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Toronto Star (24/Oct/1992) - Anthony Perkins



Anthony Perkins

I was shocked to hear about Anthony Perkins' death a few weeks back. Mostly because I didn't even know he was sick, but also because he's been a fixture in my life as far back as I can remember.

It's Perkins, you see, who ruined life for every Norman on the planet. Perkins and Alfred Hitchcock, anyway.

A month doesn't go by without some clever fellow reacting to my introduction thusly: "Norman? As in Norman Bates?"

I don't blame Perkins — the role in Hitchcock's Psycho probably didn't seem like an iconmaker at the time. And the poor guy suffered enough because of the role; for the next three decades, he never managed to shake the image of the ultimate mama's boy.

His last film, which goes direct to video stores this week, is yet another Perkins-as-psycho thriller: A Demon In My View. This was no way to leave us.

People have forgotten that the guy was quite an actor in his early days. Although the tics and starts of Norman Bates finally overwhelmed him (see anything made after the '70s), Perkins started out by alternating light comedy with heavy drama, and turned in some very memorable (and non-threatening) performances.

In the baseball biopic Fear Strikes Out, he played the tortured Jimmy Piersall with blunt realism, making Piersall's battle with mental illness almost palpable to audiences. Some of Perkins' scenes with screen father Karl Malden are still pretty unsettling.

In the feature version of the stage play Tall Story, Perkins hung back and let Jane Fonda (in her screen debut) establish herself as a lovelorn college student hung up on him. The chemistry was pretty good and Perkins even made a convincing basketball player.

And in Orson Welles' film version of Kafka's The Trial, he held his own as the ambiguously accused Joseph K. against the likes of Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Welles himself. A difficult accomplishment.

When he finally returned to the Bates Motel 23 years later for Psycho II, he was fully aware of Norman Bates's tragic appeal and turned it all the way up. The subsequent sequels weren't so hot, but the first film will forever remain a singular example of lightning in a bottle — the ideal collaboration between actor, director and screenwriter.

Perkins ultimately used Norman to get a shot at directing; he helmed Psycho III in 1986 and Lucky Stiff, a cannibal comedy in which he does not appear, two years later. He wasn't too bad at it.