Norman Lloyd Has Stories”¦ and Stories and Stories

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

As an actor, director and producer in a career spanning eight decades, Norman Lloyd has worked with some of the greatest talents in film history including Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick. He has made countless appearances in movies and episodic television, most recently in the TV hit Modern Family. He is the subject of the 2007 documentary Who Is Norman Lloyd? which chronicles his career in show business. On the personal side, Lloyd has been happily married to his wife Peggy for 74 years ““ one of the longest and most enduring marriages in Hollywood history.

And for one night only ““ Sunday, Dec. 5, Lloyd, now 96, will be at the Colony Theatre sharing his stories and answering questions about his experiences in show business.

In 2000, Norman Lloyd participated in an extended interview for the Archive of American Television. Here are excerpts from that interview.

In 1937, Lloyd joined the Mercury Theatre, the legendary theatre company headed by Orson Welles and John Houseman. He describes some of his experiences:

Norman Lloyd

The very first production of the Mercury was Julius Caesar and I played the role of Cinna, the Poet. Orson was Brutus and Caesar was an actor named Joe Holland. The production turned New York on its ear. It was done in modern dress, set in Italy. Officers were in the green Italian fascist costumes. Mussolini was still in power at the time so the audience got it. Orson used the bare stage ““ it was painted, the brick wall was totally visible, the levels were painted blood red, the lights that went straight up into the air were modeled after the Nuremberg lights used at Hitler’s gatherings. Visually, it was enormously powerful.

Orson and Houseman were a perfect creative team. That is not to say there wasn’t great friction; there was enormous yelling of such a nature it would go on and on. They were very volatile people ““ both of them, the screaming from both was very necessary and yet it was sad the way it ended, culminating in a very bad scene in a restaurant where Orson accused John Houseman of stealing Julius Caesar for his MGM production. And that production was in togas ““ our production was in modern dress so I don’t know [what Orson was thinking] “¦ but I guess Orson thought he wrote the play. [chuckles]

Orson threw at John a sterno can or something in this restaurant ““ it would have been a serious result if it had hit him. It was sad. It ended unfortunately but together they were guys of tremendous theatricality, great taste ““ Houseman had wonderful taste ““ and Orson had this great talent ““ it’s the finest directorial talent we’ve ever had in the theatre, in my view. They both had a rascally quality”¦ They knew how to run a theatre in a very dangerous way because they were always going broke.

Lloyd made his movie debut in the 1942 Alfred Hitchcock classic Saboteur. He played Fry, the villain (and title character). He describes making the famous final scene:

The ending took place on the Statue of Liberty. The character goes into the statue and goes up to the top. The police and FBI want to capture him alive because he’s a Nazi spy. I get out onto the torch which had a railing around it and Bob Cummings ““ the good guy ““ makes a gesture at me with his gun. It frightens me and I go backwards over the railing. This was a stunt performed by Davey Sharpe, who was the great stuntman of this time. He did this fall and went free falling through the air and got caught right between the thumb and forefinger [of the statue] which was done without any net protection. The hand and torch were built to scale exactly as the Statue of Liberty.

It was very effective. To this day, it plays every day as part of the Universal Studio tour in Los Angeles and at the tour in Orlando, Florida. In the days before graphics and computers and the remarkable things they do in film now, the cameraman John Fulton was known as the best trick cameraman in Hollywood.

Norman Lloyd and Alfred Hitchcock

On the enduring legacy of Hitchcock:

Hitch was a world-figure. He was a man of great humor, had a very definite view of the world. He saw the world a certain way and we have as a result what is known as the Hitchcock film. It became the Hitchcock story, so to speak, almost like an Edgar Allen Poe story”¦Â Directors try to imitate him but they never get the mixture right. Only Hitch had the mixture of the romance, the suspense, the humor, the twists”¦

Lloyd worked with Hitchcock again on the 1945 film Spellbound with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman:

Ingrid Bergman played a psychoanalyst and I played one of her psychologically disturbed patients named Mr. Garmes. There was a cameraman named Lee Garmes ““ he was really good, one of the top cameramen, and it pleased Hitch to name this psychopath after him. In this picture, I received the finest direction from a director I’ve ever received. I was on a gurney about to be moved to the operating room and Hitchcock said to me [impersonates Hitchcock], “Norm, in this scene you’re supposed to sweat. [pause] Start sweating now.” There’s a wonderful still photo of that and I’m laughing away. [chuckles]

That picture renewed my friendship with Hitchcock and he became a real friend. His wonderful wife Alma made such a great contribution to his life and was the one person he trusted, whose judgment he trusted.  His daughter Pat today looks after the legacy and has handled it so well. He still remains a star long after his death. He was one of the greats.

Lloyd also worked with Charlie Chaplin and describes their friendship:

I did a picture with [Chaplin] called Limelight (1952) and even before Limelight, I had become a friend of his as did my wife. We went out on the boat with him socially and so forth. This was all rooted in tennis. Charlie was passionate about tennis as I am and I used to play with him about four times a week. Out of that grew a real friendship. And one day he asked me if I wanted to be in Limelight. I had the great experience of doing the last picture he made in this country. It was a very personal story ““ it was really about a man who could no longer make people laugh, and Charlie really felt that he had lost that ability. He was an extraordinary man ““ he was a genius. To work with him was fascinating.

In 1952-53, Lloyd directed an acclaimed five-part miniseries about Abraham Lincoln called “Mr. Lincoln” for the TV anthology series Omnibus ““ and discusses working with Stanley Kubrick, an emerging filmmaker.

Omnibus was on at 3 pm on Sundays. It was an attempt to make a program on the highest level they could aspire with no commercial restrictions. Since I was shooting all the stuff in various locations, producer Richard de Rochemont said, “I know a young fellow who’s only 21. If you okay a picture he made, we could hire him to go do some second unit work that doesn’t involve any dialogue.”Â I said, “Okay, let’s see his picture.”Â So arrived Stanley Kubrick with a picture he made with some pretentious title. I looked at the picture with Kubrick sitting there. It was beautifully shot ““ he himself had operated the camera and directed it. The picture was not good ““ but the visual qualities were very strong. I said to de Rochemont, “Very good choice, send him down there.”

The actors sent back clippings from the newspapers where Kubrick was describing how he was doing the series. I found it very amusing because the indication was he was making the series. As I said to someone, “With an ego like this, nothing will ever stop him.”Â He then came out to New Salem where I was filming principal photography. He asked if I would like him to stay and help but on the basis of the clippings, I said “No, thank you.”

Lloyd became a producer on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and directed a number of episodes. One of them was titled Man from the South, adapted by Roald Dahl from his own story. It aired in 1960:

Norman Lloyd in "Saboteur"

Steve McQueen is in a Las Vegas club lighting a cigarette with a Zippo lighter and is

spotted by Peter Lorre, who wanted to bet him he couldn’t light it 10 times in a row. McQueen’s character doesn’t have any money so Lorre’s character bets his Cadillac against McQueen’s little finger. That became a well-known show. The young people were fascinated by this game and would play it in the schoolyard. I had a great time doing that.

On why Alfred Hitchcock Presents was so successful:

I think it was a combination of reasons. Hitch doing the lead-ins ““ people loved that. And as far as the stories are concerned, they are real stories ““ beginnings, middles, and ends ““ with a twist. And you know one of the most beautiful phrases in our language is “once upon a time.”Â And these stories were “once upon a time.”Â We’re not talking about character behavior; we’re not talking about the study of a human being. We had almost, we hoped, a campfire effect. Did you ever listen to ghost stories around a campfire? They’re the greatest thing. That’s what [the show] had ““ the stories are marvelous.

Lloyd was part of the cast of St Elsewhere, which aired on NBC from 1982 to 1988. He played Dr. Daniel Auschlander, the administrator of the hospital where the show takes place. He explains how he got cast on the show:

I was invited to a party at Bruce Paltrow’s home ““ he was married to Blythe Danner and I knew her [from a 1972 movie The Scarecrow] and we became great friends ““ like family. I like to say I knew Gwyneth before she was born. So at this party, I’m standing with Bruce and I say, “What are you working on?”Â He said, “Well, I got a deal to make a pilot called St. Elsewhere.”Â I said, “What a great title.”Â He said, “Yeah, it takes place in a hospital; it’s about a lot of doctors, most of them are fairly young, but there’s one “¦”Â He looks at me. He said, “Would you be interested?”Â I said, “Make me an offer.”Â I signed on to do the pilot. And I did it while still producing Tales of the Unexpected [a British anthology series that ran from 1979 to 1988]. The original character of Dr. Auschlander was only supposed to go for four episodes because he had cancer of the liver. But something appealed to everyone connected with the show and there may have been some audience response”¦ so the character went for six years ““ with the longest remission on record.

An Evening With Norman Lloyd, presented by the Colony Theatre Company, plays Sun., Dec. 5 at 7 pm. Tickets: $25-$35. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; 818.558.7000, ext. 15 or colonytheatre.org.

Further information on Norman Lloyd visit his IMDB site: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0516093/

LA STAGE Alliance

LA STAGE Alliance

LA STAGE Alliance is a non-profit arts service organization dedicated to building awareness, appreciation, and support for the performing arts in Greater Los Angeles.