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HE WAS NO PSYCHO WHEN IT CAME TO BRINGING UP BABIES

By GUY FLATLEY

In this 1977 New York Times interview (and an earlier one I did for The Los Angeles Times), Anthony Perkins struck me as modest, smart and amusing. But what impressed me most was the pleasure he took in his role as the father of two young boys and the perfect mate for budding actress Berry Berenson, who had just been cast opposite Perkins in a quirky new movie.

Fifteen years after this interview took place, Perkins, who was rumored to have had affairs with Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Stephen Sondheim and Rudolf Nureyev, died of complications from AIDS. On 9/11/01, his widow was killed on the terrorist-controlled crash of American Airlines Flight 11. --GF


Tony Perkins is a big boy now. Finally, at the liberating age of 45, the lanky actor with the piercing eyes has shaken the post-pubescent sickee-next-door image that he virtually patented in such films as “Fear Strikes Out,” “This Angry Age,” “Phaedra,” “Pretty Poison,” “Play It as It Lays” and – especially – “Psycho.”

In “Remember My Name,” the film he just completed for Alan Rudolph, the director of “Welcome to L.A.,” he will function as a mature married man – so mature and so married, in fact, that he can boast of two wives. Wife number one is Geraldine Chaplin, whom he abandons in New York, and wife number two is Berry Berenson, whom he seduces in Los Angeles.

In a way, this boldly bigamous adventure is only natural, because – in real life – Berry Berenson is Perkins’s first, and only, wife. And, as it so often happens in reel life, the blonde, blue-eyed newcomer could well become a star overnight, thanks to the penchant of Robert Altman, the film’s producer, for thrusting gifted but untested performers into the center of the cinematic action.

“Altman was having trouble casting the role of my second wife,” says Perkins, munching a bagel as he speaks into the phone from his new home in Los Angeles, “and when he described the part to me, I said, ‘That sounds like my wife.’ To which he immediately remarked, ‘Oh? I’d like to meet her. Bring her up to see me.’ Well, we didn’t have a babysitter, so we had to bring both of our kids along. Altman took one look at Berry and said, ‘Your right eye is lower than your left, but you’ll be fine for this part.’ Then I saw him taking a bead on my kids and, for a second, I thought, ‘Oh, no! He’s going to put Osgood and Elvis in this movie, too!’”

For once, Altman curbed the instinct for star-making that has served him so well as director and settled instead for just the senior pair of Perkinses. The head of the family was nervous enough, as it was. “Every once in a while,” Perkins recalls, “I’d turn around and catch Berry looking at me the way she looks at me in the kitchen at home, and I’d think, ‘Does she know they’re shooting this?’ Afterward, I’d say to her, ‘You may not have the chance to do this scene again, because I don’t think they’re going to do a covering shot.’ And she would say, ‘What do you mean, covering shot?’”

In the distance, a thud could be heard, followed by a sudden wail. “Hold on,” gulps Perkins, “one of my kids has bumped his head.”

A shower of sobs soon subsides and he is back. “Two of my kids bumped their heads,” he explains.

Despite his abundance of mates, Perkins remains childless in “Remember My Name.” “I’m one of those guys who changes his life. I’m an architect in New York, but then I run to California and hide out as a construction worker. That’s when I meet Berry, and we get married. But Geraldine won’t put up with this, so she comes to California to bust it up.”

Would it be cheating to tell if she accomplishes her vengeful mission? “We don’t know which wife I end up with. That will be decided in the cutting room, which is characteristic of the way Altman and Rudolph work. They want a story to tell itself.”

There is a story Perkins is keen to tell on screen, one which he is writing with Stephen Sondheim, his collaborator on the fiendishly tricky thriller “The Last of Sheila.” “It’s called ‘The Chorus Girl Murder Case,’ and it’s a blend of Bob Hope’s ‘They Got Me Covered,’ ‘The Ipcress File,’ and ‘Cloak and Dagger.’ No, actually it’s more of a cross between ‘Stagedoor Canteen’ and ‘Lady of Burlesque.’”

Nor would Perkins spurn an invitation to direct “The Chorus Girl Murder Case” – or any other intriguing property. “Everyone told me that if I spent some time in Hollywood and talked with enough producers, an offer to direct some movie would inevitably come along,” he says. “And, believe it or not, I think I’ve got something in the works for next summer. Of course, there are a hundred unfinished film projects for every broken light on Hollywood Boulevard.”

Even if he fails to flower into another Altman or Rudolph, Mr. Perkins can surely look forward to a multitude of acting opportunities that will not force him to simulate coltish depravity. “The very fact that I’m so much older now helps me escape the image of the neurotic kid in ‘Psycho,’ says Perkins, his voice tinged with relief.

“Neurotic kid…those words seem to go together. Now, neurotic leading man…that’s much less of a heavy trip.”