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Fox Bows 50th Anniversary Edition of ‘Diary of Anne Frank’

11 Jun, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Millie Perkins, George Stevens, Jr and Diane Baker

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment June 16 will release a special 50th anniversary edition of The Diary of Anne Frank, 50 years after the film’s theatrical debut and four days after what would have been Anne Frank’s 80th birthday.

The studio worked closely with George Stevens Jr., son of the film’s legendary director, to create the anniversary edition, available on both standard DVD ($19.98) and Blu-ray Disc ($34.98). Bonus features include an audio commentary with Stevens and Millie Perkins, who portrayed Anne Frank in the film; reflections by the surviving cast members; a documentary on the film’s history; and a featurette on the letters between Stevens and his son written during the making of the film.

Other extras include Perkins’ original screen test, several Movietone news clips about the film; a documentary on the film’s score, which was written by composer Alfred Newman; and the original theatrical trailer.

The Diary of Anne Frank was a sensation when first released theatrically, winning three Academy Awards: best supporting actress (Shelley Winters), best art direction and best cinematography. The film received five additional Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture, best director and best supporting actor (Ed Wynn).

The studio’s campaign to promote the DVD and Blu-ray Disc release kicked off last week with a screening at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, as well as a Q&A with surviving cast members. June 15 George Stevens Jr. will be presented with the Advocate Award at the 13th annual Spirit of Anne Frank Awards gala at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York City.

Perkins had never read “The Diary of a Young Girl” when she was asked to audition for the lead role in the 20th Century Fox film version of the famous journal.

“Only on the plane out to California did I finally read the diary,” Perkins recalled. “It hit me in the heart, it hit me in the soul, and I knew it was something I could do without even thinking.”

Perkins, now 73, was an aspiring model at the time who had just moved to New York City from her native Passaic, N.J.

“I didn’t even know about Anne Frank,” she said. “I knew about what happened with the Jews and Hitler, but not about Anne Frank.”

On three separate occasions, Perkins said, she was asked to try out for the part by 20th Century Fox scouts; at last she relented and did a quick interview before jetting off to Paris on a modeling assignment.

“I had never acted, and I had never even thought of being an actress,” she said.

While in Paris, she received an urgent call from Fox, telling her director George Stevens liked the interview and wanted her to fly out to California for an official screen test.

“I wasn’t a fan of the movies, or of movie stars, but I did know who George Stevens was,” Perkins said. “I had read American Tragedy in high school and seen the movie, and it was one of my favorites.”

After the screen test, she said, “They didn’t tell me I got the movie, but I just knew I did. It wasn’t until two months later that I met George in the Plaza Hotel’s tea room and he told me I had the part.”

Shooting began in April 1958 and continued for six months, a long stretch for a film at the time. Perkins said she and Stevens got along famously: “He loved me and I loved him.”

Her relationship with costar Winters, who played her mother, wasn’t quite as smooth.

“I thought Hollywood was insane, and Shelley Winters was not my favorite person,” Perkins recalled. “But she was a wonderful actress, and we got along because I had a fresh mouth, and I didn’t take gunk from her.”

Likewise for Joseph Schildkraut, the Austrian-born silent-era matinee idol, who played her father.

“He was an excellent theater actor, very dramatic, and a very vain man,” Perkins said. “He wanted all the attention, Shelley wanted all the attention, and there was just a lot going on. I was just there observing this whole thing.”

After the film came out, Perkins said she had to learn fast how to deal with overnight celebrity.

“The publicist would come to me after shooting all day and want me to do interviews, which was all new and certainly very stressful for me,” she recalled. “I remember one night they came to me and wanted me to meet with Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, and I said, ‘Oh, I can’t, I have to go home and eat dinner.’”

Perkins subsequently studied acting and took a few more film roles, including playing Elvis Presley’s girlfriend in 1961’s Wild in the Country, but never became a big star.

“Fox kept trying to find movies for me and of course I was called difficult because all they came up with was beach movies,” Perkins said. “I didn’t do the game, I didn’t know how to do the game, and I didn’t know the game was important if you want to have a career. So Fox let me out of my contract and I moved back to New York.”

Perkins was married for two years to Dean Stockwell, but the couple divorced in 1962. A short time later Perkins was married again, this time to screenwriter Robert Thom, and she spent most of the 1960s raising a family and only dabbling in acting, mostly regional theater productions in New Jersey.

She did fit in two Westerns with pal Jack Nicholson, 1965’s Ride in the Whirlwind and 1967’s The Shooting, and in 1968 she reteamed with Winters in the sci-fi horror flick Wild in the Streets, which Thom had written.

In the 1970s Perkins and her family moved to Oregon, where she taught acting and did some local television. Thom died in 1979; a year later Perkins moved back to Southern California and resumed her acting career, appearing in dozens of TV shows, movies of the week and films. She played Andy Garcia’s mother in the acclaimed 2005 film about the fall of Cuba, The Lost City.

Most recently, Perkins appeared in three episodes of the soap opera “The Young and the Restless” and a 2006 Hallmark TV movie, Though No One Go with Me, in which she appeared with Cheryl Ladd.

“When Thom died, I figured I had to go back to work, and I’ve been working ever since,” she said. “But I never became a movie star. I was a star only once, and that was when I did The Diary of Anne Frank.

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