whisk broom. He stood at the head of the table, mumbling.

Wearing a tight white T-shirt with fluorescent colors that read Stephen Store and baggy gray trousers, he nervously eyed his dinner companions from behind his steel-rimmed spectacles.

"I'm going to go to bed," he said unapologetically with a snake-quick smile. "See ya later."

Then he turned on his heels and whizzed out of Capriccio so fast that he looked as if he was being propelled on a skateboard.

The next day, Showtime publicist Michael Houbrick said that Perkins is a private person, and while he'll do some dinners, appearances and interviews, he is basically shy.

Indeed, Perkins looked petrified when I turned on CBS This Morning and watched him being interviewed by jolly Mark McEwen during the Universal gala.

McEwen wasn't able to extract much from Perkins, but the actor, wearing a khaki-colored suit and bright red acrylic socks, complimented Universal for "the lovely care in which they created these (Psycho) sets." Perkins called his latest Psycho effort a "prequel" and explained that the cable movie would trace the early years of Bates using flashbacks with E.T. star Henry Thomas playing not-normal Norman as a teen-ager.

In conclusion of the CBS interview, Perkins said that Hitchcock was a "gentleman of taste who suggested violence in his films."

Perkins added that Hitchcock preferred not to be explicit, referring to the shower scene when Marion's blood (Hitchcock used chocolate syrup) is shown swirling down the drain. Hitchcock used this imaginative approach rather than show the gore of Marion's stab wounds.

After his live CBS appearance, Perkins joined a host of celebrities, from screen legend Charlton Heston to superstar Michael J. Fox, for the Universal ribbon-cutting, which was hosted by movie mogul Steven Spielberg.

On an outdoor stage, Perkins sat with Leigh from Psycho, Tippi Hedren from Hitchcock's 1963 The Birds and Jimmy Stewart, who was the leading man in Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958).

Together, about 9 a.m., they placed Psycho memorabilia in Spielberg's 25-year time capsule — a butcher knife, a shower curtain and a towel set with the Bates Motel logo.

Later, Perkins didn't show for a midmorning press conference outside the Alfred Hitchcock theater where film clips and a gift shop (the shower curtain sells for $19.95; the towel set for $32.95) are housed. Instead Stewart, Hedren and Leigh, all dripping in 90-plus heat, arrived like the show biz troupers they are.

Because of the intense heat, the trio answered but one question each and then departed through the crowds on golf carts. Leigh, dabbing at her melting makeup with a tissue as she sat in the cart, told me that the filming of Psycho IV took her by total surprise. "I would have never thought it would have come to four installments," she said of Psycho, which had a successful sequel in 1983 but was a box office bomb when Psycho III, which Perkins directed, came out in 1986.

Perkins, who attended Rollins College in Winter Park from 1951-53, was nominated for best supporting actor in 1956 for Friendly Persuasion, but as critic David Thompson wrote in A Biographical History of Film, "he's an inconsistent worker and far from a star."

Now with Psycho IV, Perkins is back as the mentally disturbed Norman — but in a less-illustrious cable movie. Showtime's Houbrick says that the cable network will own exclusive rights for three years after the film is shown on TV in November, but that it will be available on videotape in Europe.

As for what Bates is doing still alive in the first place, many Psycho buffs are probably wondering. In the 1987 NBC movie Bates Motel, Norman had "checked out" permanently. In that version, Norman appears briefly before he dies and is played by actor Kurt Paul.

Visitors to Universal are certainly given plenty of lively moments of Psycho. In addition to the 3-D theater where Hitchcock fans can watch birds fly in their face, there is a re-creation of the Psycho house atop a 22-foot hill and the 12-unit Bates motel.

Neither of these Psycho attractions are open for touring because the buildings are fake, and will be used only for exteriors for Psycho IV. "After the filming," says Showtime's Houbrick, "the facades, which are on stilts, will be moved to another part of the park." The yellow house and motel are next to the Hard Rock Cafe, both visible from Kirkman Road.

The best Psycho memories are found in the air-conditioned, 258-seat theater. Here a confident, tan Perkins is shown on two screens, talking about the movie (he quips that the shower scene made thousands of people switch to sponge baths) that to date has typecast him so much so that he's a recognizable screen personality from just that one fright flick.

Perkins tells the audience, "I didn't do it!"

And indeed, this is yet another case (and perhaps the biggest) of where Perkins didn't show. He explained that another actor stood in for him during the Psycho shower scene, and that he was in New York rehearsing a play.