'Psycho' star trapped in Bates motel The Hitchcock hit typecast Anthony Perkins. Could the remake's success mean a similar fate for Vince Vaughn?

December 06, 1998|By CHRIS KALTENBACH | CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN STAFF

The suits at Universal are doubtless hoping that lightning will strike twice with "Psycho," director Gus Van Sant's much-hyped remake of the Alfred Hitchcock groundbreaker that earned a ton of money for Paramount back in 1960.

Van Sant certainly wouldn't mind either - what director doesn't yearn to be called a genius? And Anne Heche (cast here as Marion Crane) probably wouldn't mind a career as long and as steady as her predecessor in that fatal shower, Janet Leigh.

But at least one person associated with "Psycho" 1998 probably would prefer that history not repeat itself. It's doubtful Vince Vaughn wants to become the next Anthony Perkins.

Not that "Psycho" was an irredeemably negative experience for Perkins. Generations from now, people will still be talking about his performance as murderously meek Norman Bates. Geeky before the term was invented, forever redefining the image of the boy next door (after "Psycho," he was just as likely to be carrying a knife as a valentine), Norman Bates became a part of the world's pop-culture fabric.

And a huge albatross around poor Anthony Perkins' neck.

Before "Psycho," Perkins was one of Hollywood's top young talents. Beginning with a part in 1956's "Friendly Persuasion," as a young Civil War soldier torn between his duty and his Quaker faith (and for which he earned an Oscar nomination), Perkins had specialized in playing tortured post-adolescents struggling with their inner demons.

As the Boston Red Sox' Jimmy Piersall in 1957's "Fear Strikes Out," he struggled with mental illness; as a sheriff in "The Tin Star," he was a young buck trying to keep up with Henry Fonda; as the subservient son of Burl Ives in "Desire Under the Elms," he vied with his father for the affections of Sophia Loren.

Perkins was James Dean without the danger; he could have played Jim in "Rebel Without a Cause," except that, in that knife fight outside the Griffith Observatory, he would have been cut up real bad.

All of which made Perkins a star on the rise - and a natural to play Norman Bates, a mama's boy with an unfortunate twist. Hitchcock, who knew talent when he saw it, realized Perkins' screen persona would make Norman a sympathetic, likable figure. Who doesn't suffer with him as he struggles to make small talk with the beautiful Leigh, a woman clearly out of his league?

Of course, it's precisely because of that identification with the character that the ending of "Psycho" comes as such a shock. Tall, gangly, wide-eyed, fumble-mouthed Anthony Perkins, a killer? Wow.

But Perkins' career never recovered from "Psycho." Or, more precisely, it was never able to shake it off. His post-"Psycho" filmography is a series of frustrations. Producers, fearful audiences would be unable to see past Norman Bates, refused to cast him in anything that didn't involve dementia and danger.

Resisting such typecasting, he largely retreated from Hollywood. Among his few notable roles were "Pretty Poison," opposite Tuesday Weld, and John Huston's "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean."

Instead, he concentrated on making films in Europe ("Goodbye Again," "Phaedra") and turning to the New York stage, working as both actor (the psychiatrist in "Equus") and director.

His career pretty much at a standstill, Perkins embraced Norman once again in 1983, finally heeding the call of all those curious moviegoers who, for 23 years, had been wondering, "Whatever happened to Norman?" In "Psycho II," Bates wins his release from the mental hospital and returns to run the Bates Motel. Unfortunately, he's not quite as cured as one might hope.

Also starring in the film were Meg Tilly, as a waitress at the local diner who takes a liking to Norman (and sort of re-creates Leigh's famous shower scene, with more skin but less visual panache); Dennis Franz, as a drunken boor who loves nothing better than to push Norman's buttons (bad move!); and - reprising her role from "Psycho" - Vera Miles as Lila Crane, out to avenge her sister Marion's death.

"Psycho II" was perhaps better than anyone had a right to expect, and Perkins was convincing as a man unsuccessfully trying to live down his past (the parallels to his own situation must have caused a chuckle or two on the set). But the Perkins-directed "Psycho III," with Diana Scarwid as a former nun who offers Norman a chance for salvation, and "Psycho IV: The Beginning," with Henry Thomas as a young Norman and Olivia Hussey as his mother were dismal affairs.

Most offensive was "Psycho IV," which had Perkins recounting all his grizzly deeds on a radio call-in show and revealing such tantalizing nuggets of info as the manner of his father's death and his method of offing his mother. Even more disheartening was that it was written by Joseph Stefano, who was responsible for the original "Psycho."

But at least Perkins was working again, even if he was always in the same psychotic role - like his deranged, Bible-wielding preacher in Ken Russell's 1984 exercise in overindulgence, "Crimes of Passion."

"I did feel I'd never escape Norman," Perkins told an interviewer in 1986. "But my wife pointed out to me that the more I would try to escape him, the more people come away convinced and reaffirmed that Norman and I were very similar. So she said, 'Why don't you just give in to this and not fight it, and maybe people would say, Gee, that's funny, he didn't seem like Norman at all.'"

Perkins died Sept. 12, 1992, of complications from AIDS. His last role was in a TV film, "In the Deep Woods," playing a creepy-looking guy who may or may not have been a serial killer.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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