Berry Berenson Perkins epitomized unconditional love On September 11th, after the towers had fallen, I was driving to a meeting to be with my sober family when my cell phone rang. “Carole,” Heather Mac Rae said, “sorry to hear about Berry.” She had been aboard American Airlines Flight II when it crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
“Get out of here. Gotta go,” I said as I hung up. To this day, I can still recall standing at Township and Suede Road intersection in Norristown, Pa. It seemed as if Berry Berenson were buried here at this red light.
I thought about Berry and her selfless love for everyone she encountered, from me to Tony Perkins who lost his battle with AIDS on September 12, 1992, to raise their two sons Osgood and Elvis.
Her bravery inspired me; from my stewardess days with Pan Am I could visualize the interior of a jet and whether she was in the front or back.
If it had been in the tail, perhaps there wouldn’t have been torture done there; most first-class passengers seem brutalized in front of everyone to maintain control. It seems likely that first-class passengers suffered more abuse due to fear than physical exertion alone.
I want to remember the good times. When I met Berry, we were acting students under Wynn Handman the director of the American Place Theatre in New York in the late sixties.
At that time I was a model and Berry was an accomplished photographer married to Tony Perkins; Wynn assigned me Streetcar Named Desire where I would play Blanche while Berry would portray Stella.
We worked together throughout each outfit change in the dressing room – until Berry giggled her infectious laugh when asked if it would be okay if I touched her belly – an experience I will never forget! Her belly felt so hard during that moment one cannot forget.
On stage, Berry and I joined Tony Perkins and our class for our scene. Tony directed while Wynn was away, with notable alumni such as Richard Gere (An Officer and a Gentleman), Brad Davis (Midnight Express), Philippe Anglem (Elephant Man), Heather Mac Rae (Hair), Marisa Berenson (Barry Lyndon), Penny Milford (Coming Home), Robert Moresco (Oscar winner for Crash which he co-wrote), and Dennis Christopher from Breaking Away). After class sometimes Berry and I would grab something to eat together – usually some food!
In 1974, I completed Stepford Wives and immediately moved to Paris after becoming engaged to Claude Picasso, Picasso’s son. However, upon learning of my portrayal of a Stepford Wife on screen, Claude decided against me and in 1975 we parted ways.
On my return home three-quarters of a basket case, Berry and Tony would invite me over to their townhouse in the village for card games; Tony loved them so much he became like family – always making me laugh! Since they didn’t drink, I brought my own wine in a brown paper bag so that wine could accompany each meal (until 1980).
Berry’s sister was model/actress Marisa Berenson and Elsa Schiaparelli was their grandmother. Regarded as one of the most influential figures in fashion between World Wars I and II, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like Salvador Dali and Giacometti; Mae West even featured among her clients!
Berry’s mother was Countess Gogo, married to a shipping executive. Despite Berry’s status, she kept things real and did not choose friends based on status.
While Berry knew some of the rich and famous, her idea of fun was sitting outside their village townhouse terrace watching the sun go down while playing with her two young sons Osgood and Elvis – today Oz Perkins an actor, and Elvis Perkins an artist.
One day Berry said to me, “Remember when Marisa and I used to play? She was Queen and I was in her Court!” Her laugh was infectious – I could have easily joined Berry in that Court! As Marisa would say: “Half ass-backward,” as my Pa. Deutsch’s mother would have put it.
In 1988, when S&S published my novel Flash about a female flasher, Berry invited me to lunch. “I loved Flash and the way you laugh about sex – it’s so healthy!” She was flattered and recommended Updike, Anais Nin, Nabokov, and Terry Southern as books for my boys to read.
Soon after this lunch Berry and Tony gave me an exclusive dinner party for Flash at which their agent Sue Mengers joined.
In 1992, Tony Berry was diagnosed with AIDS in New York and his friends gave him a party in their honor, knowing full well that it would be his last. Pictures were taken and autograph books signed while everyone laughed and seemed contented despite knowing he would soon pass away. Little did anyone know nine years later Berry would follow in his footsteps.