Perkins made his Broadway debut playing a gay teenager in 1953’s Tea and Sympathy and later made the unfortunate choice of turning down the Tony Curtis role in Some Like It Hot because he had already done a drag movie that year, The Matchmaker. But it wasn’t until he appeared as a proto-homo momma’s boy psycho killer in 1960 that he became a household name and forever associated with scary desert motels and proto-homo psycho killers. Though he became like the Elvis Presley of France after the release of 1961’s Goodbye Again co-starring Ingrid Bergman, and though he made a number of films in the 60s and 70s, including 8 French films and Mahogany with Diana Ross, Perkins would never live down the persona he created in Norman Bates.
The Evidence Mom Ignored
Occupations: theater and film actor and director; occasional quiz show contestant: 7 out of 10 gay points
Appearance: always trim and pretty, Perkins cultivated an East Coast college boy sort of appeal, and kept his style pretty conservative throughout his life. 5/10
Demeanor: no noticeable lisp but always on the “sensitive” side of the masculinity spectrum; couldn’t throw a ball to save his life, as evidenced by his performance in 1957’s Fear Strikes Out, playing real life baseball player Jimmy Piersall, who later lamented that he had to be “played by a fag” in his own biopic. 6/10
Beards: after having affairs with the cream of the closet crop, including Hudson, Hunter, Rudolph Nureyev and Stephen Sondheim, Perkins had a gay-shame mid-life crisis and slept with co-star Victoria Principal in 1971 (reportedly his first time ever with a woman) and subsequently married model/photographer Berry Berenson in 1973. One assumes they had some sort of “understanding” because he managed to contract HIV sometime in the mid- to late 80s. (see footnote). 9/10
Minstrelsy: Tony wasn’t the minstrel kind, and the worst offense here may just have been appearing in Mahogany without knowing what a cult-camp classic that would become. Even when he appeared on game shows (see Password clip below) he maintained a fairly iron-closet guise of The Sensitive Romantic Straight Guy. 3/10
Total: 30 pts – Low Burn (see scale)
It’s not so difficult to see how Tony, in the vein of Montgomery Clift, could have slid under the tabloid radar for most of his career, dining out on his looks and maintaining a public persona quiet enough to keep people guessing. Still: He’d probably never pass for straight in this day and age, but then what do we know. Zac Efron’s managed to.
Below, two special YouTube clips to tide you over until our next installment: Elton John.
1. In this scene from 1959’s On the Beach, we can start to imagine what it might have been like for Rock to lie in bed beside Tony when he was in his svelte, non-psycho, twink-ish prime. Imagine him saying the line, “Oh Mary, you’ll never know,” with just a slightly different intonation.
2. This clip from the gameshow Password in 1963 shows Tony baffled by his lady partner’s clues for the word “snuggle” and being goaded by the host with ho-boy suggestiveness when he says that he recently finished shooting a film with Sofia Loren. Of course, the clip also makes clear why the girls all drooled over him, his partner included.
footnote: In a too-hugely-tragic-to-be-true coda, Perkins’ widow Berry Berenson died aboard American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11th.
Mom Thought He Was Straight? Part 1: Charles Nelson Reilly
Mom Thought He Was Straight? Part 3: Elton John
The Scale of Homo-Obviousness
Cosmo, Girl? The New Gay Minstrelsy
Zac Efron May Or May Not Be Shirtless and Kissing Another Boy, But No Matter What, He’ll Always Be a Fag to Us
Actor Profile: Anthony Perkins (Angelfire)
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