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Norman Lloyd - An Obituary

Norman Lloyd – Actor, director, producer

 

Born November 8, 1914; died May 11, 2021 

 

 Norman Lloyd, who has died in his sleep aged 106, had an eighty-year career on stage, screen and radio that saw him at the forefront of some of theatre and film’s most maverick moments. Possessed with a commanding presence that belied his alight stature, he worked with Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, and came into contact with other groundbreaking artists, including Bertolt Brecht, and composers Arnold Schoenberg and Hanns Eisler.  

 

In the 1930s, Lloyd worked on the cutting edge of what was then described as social theatre. With the Theatre of Action collective, he was directed by Elia Kazan. It was with the company he also met his wife, actress Peggy Craven. They were together for 75 years. Director Joseph Losey brought Lloyd into the Federal Theatre Project, who devised living newspapers of contemporary events. Other members included Orson Welles and John Houseman, who broke away to form their own Mercury Theatre Company. 

 

Lloyd was invited to become a founder member, appearing in Caesar (1937), an audacious modern day adaptation of Julius Caesar that made explicit references to the rise of European fascism. Lloyd played Cinna the Poet, whose murder by a mob after handing out poems on the street saw Lloyd’s turn stop the show for what he said was three minutes.

 

In 1939, he was set to appear in what would have been Welles’ big-screen directorial debut, a version of Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, before the plug was pulled after six weeks.  He missed out on doing Citizen Kane after moving back to New York. He later took a job with Hitchcock, playing the title role of a doomed Nazi who plummets to his death from the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942). 

 

Lloyd went on to make more films with Hitchcock, including Spellbound (1945). He also appeared in The Southerner (1945) for Jean Renoir, and played the Fool in John Houseman’s Broadway production of King Lear (1950). He appeared in Losey’s remake of M (1951), and played a stage manager in Chaplin’s initially sidelined late period classic, Limelight (1952).

 

Some of his professional and personal associations saw Lloyd and many of his collaborators sidelined by the anti communist House Un-American Activities Committee investigations that shook Hollywood. He was saved from the blacklist by Hitchcock to become a successful TV producer and director on his mentor’s long running anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

 

Latterly Lloyd became best known for a long running stint as Dr Daniel Auschlander in TV medical drama, St. Elsewhere (1982-1988). Originally only scheduled to appear in a handful of episodes, he ended up becoming a key cast member for the show’s entire six-year run. He also appeared opposite Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (1989), directed by Peter Weir. He made his last film aged 100, by which time he had become the oldest working actor in Hollywood. His acting peer Karl Malden once described him as “the history of our industry”.

 

Born Norman Perrimutter in Jersey City, New Jersey to Max Perrimutter, an accountant turned furniture store manager, and Sadie (nee Horowitz), a bookkeeper, he grew up in Brooklyn with his two younger sisters, Ruth and Janice. Sadie sang, and her interest in theatre saw her send her son to singing and dance classes. He performed at vaudeville shows, and by the time he was nine had turned professional.

 

He graduated from high school aged fifteen, and briefly enrolled at New York University before dropping out in his sophomore year. He saw how the Depression had decimated America, and, intent on pursuing his dream, became an apprentice actor with companies in New York City and New Hampshire. He was directed by  Losey, who suggested he audition for what became his first Broadway role in Andre Obey’s play, Noah (1935).

 

He acted on stage right through to the 1950s, and worked extensively during the early part of that decade at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. In 1956 oversaw a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. After working as actor, director and producer on Alfred Hitchcock Presents through to the 1960s, Lloyd went on to direct other TV shows, including a 1971 episode of Columbo, Lady in Waiting.

 

Beyond acting, Lloyd’s other passion was tennis, which he took up aged eight. He would later share a court with a succession of his contemporaries, including Chaplin, Joseph Cotten and Spencer Tracy.

 

Lloyd returned to the big screen in 1977 in Robert Wise’s psychological horror, Audrey Rose, and a year later played the boss of a radio station in FM. He went on to appear in The Age of Innocence (1993). In 2014, Lloyd appeared in a documentary, Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles. Lloyd’s life was just as astonishing right up to his final film role aged in Judd Apatow’s comedy, Trainwreck (2015). When he made it he was already 100 years old. 

 

“It’s a matter of attitude, and having a positive attitude,” he said at a ceremony after Los Angeles City Council honoured him for his centenary year in 2014. “I really think it’s all from the mind. If you feel you wanna’ live, you’ll live.”

 

He is survived by his son, Michael. His wife Peggy pre-deceased him in 2011. His daughter Josie pre-deceased him in 2020.


The Herald, May 28th 2021

 

ends 

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