Norman Lloyd Turns 106: ‘He Is the History of Our Industry’

Norman Lloyd
AP Photo/George Brich

On Nov. 8, Norman Lloyd will celebrate his 106th birthday, which is just one more accomplishment for a man whose nearly-100-year career is filled with amazing milestones. Lloyd worked as an actor, director and/or producer in theater, the early days of radio, film and TV. He wasn’t a household name, but he has always been well known and respected within the industry — not only for his work, but for the people he worked with. That list includes Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Elia Kazan, Jean Renoir, Robin Williams, Martin Scorsese, Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon, Cameron Diaz, Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer.

As his contemporary Karl Malden summed up in 2007, “He is the history of our industry.”

Lloyd was born Norman Perlmutter Nov. 8, 1914, in Jersey City, N.J. He took singing and dancing lessons and was a paid professional by the age of 9. He performed with the New School for Social Research and Harvard Dramatic Club and made his Broadway debut in 1935 at age 20.

He also did a lot of socially-aware theater in the 1930s, including a stint at the Federal Theatre Project, part of FDR’s Works Projects Administration. Other members of the Federal Theatre Project included Orson Welles and John Houseman; those two left to form the Mercury Theatre, and Lloyd became a charter member.

He appeared in Welles’ landmark 1937 Mercury production of “Julius Caesar,” updated to fascist Europe. Lloyd’s social conscience extended backstage as well: Variety cited him as a key negotiator in increasing the salaries of the “supers” (i.e., extras) in the Shakespeare production.

In October 1939, Variety reported Lloyd’s arrival in L.A. for the Mercury Theater production of “Heart of Darkness,” scheduled to be Welles’s film debut for RKO. The project fell apart due to budget problems, but Welles and some actors stayed in Hollywood, while Lloyd returned to New York. (The Hollywood team’s next project was “Citizen Kane.”)

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“Saboteur”: from left, Norman Lloyd, director Alfred Hitchcock, on-set, 1942 Courtesy Everett Collection

Lloyd’s film debut came in the 1942 “Saboteur,” a Hitchcock suspense movie in which newcomer Lloyd received third billing. On April 29, 1942, Variety said “Norman Lloyd of the Broadway stage but new to Hollywood, is genuinely plausible as the ferret-like culprit who sets the fatal airplane factor fire.”

Lloyd’s activism and his showbiz associations made him vulnerable in the 1940s. In 1945, Variety said Lloyd was a “standout” in the film “A Letter for Evie,” directed by Jules Dassin and starring Marsha Hunt. Two years later, he and Houseman presented the English-language world premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo” at Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles, starring Charles Laughton and directed by Brecht and Joseph Losey.

Soon after that, Washington stepped up its HUAC hearings to investigate charges of Communism in Hollywood. Lloyd’s recent co-workers — including Dassin, Hunt and Losey, as well as theater colleagues from the 1930s, including Elia Kazan, Morris Carnovsky and Martin Ritt — were targeted, while Brecht was asked to testify. At that point, Lloyd shifted to working in theater or behind the cameras.

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He was frequently at the La Jolla Playhouse, directing such varied works as Christopher Fry’s “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder,” John van Druten’s “I Am a Camera,” George Axelrod’s “The Seven Year Itch” and Terence Rattigan’s “The Winslow Boy” (starring Vincent Price).

He also acted onstage in Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell” (1953), with Variety saying he took acting honors “and has much authority” as the devil.

His friend Hitchcock hired him as associate producer on the new series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” starting in 1955. Lloyd also acted and/or directed occasional episodes. He later told Variety that he was happy to make the move behind the cameras because “It’s steadier work.”

Players of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon try to connect unlikely people via their Bacon association. Lloyd would provide a much shorter game, because it takes only two or three degrees to connect him to anyone.

During the run of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” for example, he directed two classic episodes: “Man From the South,” based on a Roald Dahl story and starring Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre; and “The Contest for Aaron Gold,” from a Philip Roth story and starring Sydney Pollack.

With the anthology series, he also worked with directors like Robert Altman and Ida Lupino, writers such as Ray Bradbury, Richard Levinson and William Link, and Stirling Silliphant, plus actors including Charles Bronson, Jayne Mansfield, James Mason, Walter Matthau, Roger Moore, Robert Redford, Jessica Tandy, Dick Van Dyke and Fay Wray.

Variety wrote about “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in 1963, saying “The happy word from Norman Lloyd is that the shows will be even more ghastly now that the networks have loosened the bonds of ‘acceptance.’ Want a sample? In one, Ann Sothern is devoured by rats. Here’s a milder one: in a town in Mexico where graves are rented, a monthly payment is defaulted so they dug up the cadaver and moved it to the catacomb. ‘But, of course,’ says Lloyd, executive producer of the Hitchcockamania, ‘There’ll be the usual run of knifings and poisonings. There’s only one thing the network demands, that retribution must be stated so that the villain doesn’t get off Scot free.'”

Lloyd also continued to act. The closest he came to a signature role was as Dr. Auschlander in NBC’s “St. Elsewhere” (1982-1988).

In the 21st century, his name has appeared regularly in Variety,  including his regaling the audience at the 2007 Telluride Film Fest (at age 92), and in the 2015 review of the Judd Apatow-directed “Trainwreck.” Matthew Sussman examined his long career in the 2007 documentary “Who is Norman Lloyd?”

The answer to that question is: As Malden pointed out, he is the history of showbiz.