A Tribute to Berry Berenson, aka (Mrs. Tony) Perkins

To me, Berry was pure sunshine. She loved many, even those who to me seemed unlovable. She was my friend. And 10 years after 9/11, I still miss her

Last Updated: September 5, 2011 @ 5:05 PM

On September 11, 2001, when I was driving, I received a message from my friend, Heather Mac Rae: “Sorry to hear about Berry Berenson, but she was in one of the planes that crashed into the trade towers.”    

Stunned, I pulled the car off the road and thought about what a good person Berry was and what a good friend she had been to many.    

She had suffered bravely through her husband, Tony Perkins, whom she had loved dearly and had given birth to his two strapping sons, Osgood and Elvis. 

After they had grown up, she had moved to Jamaica to begin a new life. She had met a new man who made her feel good about herself and for this I am grateful. 

To me, Berry was pure sunshine. Her smile lit up a room. She could comfort like no other.  She loved many even those who to me seemed unlovable. She was my friend. And I miss her. Despite her lineage, she was down to earth.

To the world, Berry Berenson was the daughter of Countess Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, or better known as Gogo Schiaparielli, the granddaughter of Elsa Schiarparelli and the great grand-niece of the famed art historian Bernard Berenson.

In the late '60s, Berry and I were introduced in Wyn Handman’s acting class. 

He was the director of the American Place Theatre. Wyn assigned me to do Blanche in "Streetcar" and Berry was to play Stella. 

Berry was pregnant, and when we changed into our costumes in the prop room, I asked if I could touch her belly.  

“Of course,” she said smiling, then she laughed, and I knew I had not offended her. 

Offending Berry Berenson was close to impossible. I had never touched a pregnant woman’s tummy before, and she afforded me this opportunity. I had never had the good fortune to be pregnant and did not believe in doing this to force a man to marry me.

Berry and I rehearsed our roles in Tony and Berry’s townhouse in Chelsea where Tony, who was always kind, offered us his directorial guidance.

Heather Mac Rae, who was starring in "Hair" on Broadway, was in our class as were:  Richard Gere, Brad Davis (who triumphed in "Midnight Express"), Phillip Anglim (who played the "Elephant Man" on Broadway,) Penny Milford (who later was nominated for an Oscar for "Coming Home"), Marisa Berenson (who was Berry’s sister and who later starred in "Barry Lyndon") and the list goes on.

In 1975, when I was jilted by Claude Picasso and flew back to our apartment in New York with our tiny poodle, Tutu, it was Berry who was one of my friends who comforted me. 

She invited me to dinner at their townhouse where we used to play card and board games.  Tony liked to play games and we all laughed, which was what I (and we all) needed.

When I wanted acting photos, Berry, who was a talented photographer who shot for Vogue, took beautiful photos of me on the roof on top of their townhouse. During the shoot Tuesday Weld, with whom Tony filmed "Pretty Poison," stopped by with her baby. Tony and Berry were generous with introductions to their friends and one night invited me to dinner along with Woody Allen.

When I moved to L.A. after testing for a movie, I saw a great deal of Berry as we exercised in the same gym. When "Flash," my novel about Hollywood and the sexual exploitation of actresses was published, Berry took me to lunch. “I love your writing about sex.  It makes me laugh. You are so accepting. Can you recommend any books for my sons to read about sex and open-mindedness.”  

She knew I was now in love with Norman Mailer and then asked, “What book of his would you recommend by him that celebrate sex?” 

“Ancient Evenings,” I replied. I was flattered when she asked my opinion about  good literature and equally flattered when Berry and Tony gave me a dinner party when "Flash" was published. He even invited his celebrated agent, Sue Mengers, who was a fun and charming to meet in an intimate setting. 

When Berry accepted Tony had AIDS, she threw a party in Manhattan for his closest friends. We all signed a book for Tony and photos en masse were taken. Smiles were on everyone’s faces. Berry and Tony did not invite frowns. My photo from this party proves this.

One day Berry confided, “With all the friends we have, it makes Tony sad that few will help him get work. "Psycho" has been a blessing and a stigma at the same time.” 

It was then that I realized superstars can’t audition and are trapped in trying to secure film parts by working the social scene. Hollywood parties become auditions.

When Tony died, I was living in Manhattan, caring for my mother who had had two strokes, and I was unable to attend his funeral.

When Berry died, I was living in Jeffersonville, Pa., and chose not to go to Berry’s funeral.  Fears of the dangers of being in Manhattan after 9/11 haunted me, but also I was never fond of some of her friends. I did not have the love inside me that Berry did to accept the pretense of many of them.  

Pretense that can come from a European background. Pretense that reminded me of the Picasso family from whom I had fled filled with shame for having felt that I was not good enough.

Well, it was Berry Berenson who made me feel good enough. Good enough to be her friend. Good enough to touch her pregnant belly. Good enough to accompany her to gym classes. Good enough to be a guest at her home for dinner and good enough to be invited to her beloved husband’s funeral.

Let this remembrance be my tribute to the, caring loving soul of Berry Berenson Perkins.