The whole world is familiar with and has been for the past six decades deeply impressed by the moving diary of Anne Frank, and consequently, most people also know the film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959), directed by George Stevens, who convinced Millie Perkins to play the title character. Anne Frank (1929-1945) is one of the most famous Jewish victims of the Holocaust; she hid from the Nazis starting at age 13 and died in a concentration camp at 15. Her diary, written while hiding in Amsterdam during the German occupation of the Netherlands, became one of the world’s most widely known books (first published in 1947, it has been translated in over 60 languages). It was the basis for plays and movies, including for George Stevens’ 1959 awesome, highly acclaimed, and poignant screen drama, winning three Academy Awards out of eight nominations.
For screen debutant Millie Perkins (b. 1938), the film became a milestone in her career, her landmark film that introduced her to the screen as a very fresh, spontaneous, professional, and extremely talented young actress. After a successful modeling career, the world had discovered a new actress. Not a buxom blonde superstar like Marilyn Monroe, but an actress in the range of Grace Kelly, Joanne Woodward or Audrey Hepburn. And with her impressive tour-de-force performance in “The Diary of Anne Frank” in mind: Millie Perkins was the discovery of the year. Nothing or no one could stop her, it seemed.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959, trailer)
For this 2007 interview, I met Ms. Perkins, a very modest and down-to-earth lady, at a restaurant on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, close to her Hollywood home. She looked wonderful, in great shape—ready for an interesting talk about her work and her career.
Ms. Perkins, how did you become an actress?
Well, at first I had no intention at being an actress. I left home at 17 or 18 when my sister moved to New York, to Greenwich Village, and I became a photography model. I was on the cover of “Vogue”, “Glamour”, “17,” all those magazines. Then someone approached me for a test and an interview in New York. I had to cancel it a couple of times because I was very busy working. On the other hand, I was young, and I never thought of being an actress. George Stevens had seen my photograph and wanted to test me. So I finally tested, and a few months later, they called me and asked me to fly to California to do a screen test. But at that time I had my first trip to Europe: I went to England to model for a magazine, I had friends in Paris, so I also flew over to Paris to visit them over there, but they kept calling me in Paris to come over to test, and I didn’t want to. I wanted to model; I was a new face in town, I was on the cover of “Elle” and “Marie Claire,” I didn’t want to go home. As I had never read the diary of Anne Frank and never had seen the play. My French friends convinced me to go back to New York, meet the people and fly to California to test. And I did.
How did you get the part of Anne Frank?
Mr. Stevens had seen and tested so many people before he decided who could do the part, and so it was narrowed down finally to me. He was a man with great confidence and knowledge of filmmaking. He knew what he was doing; he knew what he wanted. He had worked with enough people in his lifetime to know whether or not he could cast someone in particular, you know.
You had no real acting experience. How did that work out on the set?
We did not improvise. We rehearsed the scenes; then we’d go back to our dressing rooms and get ready to shoot it. Mr. Stevens never improvised; he was not that kind of a director. But, the thing was, I had never acted. All the others had acted before, even Diane Baker, who was a little younger than I was, she used to have acting classes. All the older people had done theatre and all that. So when Mr. Stevens chose me—that is clear to me now, knowing that he wasn’t going to be teaching me how to be an actress—it would either be instinctive or nothing at all. We would do my scenes one, two, or three times, and that was it because he had to get it from me right away. There was no point in planning to teach me how to be an actress. With me, he worked fast; it had to be instinctively, I had to just do it or not at all. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. I needed to have confidence in myself and do it without thinking. He hardly told me what to do. He just let me do it. It turned out he was delighted with me, and he trusted me all the way. Mostly it was my choice how it would be done, and once in a while, he would say, ‘Do a little bit more of this, do a little bit more of that.’
How do you look back now to your work in “The Diary of Anne Frank”?
I was twenty years old back then, but that was much younger than twenty years old today. I was very inexperienced; I was unsophisticated. I had experience in modeling, but I was very shy. I was not an extroverted person. I was not a drinker; I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t even know what that was in those days. I had integrity; that was my forte, my luck. Mr. Stevens had total control of every inch of that movie and everything that happened to me. He had control over, like the interviews I did, people who wrote about me, things like that. He was very careful with me, and I appreciated that. It was the perfect union because I never thought of being an actress. I was not even a fan of movies and movie stars, I was a fan of Jean Cocteau, of writers; movies were not something that interested me. So they had to talk me into it; they had to talk me into casting. Mr. Stevens talked me into it; he flew to New York and sat down with me at the Plaza Hotel. It was a snowy day; I still remember it very well. He talked to me about the part and why he wanted me to do it, and he convinced me to do it. But I had to be talked into it because it was not anything I ever fantasized myself doing. Then when I got to California and started working, I realized it was something I could do very well. I have never been a very ambitious person, I have never been rich, I never cared if I had a lot of money, I never cared for fame and when I became a movie star ‘for a few minutes’ because of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” it took me all over the world. I know a Dutch photographer; I guess he was a fan, and he was a very good photographer, pretty well-known, and they were going to do a retrospective of me in Holland, so I went there and stayed in Amsterdam too. I did some publicity and went around. I went to Antwerp too, and I really loved it.
You’ve done several other interesting films since then, and played a wide variety of character roles very convincingly. Yet people will always think of you as the woman who played Anne Frank, overlooking most of your other work. Doesn’t that bother you?
Well, there’s two ways of looking at it. One, I will never know. It changed my life completely, obviously. You know, I was a model in New York, I had been going in modeling for a year, and I became a top model right away, even though I was a junior model. I was working a lot. When I went to Paris to work with this English woman magazine before I got “The Diary,” they had asked for the test and forgot about it, and I went to Paris. As soon as I got there, I called this modeling agency, and I was working right away; I did magazine covers, and they wanted me to stay. It was opening up something in me that I had never opened up before. I had confidence—confidence about myself. I had always been very shy; I never thought I was attractive, I thought I was ugly and when I got to Paris, they loved me for the short time I was there. So when George Stevens asked me to fly to California to test, I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to leave Paris. Paris was like I had lived there before, you know. It was wonderful: the art, the beauty, the history—everything. I remember going out with my French friends to some café that night and telling them that this director George Stevens wanted me to fly to California to test for this movie. Well, they knew about “The Diary of Anne Frank” much more than I did because they were Europeans. But I didn’t want to go, I cried, and they said, ‘You know, you should go, and George Stevens is a very big and very important film director.’ I did know who he was because when I was at high school, my favorite film was “A Place in the Sun”  with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. I had read the book, ‘An American Tragedy’ [by Theodore Dreiser], which was one of my favorites when I was in high school. So I knew who George Stevens was, although I didn’t know who directors were. So in a way, it was a temptation because he had directed “A Place in the Sun.” On the plane to New York, I was crying; after I had arrived there, an agent was to meet me and sign a contract for no money at all. I cried and said that I couldn’t do it. He came back to my apartment and said that they’d never give me more money because I had never acted before. I was making more money as a model; why would I go and be an actress, which didn’t mean anything to me? So they wanted me to sign the contract before I got on the plane. I thought, ‘What if I get the movie and no money?’ Because this was like $100 a week or something. So I said, ‘I am sorry, I am not going to do it.’ This agent got so frustrated and angry and said, ‘Well, you wait outside your apartment door, and I will call them up in California, and I’ll tell them that you want more money, although they will never give you any more than this. You should do it; every girl in the world would want to have this part.’ So I said, ‘Well, I am sorry, I don’t want to do it.’ He called them up, and I listened at the door in this apartment building, and he said, ‘Look, she is very poor and she supports her whole family, she’s got to have more money,’ and they said yes. I could have had more money, three times as much money, but I didn’t. I wasn’t that money crazy, but I wanted to have the same amount of money I was making as a model. So I flew to California and did the test.
And the rest is history, as they say. Did you watch the film later on? Or, in general, do you watch your movies when they’re on TV?
I see my movies when they come out, but I don’t sit and look at them. I’m critical; sometimes I hate it, sometimes I love it. I am very realistic about it. I’m sensible about things: if I am bad in it, I want to know why. If I am good in it, it thrills me to death. When I did “The Diary,” I had been married to [actor] Dean Stockwell, and then I met [screenwriter] Robert Thom, who wrote “Wild in the Streets” . I had a small part in the movie for him. After “The Diary” I did a few things, like “Wild in the Country”  with Elvis Presley, but 20th Century Fox was not coming up with anything for me because I was skinny, I didn’t have any breasts. I was not their type. At that time, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Sheree North were the big names at the studio; I was a pain in the neck to them. They never found anything for me. So then I studied acting with some coaches, I started studying and learning, and started doing some plays like ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ I went back East, and I was growing as an actor. Then Bob kept saying they were going to find some special thing for me, but they never did. I remember other studios wanted to borrow me and Fox kept saying no, they wouldn’t loan me out to anyone. Do you remember the movie “The Unforgiven”  with Audrey Hepburn? They first offered it to me, but Fox said no. Unfortunately, not being that ambitious, it didn’t matter so much because I wanted to have a family and raise children, which is what I did. I met and later married Tom; I was living in New York and growing as a person. Then we had our children and the stepchildren Tom had from his first marriage; at that time, I did “Wild in the Streets”  because Tom wrote it. There are two movies that I did before I married Tom [marriage in 1964], they were “The Shooting” and “Ride in the Whirlwind” [both shot side by side in 1964, released two years later]. I loved them because they were with friends like Jack Nicholson—who still sends me flowers every year on my birthday—Warren Oates, and [screenwriter] Carole Eastman, whose writer’s name was Adrien Joyce. She wrote one of them, Jack wrote the other, and Roger Corman produced them. We shot them in just two weeks’ time. We all picked our own clothes; it was just wonderful. We went up to shoot in Utah, and we had no money; that was before I stopped working and married Tom. It was wonderful, the best experience I had to date as an actor. I realized that I could do it. Those films didn’t make any money, and hardly anyone saw them.
Since then, you have worked considerably less than you did before, haven’t you?
When I had my children, I didn’t want to work anymore—because of my children. I grew up thinking that you had to take of your children, and I don’t regret it at all. When Tom got sick, I started working again, doing some junkie movies. We needed the money. I had moved up to Oregon with my children for six years; it was a wonderful historic town where I was teaching acting and I was doing art school programs with the children; they were theatre-type classes. It was like being in paradise, you know. I did some local television, but when Tom passed away [in 1979 at age 49], he wasn’t with us; he was in California at the time. I knew I would never make enough money on my own to take care of the girls properly, so it seemed realistic to move back to Los Angeles. That’s the only thing that changed my life. If I had stayed in Oregon, I would have raised them in a very idealistic atmosphere, and they would have been less stressed. But I decided to come back to California—all of my friends were calling me up and were saying, ‘Oh, you’re coming back!’ I was forty-one years old, and people said, ‘What are you going to do to earn a living?’ ‘Well, being an actress,’ I said. They thought I was too old, but I was not worried about it; I worked, I earned a living. I didn’t become a big star, but that didn’t matter. I paid the bills and put my children through school.
When you returned to Hollywood, did you have the impression that it had changed a lot?
Compared to my first arrival here, things had—and have—changed a lot. We never went to clubs, now they all go to those places. I know this sounds very old-fashioned, and I also don’t want to give the impression that we might have been any better than the young actors today. But in a way, America has become vulgar, I think, and I feel there’s something missing. Many young people are not familiar with the history of our country, they don’t know much about Europe, about art, and that’s pretty disturbing, don’t you agree? But when I die, the world will keep on turning, you know, so I consider myself lucky to know my history, music, art, etc. If you ask young people today who Abraham Lincoln is, chances are they might think you’re talking about an actor of the old days.
Do you have any plans for the near future? New projects coming up?
Well, I like acting, you know. I am seventy now, I never had any cosmetic surgery, and as you can see, I hardly wear any make-up. Unfortunately, for women my age, there are not many parts available. I recently did “The Lost City”  with Andy Garcia, and that was wonderful. We worked for a whole month in the Dominican Republic; that was a beautiful experience. And I got to play a real character, not just some old lady. That’s very rewarding when you get to play the role of substance, a woman of flesh and blood. And it is very interesting and gratifying that whenever I audition, people still know who I am, they still know what I did, and I am grateful for that.
Millie Perkins and Elvis Presley in the car scene in “Wild in the Country” with Elvis singing ‘I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell’
After finishing “The Diary of Anne Frank,” you appeared opposite Elvis Presley in one of his earlier films, “Wild in the Country” . Did you enjoy working with him?
I thought the movie was awful, but Elvis was very interesting to work with. I was not an Elvis fan, only much later did I realize how important and special he was. I remember we were doing a scene—I played his girlfriend—we were sitting in a car, and he had to sing one of his songs. One moment, I looked out of the window and thought, ‘Dear Lord, this is just terrible. If my friends get to see this…’ And then he looked at me, and I just knew he was thinking the same. From then on, I knew he was okay. And I’m certainly not as shy as I was when I was young. I remember after “The Diary of Anne Frank,” I was asked to present with Gary Cooper the Academy Award for Best Director to Vincente Minnelli [for “Gigi”]. During rehearsal, the marks were set so we knew where we had to stand; they told us where to look at, and what to say. Then Gary and I had to wait for a moment. He was talking to someone, and I was standing there in a corner, just looking at the ground. And then suddenly, out of the blue, two actresses came up to me. ‘Hi, I’m Shirley MacLaine. Hi, I’m Doris Day. Would you like to join us for dinner later today?’
April 6, 1959—only a few weeks after “The Diary of Anne Frank” was released in the U.S.: the 31st Academy Awards ceremonies at the Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, with Gary Cooper and Millie Perkins presenting the Academy Award for Best Director to Vincente Minnelli for “Gigi”
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1958) DIR – PROD George Stevens SCR Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett (diary by Anne Frank) CAST Millie Perkins (Anne Frank), Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Richard Beymer, Gusti Huber, Lou Jacobi, Diane Baker, Edd Wynn
WILD IN THE COUNTRY (1961) DIR Philip Dunne PROD Jerry Wald SCR Clifford Odets (novel ‘The Lost Country’ by J. R. Salamanca) CAST Elvis Presley, Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld, Millie Perkins (Betty Lee Parsons), Rafer Johnson, John Ireland, Gary Lockwood, Christina Crawford
DULCINEA (1963) DIR – PROD Vicente Escrivá SCR Adaptation by Ramón D. Faralda (novel by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra) CAST Millie Perkins (Dulcinea / Aldonza), Cameron Mitchell, Folco Lulli, Vittoria Prado, Walter Santesso
ENSIGN PULVER (1964) DIR – PROD Joshua Logan SCR Joshua Logan, Peter S. Feibleman (play ‘Mister Roberts’ by Joshua Logan, Thomas Heggen) CAST Robert Walker Jr., Burl Ives, Walter Matthau, Tommy Sands, Millie Perkins (Scotty), Kay Medford, Larry Hagman
RIDE THE WHIRLWIND (1965) DIR Monte Hellman PROD Monte Hellman, Jack Nicholson SCR Jack Nicholson CAST Cameron Mitchell, Millie Perkins (Abigail), Jack Nicholson, Katherine Squire, Rupert Crosse, Harry Dean Stanton
THE SHOOTING (1967) DIR Monte Hellman PROD Monte Hellman, Jack Nicholson SCR Adrien Joyce (a.k.a. Carole Eastman) CAST Will Hutchins, Millie Perkins (Woman), Jack Nicholson, Warren Oates, Charles Eastman, Guy El Tsosie
WILD IN THE STREETS (1968) DIR Barry Shear PROD James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff SCR Robert Thom (also story) CAST Shelley Winters, Christopher Jones, Diane Varsi, Ed Begley, Hal Holbrook, Millie Perkins (Mary), Richard Pryor
COCKFIGHTER (1974) DIR Monte Hellman PROD Roger Corman SCR Charles Willeford (also novel) CAST Warren Oates, Richard B Shull, Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Begley, Jr., Troy Donahue, Millie Perkins (Frances), Charles Willeford
LADY COCOA (1975) DIR – PROD Matt Cimber SCR George Theokos CAST Lola Falana, Gene Washington, Alex Dreier, ‘Mean’ Joe Green, Millie Perkins
THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976) DIR – PROD Matt Cimber SCR Robert Thom CAST Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown, Peggy Feury, Rick Jason, Jean-Pierre Camps
TABLE FOR FIVE (1983) DIR Robert Lieberman PROD Robert Schaffel SCR David Seltzer CAST Jon Voight, Richard Crenna, Marie-Christine Barrault, Millie Perkins (Kathleen), Roxanna Zal, Robby Kiger
AT CLOSE RANGE (1986) DIR James Foley PROD Elliott Lewitt, Don Guest SCR Nicholas Kazan CAST Sean Penn, Christopher Walken, Mary Stuart Masterson, Christopher Penn, Millie Perkins (Julie), Candy Clark, Kiefer Sutherland
JAKE SPEED (1986) DIR Andrew Lane PROD Andrew Lane, Wayne Crawford, William Fay SCR Andrew Lane, William Fay CAST Wayne Crawford, Dennis Christopher, Karen Kopins, John Hurt, Leon Ames, Donna Pescow, Barry Primus, Monte Markham, Millie Perkins (Mrs. Winston)
SLAMDANCE (1987) DIR Wayne Wang PROD Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper SCR Don Opper CAST Tom Hulce, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Adam Ant, Judith Barsi, Don Opper, Harry Dean Stanton, Millie Perkins (Bobbie)
WALL STREET (1987) DIR Oliver Stone PROD Edward R. Pressman SCR Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser CAST Charlie Sheen, Tamara Tunie, Franklin Cover, Hal Holbrook, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Terence Stamp, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Sylvia Miles, Millie Perkins (Mrs Fox)
TWO MOON JUNCTION (1988) DIR Zalman King PROD Donald P. Borchers SCR Zalman King (story by Zalman King, MacGregor Douglas) CAST Sherilyn Fenn, Richard Tyson, Louise Fletcher, Burl Ives, Kristy MacNichol, Martin Hewitt, Juanita Moore, Don Galloway, Millie Perkins (Mrs. Delongpre), Herve Villechaize
THE PISTOL: THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND (1991) DIR Frank C. Schroeder PROD – SCR Darrel Campbell CAST Millie Perkins (Helen Maravich), Nick Benedict, Adam Guier, Boots Garland, Tom Lester, Buddy Petrie, Darrel Campbell
NECRONOMICON (1994) DIR Brian Yuzna, Christophe Gans, Shusuke Kaneko PROD Samuel Hadida SCR Brian Yuzna, Christophe Gans, Kazunori Itô, Brent V Friedman (stories by H. P. Lovecraft) CAST Bruce Payne, Belinda Bauer, Millie Perkins (Lena), Dennis Christopher, Signy Coleman, Obba Batatunde
BODILY HARM (1995) DIR James Lemmo PROD Bruce Cohn Curtis SCR James Lemmo, Joseph Whaley, Ronda Barendse CAST Linda Fiorentino, Daniel Baldwin, Gregg Henry, Bill Smitrovich, Millie Perkins (Dr Spencer)
THE CHAMBER (1996) DIR James Foley PROD Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, John Davis SCR William Goldman, Chris Reese (novel by John Grisham) CAST Chris O’Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Michael Prosky, Raymond Barry, Millie Perkins (Ruth)
YESTERDAY’S DREAMS (2005) DIR Scott Thomas PROD Sam Baldoni, Mike Erwin, J. Max Kirishima SCR Kevin Foster CAST Christie Lynn Smith, Millie Perkins (Mrs Hollister), Dee Wallace-Stone, Zack Norman, William Windom
A GUN IN THE HOUSE (1981) DIR Ivan Nagy CAST David Ackroyd, Valorie Armstrong, Joel Bailey, Matthew Faison, Millie Perkins, Sally Struthers, Jeffrey Tambor
THE TROUBLE WITH GRANDPA (1981) CAST Elisha Cook, Jr., Lee Lucas, Millie Perkins, Meg Tilly
LOVE IN THE PRESENT TENSE (1982) DIR Tony Mordente CAST Millie Perkins (Vera), Deborah Foreman, Doris Roberts
THE HAUNTING PASSION (1983) DIR John Korty CAST Jane Seymour, Gerald McRaney, Millie Perkins (Lois), Ruth Nelson, Paul Rossilli, Ivan Bonar, Lisa Britt
ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS (1984) DIR Richard T. Heffron CAST Edward Asner, Eli Wallach, Millie Perkins (Ellen Cousins), David Ogden Stiers, Lelia Goldini
LICENSE TO KILL (1984) DIR Jud Taylor CAST James Farentino, Penny Fuller, Don Murray, Millie Perkins (Mary Fiske), Art Meyers, Donald Moffat, Denzel Washington
SHATTERED VOWS (1984) DIR Jack Bender CAST Valerie Bertinelli, David Morse,Carole McWilliams, Tom Parsekian, Millie Perkins (Mrs Gilligan), Patricia Neal
THE OTHER LOVER (1985) DIR Robert Ellis Miller CAST Lindsay Wagner, Jack Scalia, Max Gail, Millie Perkins (Kate), John Bennett Perry
THE THANKSGIVING PROMISE (1986) DIR Beau Bridges CAST Beau Bridges, Millie Perkins (Lois), Courtney Thorne-Smith, Ed Lauter, Anne Haney, Lloyd Bridges
PENALTY PHASE (1986) DIR Tony Richardson CAST Peter Strauss, Jonelle Allen, Karen Austin, Millie Perkins (Nancy Faulkner), Melissa Gilbert
GOD, THE UNIVERSE AND HOT FUDGE SUNDAES (1986) DIR Leslie Hill CAST Millie Perkins (Allie’s Mother), Roxana Zal, Jere Burns, Tony Saunders
STRANGE VOICES (1987) DIR Arthur Allan Seidelman CAST Jack Blessing, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Valerie Harper, Millie Perkins (Helen)
BROKEN ANGEL (1988) DIR Richard T. Heffron CAST Susan Blakely, Roxann Dawson, Rodney Eastman, Millie Perkins (Penny), Brock Peters, Wiliam Shatner
CALL ME ANNA (1991) DIR Gilbert Cates CAST Patty Duke, Timothy Carhart, Howard Hesseman, Deborah Pay, Millie Perkins (Frances Duke), Matthew Perry, Karl Malden
MURDER OF INNOCENCE (1993) DIR Tom McLoughlin CAST Valerie Bertinelli, Stephen Caffrey, Graham Beckel, Jerry Hardin, Millie Perkins (Edna Webber), Anne Ramsey
MIDNIGHT RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (1994) DIR Daniel Sackheim CAST Melora Walters, Richard Herkert, Jennifer Manasseri, Joe Bradley, Millie Perkins (Aunt Mimi), Stephen Lee
THE SUMMER OF BEN TYLER (1996) DIR Arthur Allan Seidelman CAST James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Len Cariou, Julia McIlvaine, Clifton James, Millie Perkins (Doris)
A WOMAN’S A HELLUVA THING (2001) DIR Karen Leigh Hopkins CAST Angus MacFadyen, Penelope Ann Miller, Ann-Margret, Kathryn Harrold, Mary Kay Place, Millie Perkins
THOUGH NONE GO WITH ME (2006) DIR Armand Mastroianni CAST Christopher Allport, Amy Grabow, Emily Hardy, Cheryl Ladd, Millie Perkins (Frances Childs)
A.D. (1985) DIR Stuart Cooper CAST Anthony Andrews, Colleen Dewhurst, Ava Gardner, John Houseman, James Mason, Jennifer O’Neill, Millie Perkins (Mary), Richard Roundtree, Susan Sarandon, Jack Warden
ELVIS (1990) CAST Michael St. Gerard, Millie Perkins (Gladys Presley), Billy Green Bush, Jesse Dabson, Blake Gibbons, Kelli Williams