Reissued, revised Anthony Perkins bio flings open Hollywood closet.
“Anthony Perkins: Split Image,” by Charles Winecoff; foreword by Michael Musto. (Advocate Books-Alyson, 2006) 472 pp., $16.95.
When “Split Image,” Charles Winecoff’s tell-all biography of late actor Anthony Perkins, first hit shelves in 1996, “many people dismissed it as a hatchet job designed to disparage the Perkins marriage and reclaim Tony as a gay icon,” Winecoff writes. “In fact, I had hoped to explore Tony’s life both as a gay man in the Hollywood of the 1950s and ’60s and as a husband and father.”
However, Perkins’ widow, Berry Berenson, ultimately declined to participate with Winecoff. Many of her late husband’s friends and family members followed suit. As a result, “Split Image” came across as one-sided and was both praised and criticized for dwelling on Perkins’ sordid sexual practices.
Much has changed in the decade since the bio’s release, and this is reflected in Advocate Books’ 10-year anniversary reissue, now titled “Anthony Perkins: Split Image.” For example, now that fellow actor Tab Hunter revealed his homosexuality and his relationship with Perkins, Winecoff is freer to discuss and corroborate matters. And Berry Berenson’s death on 9/11, almost nine years to the day after her husband died of AIDS she was on board the first plane steered into the World Trade Center adds another layer of tragedy to their complicated tale.
As Winecoff amply chronicles, Anthony Perkins lived a surprisingly open gay life in the ’50s and ’60s. His relationship with Tab Hunter was an open secret. Those “in the know” often smirked at the actors’ attempts to cover their tracks.
For six years, Perkins and actor/choreographer Grover Dale lived as a couple, but in the early ’70s the two men married women within two weeks of other. Always a big believer in psychoanalysis, Perkins felt he was ready for a
heterosexual lifestyle, thanks to the “help” of longtime analyst Mildred Newman. With little fanfare, he wed photographer/socialite Berry Berenson, a devoted fan who’d kept a scrapbook of the actor since she was a teenager. The couple had two sons, Osgood and Elvis, and superficially all seemed well, but Perkins kept showing up in adult bookstores and had numerous same-sex flings while acting abroad and on tour.
Equally interesting are the other women in Perkins’ life. Although he claimed in 1983 that his mother was “unnaturally close” to him, little supporting evidence of this exists, and Winecoff considers it to be publicity material for “Psycho II.”
Forward thinking and self-sufficient, Janet Perkins largely raised Tony as a single mother when her husband, noted actor Osgood Perkins, died suddenly of heart failure at 45. While she shipped her son off to Massachusetts boarding schools, “Jane” may have been struggling with her own sexual identity. She ended up living with a younger woman, writer Michaela O’Harra, for 20 years, and was never very supportive of her son.
On screen, women posed a problem for Perkins, too. After the success of “Psycho” (which forever altered Tony’s burgeoning image as a romantic lead), his career began its inexorable downslide. Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn overwhelmed his performances in “Desire Under the Elms” and “Green
Mansions,” respectively. Acting successes like the baseball movie “Fear Strikes Out” came at great personal cost and rarely equaled box office success. Fed up with Hollywood, he increasingly looked to Broadway and lower-quality European films to escape portraying endless versions of Norman Bates.
“Split Image” also contains a fair amount of dirt on Perkins’ private life, although most of the divulgers lurk behind pseudonyms. And there’s nothing quite like some of the allegations about Perkins’ sexual habits to spice up a flagging chapter. While a lot of Tony’s turn-ons centered on voyeurism, his arrival at his alma mater (for an honorary degree) in the company of a young blond hunk whom onlookers dubbed “the Palomino Stallion.” The two men stayed in a hotel room “strewn with leather wear and a variety of kinky sexual aids.”
By the end of this book, readers will undoubtedly wish that Anthony Perkins had laid the specter of Norman Bates to rest and found more fulfillment in both his career and personal life.
Charles Winecoff certainly succeeds in showing Perkins as a conflicted, passive-aggressive, highly intellectual introvert who sought control by undermining others’ poise and self-assurance. “Split Image” is a biography that flings wide open a Hollywood closet left ajar. One cannot fault Winecoff’s meticulous (bordering on obsessive) research and relentless desire to understand the man he regarded as “my doppelganger my scary familiar.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, May 26, 2006.