Happy 100th Birthday, Norman Lloyd!

LLOYD, NORMANHere at MovieFanFare, birthday notices–for living cinema notables as well as those no longer with us–are something we tend to leave up to the fine folk managing the Facebook page of our parent company, Movies Unlimited. Tomorrow, however, is a landmark date which we felt should be brought to our readers’ attention. Actor/director/producer Norman Lloyd, whose stage, film and TV career spans 10 decades and ranges from work with Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin to Denzel Washington, Robin Williams and the cast of Modern Family, turns 100 on November 8, 2014.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1914, his shopkeeper father later moved the family across the river to New York City. Lloyd graduated from Brooklyn’s Boys High School in 1929 and entered New York University, only to drop out to pursue the stage career that he began as a child performer in the early ’20s. He was part of the Civic Repertory Theatre company founded by Eva Le Gallienne, and in the mid-’30s joined with Welles and John Houseman in the repertoire group of their famed Mercury Theatre. It was during this time, while working in the Elia Kazan stage drama Crime, that Lloyd met his future wife, actress Peggy Craven; the couple married in 1936 and were together for 75 years, until her passing in 2011.

Along with the other Mercury players, Lloyd went west to California when RKO signed Welles to a historic filmmaking contract in 1939, but as the “Boy Genius’s” plans for a screen version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness bogged down, Norman returned to New York to continue his stage work (and thus missed the opportunity to be part of the cast of Citizen Kane).  A second chance at a feature debut came when producer Houseman recommended Norman to director Alfred Hitchcock for the title role of Nazi spy Fry in Saboteur. It was this 1942 wartime thriller that featured the memorable climactic scene (whose mix of scale mock-ups and visual trickery still amazes) of Lloyd hanging on for dear life from the right arm of the Statue of Liberty.

SOUTHERNER, THENorman would alternate between movies and the stage over the next decade, with small roles in such films as Hitchcock’s Spellbound, The Southerner by French director Jean Renoir and the combat saga A Walk in the Sun (all in 1945); the A-bomb drama The Beginning or the End (1947); such swashbuckling fare as Buccaneer’s Girl and The Flame and the Arrow (both 1950); the 1951 remake of the German suspenser M; and Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 melodrama Limelight (Lloyd and Chaplin were regular tennis partners). With the coming of the “Red Scare” era in Hollywood, however, Lloyd received fewer acting chances as he was “gray-listed” for possible subversive ties. Enter his old friend and mentor Hitchcock, who made Norman a director and associate producer on his 1955-65 TV anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Working mostly behind the camera throughout the late ’50s and ’60s, Lloyd made occasional on-screen appearances on the Hitchcock series, as well as such shows as G.E. Theater, Night Gallery and Kojak. His big-screen return came in the 1977 chiller Audrey Rose as a doctor, which was a foreshadowing of the role that would return him to the public eye. That role was as Dr. Daniel Auschlander, the chief of services at Boston’s St. Eligius Hospital, in NBC’s acclaimed 1982-88 medical drama St. Elsewhere. The character of Auschlander, who was battling liver cancer, was only supposed to be in the first four episiodes, but Lloyd wound up staying with the series throughout its six-season run.

ST. ELSEWHEREKey film turns for Lloyd after St. Elsewhere included Mr. Nolan, headmaster of the prestigious prep school where new teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) ruffles more than a few feathers, in 1989’s Dead Poets Society; as Mr. Letterblair, senior partner in Newland Archer’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) law firm, in Martin Scorsese’s 1993 adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; and, yes, as the president of Wossamatta U. in 2000’s live-action/animation mix The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Norman continued to work into the new century, appearing in such films as In Her Shoes and on TV in episodes of The Practice and Modern Family. Now in his centennial year, the venerable performer has a role in the upcoming indie drama A Place for Heroes.

In a recent Hollywood reporter interview, Lloyd gave partial credit to his longevity to a positive attitude. “You must be active, you must be positive, even if things don’t go the way you want them to,” he said. “I think if you allow yourself to mope and feel sorry for yourself, it can take years off your life.” Here’s wishing he has years to come.