Norman Lloyd: A Century of Excellence

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Remembrance of Norman Lloyd (Norman Perlmutter, 1914-2021), who enjoyed surely one of the most amazing theatrical careers in history.

Lloyd had been a performer since 1923 — close to a century. He started out taking lessons and performing at clubs and benefits in his native Brooklyn at the age of nine. He was a prodigy. He graduated from high school at age 15 and enrolled at NYU, later dropping out because he said it seemed senseless during the Depression to waste money on an education for a job that likely wouldn’t be there when he graduated. So he focused on the theatre, becoming (at 17) the youngest apprentice at Eva La Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theatre. His first Broadway show was Andre Obey’s Noah (1935). In the 1930s, he worked with the Group Theatre, the Federal Theatre Project’s Living Newspaper Unit, and the Mercury Theatre, for which he played Cinna the Poet in Orson Welles’s legendary production of Julius Caesar (1937-38).

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He initially went to Hollywood in 1939 with the Mercury company to appear in their first planned production at RKO, which was to be Heart of Darkness. When that production appeared to be not forthcoming, he returned to New York, missing the opportunity to be in Citizen Kane. He appeared in a few more Broadway shows, then came back to Hollywood to play a memorable Nazi in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942), later appearing in Spellbound (1945), as well. He was in a number of memorable movies throughout the ’40s and early ’50s: The Unseen (an adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, 1945), Jean Renoir’s The Southerner (1945); the all-star World War 2 picture A Walk in the Sun (1945), the Burt Lancaster swashbuckler The Flame and the Arrow (1950), and Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight (1952).

About to fall off the Statue of Liberty's torch in "Saboteur"
About to fall off the Statue of Liberty’s torch in “Saboteur”

In the ’50s and ’60s, he became heavily involved in television as an actor, producer, and director, most notably and consistently on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1958-1962) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-1964). In the ’70s, he produced and directed several made-for-tv movies. He appeared in the terrible comedies FM (1978) and The Nude Bomb (1980).

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Then, at 68 years of age he began to play what may be the best known role of his career, as the crotchety Dr. Auslander on St. Elsewhere (1982-1988). And he never stopped! He’s in Dead Poet’s Society (1989), The Age of Innocence (1993), and movie and tv credits right up until near the end of his life — he was in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck in 2015!

Unusually, his essential persona seemed to have changed little in all that time. As a young man, he already read as “old man”, bookish, serious, and perhaps a little frail. But that last of course is an illusion. A man who was still doing movie shoots into his second century is anything but frail. Hat’s off to his memory today.

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