Berry Berenson

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The Independent Online

Berinthia Berenson, model, actress and photographer: born New York 1948; married 1973 Anthony Perkins (died 1992; two sons); died New York 11 September 2001.

Born to wealth and privilege, the photographer, model and occasional actress Berry Berenson was a member of a notable European dynasty – her grandmother was the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, her great-uncle the art historian Bernard Berenson. In 1973 she startled the fashion and society worlds by marrying the actor Anthony Perkins, who was 16 years older and had until then had been apparently homosexual. The couple had two sons and their marriage ended only when Perkins died of an Aids-related illness in 1992.

Born Berinthia Berenson in New York in 1948, she was the daughter of Robert L. Berenson, a diplomat with the US Foreign Service, and Gogo, née Schiaperelli (now the Marchesa Cacciapuoti di Giugliano). Educated in Switzerland, France and Italy, Berenson moved in a glittering social world and travelled widely. Her elder sister Marisa was a top model and Berry, who developed an early interest in photography, became a protégée of Diana Vreeland, the Editor of American Vogue, and her work as both model and photographer was soon being showcased in magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

Berenson favoured the chic, minimalist styles of Chanel and the American designer Halston (who also dressed Jacqueline Onassis, Katharine Hepburn and Doris Duke). She appeared on the covers of most fashion magazines, and in 1971 was featured in Life. She also became part of the Andy Warhol set and a familiar face at the Kansas City Club, a forerunner of the celebrated discotheque Studio 54. It was described by Warhol as the spot where "Pop Art and Pop Life came together. Everybody went to the Kansas, from Peter O'Toole and Mick Jagger to Twiggy, Mae West and Bob Dylan; everything got homogenised there". After her sister Marisa started to make a career as a film actress (notably in Death in Venice and Cabaret), Berry moved from New York to Los Angeles, where she acted in some stage productions.

She first met Anthony Perkins when the actor was filming Play It As It Lays (1972) and her apartment was used for a scene in the film. She then conducted a photo-interview with the actor for the magazine Andy Warhol's Interview. Later she confessed that she had been in love with Perkins from the time she first saw him on screen when she was 12, and they were married in 1973 in an informal wedding, with the bride barefoot and three months pregnant.

In 1979 Berenson had her first leading role on screen, appearing with Perkins in Alan Rudolph's Remember My Name, produced by Robert Altman. Perkins said,

Altman was having trouble casting the role of my second wife. 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." He took one look at her and said, "Your right eye is lower than your left, but you'll be fine for this part."

Perkins later stated that he adopted a highly protective attitude towards his wife on the film.

Every once in a while, I'd turn around and catch her 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?" Afterwards, 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?"

Berenson had a smaller role with Perkins and Jeff Bridges in the thriller Winter Kills (1979), in which she played a nurse in a morgue, and later had roles in the television mini-series Scruples (1980) and the remake of the film Cat People (1982) which she recently declared inferior to the original and "dated" – "The Simone Simon version is fresher and so dramatic despite being made 50 years before."

Berenson's film career had never really taken off, and she decided thenceforth to concentrate on photography, though she made occasional guest appearances in television shows including Cheers and Friends. She and Perkins had two sons, Osgood (named after Perkins's actor father) and Elvis. In 1977, Berenson told The New York Times, "I'm so delighted with my life. I have this fabulous husband, the man I always wanted to marry. I have two fabulous children, which I always wanted, and we're all so happy."

When Perkins became ill, she nursed him through the last two years of his life and kept the secret of his illness because of public paranoia regarding Aids. "He simply never wanted anyone to know," she stated. "He figured, if anyone knew, he'd never work again."

Berenson continued to work as a photographer after her husband's death, shooting covers for Life magazine and Vogue, and in recent years ran a beachfront bar in Jamaica. Three weeks ago she completed a book on Halston.

A passenger on American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, the first aeroplane to strike the World Trade Centre, she had been returning to her house in the Hollywood Hills from a family summer home at Cape Cod.

Tom Vallance