Jump to: navigation, search

Norma Bates

publicity still of Norma Bates

Norma Bates is a character in Psycho (1960) and was voiced by photographer Paul Jasmin and actresses Virginia Gregg and Jeanette Nolan.

Actor Anthony Perkins also assumes the role of Norma in the film, along with actresses Mitzi Koestner, Margo Epper and Anne Dore.

In the 2013 US television series, Bates Motel, Norma's middle name is given as Louise.


Norma Bates was a domineering mother who emotionally abused her only son, Norman, into believing that all sex was sinful.

When Norman was a teenager, she began dating Joe Considine, who convinced her to sell farmland she owned and to open a small motel near Fairvale, California. Later, when she tells Norman that they plan to marry, he becomes insanely jealous and poisons them both with strychnine, making it appear that pair killed themselves in a suicide pact.

Norman, who is suffering from dissociative identity disorder, disinters Norma's corpse from her grave and mummifies it. Alone in their house, Norman pretends she is still alive, holding two-way conversations with her and occasionally dressing up in her clothes.[1]

On the rare occasions that a lone female traveller checks into the motel, Norman's attraction to them causes the "Norma" part of his personality to become dominant and, dressed as his mother and in an apparent fugue state, he kills them before disposing their bodies in a nearby swamp.


The central conceit of Psycho is that Norma is very much alive and is responsible for the murders of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), and that Norman is her doting son who covers up her crimes, for fear she will be locked away. Speaking to Marion Crane in the parlour scene, Norman says of his mother, "She needs me. It's not as if she were a maniac, a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?"

Norma is revealed as Norman

In order to make Norma seem real until the end of the film — where it is revealed that "she" is really Norman — Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano employed a number of tactics to wrong-foot the audience, including:

  • Norma's voice is a composite of several people: Virginia Gregg, Jeanette Nolan and Anthony Perkins' friend Paul Jasmin. Jasmin, a photographer and painter who sometimes amused his friends by putting on a shrill, shrewish voice and pretending to be an old woman, was recommend to Hitchcock by Perkins. The director hired Jasmin to read "Norma"'s lines from off-camera so that Perkins could react to them and time his own lines accordingly. In post-production, sound recordists Waldon O. Watson and William Russell used recordings of Gregg and Nolan reading the same lines to create a sound mix that constantly shifted between the three voices.
  • Margo Epper as Norma
    For the shower scene, Norma was played by actress Anne Dore and by stuntwoman Margo Epper. The then 24-year-old Epper was a keen horse rider and costume designer Rita Riggs later recalled, "Margo, because of her horsemanship, is long and lean and had almost a male set of hips. Of all the people possible, she came closest to having Tony’s square shoulders and thin hips."[2] Despite carefully backlighting Epper's head to avoid her features being visible, makeup artist Jack Barron had to resort to blackening her face after the initial takes of the scene revealed too many of her facial features.[2]
  • For the murder of Arbogast, Hitchcock used an high overhead camera shot to avoid showing Norma's face. To further trick the audience, Norma was played in this scene by dwarf actress Mitzi Koestner.

Speaking in 1986, when he reprised the role of Norman Bates for Psycho III, Perkins told the Boston Globe newspaper:[3]

"He didn't do it, you know," he said, referring to the multiple murders that have occurred during the three "Psycho" movies. It's as if he's actually charged with defending a client.

"He is a true split personality," he said. "Mother did it. Unquestionably."

To emphasize the difference between Norman Bates and his mother, Perkins has always insisted that another person play the mother character.

"Mother is always someone else," he said. "She's played by someone else, and it all started with Hitchcock. On the day we were scheduled to shoot the shower scene, I had to go to New York. Hitch hired someone else to be there with the knife. That was the inadvertent beginning of the two, separate characters. The little old woman who killed Martin Balsam on the stairs was a tiny, little woman, who looked very much like Mammy Yokum. It's very important to keep them separate."


The character of Norma Bates has appeared in most of the sequel films and in the Gus Van Sant remake, as well as the two television series titled Bates Motel:

Film Frames

Selection of film frames: Norma Bates (character) in Psycho (1960) (click image to view larger version or refresh thumbnails)...

Image Gallery

Images from the Hitchcock Gallery (click to view larger versions or search for all relevant images)...

Notes & References

  1. Wikipedia: Dissociative identity disorder
  2. 2.0 2.1 Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990) by Stephen Rebello, page 113
  3. Boston Globe (29/Jun/1986) - He's Norman again and always will be