Monday, July 1, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 1 - Personnel File: Norman Lloyd ... "The Ultimate Pro"

From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, February 1997, volume 1, number 1.

As a child, Norman Lloyd would often accompany his mother to her Ladies Club meetings. There she sang beautiful melodies, while he bellowed out burlesque-style renderings, such as "Father get the hammer, there's a fly on baby's head!" Said Lloyd, "I did show a bit of talent - I used to do song and dance as a kid. The songs I sang were disgusting ... you know when you're nine years old and doing that, you're really repulsive."

Norman Lloyd, Age 15
But somehow his mother didn't think so. During the 1920s, "she took me to damn near every show that was on Broadway." Soon, Norman had caught a terminal case the acting bug.

Born in 1914, Norman is a native of Jersey City, New Jersey, but by age two his father (who was in the furniture business) had moved the family to Brooklyn, where young Norman became a "rabid Dodger fan," and a regular patron of Tom Mix movies, thus creating a balance to his love of theater that "sort of enabled me to stay with the circle of my kid friends."

Norman attended Boys High, located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. "I was a moderately good student - a "B" student, not an "A" student. At Boys High we had some distinguished graduates - Aaron Copland, Norman Mailer, Isaac Asimov."

It is difficult to imagine Lloyd's lower east side origins from listening to him speak today. The woman responsible for eliminating his New York dialect was theater director Eva LeGaliienne, who told a 17-year-old Norman, "If you want to be a member of my acting company, you have to learn to speak better." LeGallienne assigned a speech teacher to Norman and the rest is history.

Today, Norman only slips back into "street speech" when occasionally angered by a disputed call on the tennis court, and at age 82, he is still an avid player... a skill he honed decades ago, and one which led him to meet Charlie Chaplin.

Holding "court" with Chaplin.
World War II had just ended and Norman was a regular at friend Joseph Cotten's Sunday tennis outings. One weekend a friend of Cotten's invited Norman to Charlie Chaplin's house for a match, and the result was a life long friendship. Speaking of Chaplin, Norman said "He just couldn't wait to get down on the court - he was a fierce competitor." Chaplin later cast Norman in his 1952 film Limelight. Said Lloyd of Chaplin, "He had a very strong point of view - enormous courage. He was the greatest combination businessman/artist."

Years earlier Norman had worked with another great artist - Orson Welles - in the old Mercury Theater Repertory Company (where he met Joseph Cotten). "I was a great admirer of Orson as a director. I think he's the finest directorial theater talent we ever had in the American theater."

But Norman's most memorable experience with early theater had nothing to do with his acting abilities (well, not really). It was during that time that he met and fell in love with Peggy, his wife of over 60 years. "She was an actress and a dancer, appearing in Romeo and Juliet with Orson Welles. She knew Orson well before I did. We met in 1936 while doing a Kazan play together, and six months later we were married. It's usual in show business that you fall in love with the most beautiful girl in the cast - I mean, it's just a matter of principle! She is still the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

Peggy Lloyd
Norman and Peggy have two children - a daughter, 56 years old, who lives in Los Angeles, and a son 49 years old who resides is Northern California. They have two grandchildren - a granddaughter who works for a publishing house n New York, and a grandson who will graduate from college this Spring. Norman and Peggy will celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary in June of this year. And so, the love of Norman's life has been by his side since the very begininngs of his professional career... a career that began in 1932 and included collaborations with the greatest names in the business, Orson Welles and Chaplin among them.

But while Welles was a contemporary, and Chaplin an inspiration, it was Alfred Hitchcok who most influenced the career of Norman Lloyd. "Hitchcock was just wonderful to me. He brought me out here (to California) from New York in 1942 as an actor in Saboteur, and then cast me in Spellbound (with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman)."

Norman Lloyd with Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock gave Norman a chance to hone his skills as a film actor, but in the late 1940s and early 50s Lloyd (following in Hitchcock's footsteps) turned his attention to directing, particularly television programs such as Omnibus. With some directorial experience under his belt, Norman once again was called back to Los Angeles and once again by Hitchcock, this time, in 1957, to be an associate producer and frequent director for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series. "I became immersed in the way Hitch saw a story and what his ideas were about suspense - so out of that I was enormously influenced as a director, and directed about 25 of the episodes (including) "Man from the South" starring Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre."

Following his stint with Hitchcock Presents, Norman continued acting and directing. Then in the mid-1970s signed on as Executive Producer for the Hollywood Television Theater on PBS. It was then that JENNIFER SAVIDGE first met Norman. "It was the first audition I ever did in this business. He was producing "The Lady's Not for Burning"... the turkey didn't case me (laughs)"

"Well," Lloyd told us, "...I would think so, yes! I love her, she's a great girl. If I had known then it was Jennifer I would have cast her (laughs)."

Today, Jennifer and her soul mate of nearly 10 years, actor Robert Fuller (Laramie, Wagon Train, Emergency) are close friends with Norman and Peggy Lloyd. Savidge fondly remembers her first encounter with Lloyd. "He was really warm and seemed to care for actors a lot. Later when I found out I would be working with him on St. Elsewhere, I was delighted!"

ED BEGLEY, JR. knew Norman prior to St. Elsewhere as well. "Norman directed me in a mystery show on television with Fritz Weaver, Sigourney's dad - I really liked Norman a lot and have great respect for him."

Norman recalled, "That was on Tales of the Unexpected about 1980, an episode by John Collier called "Wet Saturday". Ed was superb to direct - he was a marvelous person to work with.

But perhaps the most important professional relationship Norman nurtured PRIOR to St. Elsewhere is the one that eventually landed him on the show in the first place. "Blythe Danner came out here to do The Scarecrow (PBS, 1970) and she didn't have much experience. I was in the play with her - I played the Devil ... not very imaginative casting! My wife Peggy and I became very fond of Blythe and took her in so to speak. That was when she had just married Bruce." Bruce, as in PALTROW.

The Paltrow clan
BRUCE PALTROW told ON CALL, "Blythe fell madly in love with Norman and Peggy, and then when I came out to California, I met them through her. Norman and Blythe went on to do Major Barbara togther (1974) at the Mark Taper Forum. So we got to be even more friendly." And the rest is Hollywood history. Paltrow went on to produce The White Shadow for MTM and afterwards he was readying a pilot for St. Elsewhere.

Norman Lloyd recalls, "This is a business of knowing people. (For example, I got to know Hitchcock because John Houseman was a very close friend of mine and he and Hitch both worked for Selznik). So, one day when I was still producing Tales of the Unexpected, Peggy and I went over to Bruce and Blythe's house for an afternoon cocktail party. I said to Bruce, 'What are you doing now?' Bruce said, 'I'm going to make a pilot for a new series called 'St. Elsewhere.' I said to Bruce, 'Marvelous - what is it about?' and Bruce said, 'It's about this hospital and there are all these YOUNG doctors, and then there are these' - he paused and looked at me and I looked at him - and in that silence, I said, 'make me an offer!'"

PALTROW remembers "I asked Norman if he would consider doing a four-parter as a liver specialist who is dying of liver cancer. Norman asked me to send him the material and I did, and he said 'I love the material. I'd love to do it.'"

"Still, the network wasn't sure about casting me," added Lloyd, "but Bruce held fast - he wanted me to play the part, and so I did the pilot."

For Norman, joining the cast of St. Elsewhere, even temporarily, was like going home. A return, as it were, to repertory. "Yes, I've always been attracted to it, and of course when we came to St. Elsewhere and had this wonderful ensemble, which thought was first rate, it fulfilled me. It's where I find my greatest comfort, and do my best work."

As we now know, however, Norman didn't just do four episodes of St. Elsewhere.

PALTROW: "Very quickly we realized how important Dr. Auschlander was to the series. To lose him after four episodes didn't seem to make sense to us. So I think initially the idea was to keep him around for AWHILE."

LLOYD: "As I understand it, there was audience interest in how Auschlander was going to function as Administrator of this hospital when he knew he had this terminal disease."

SAVIDGE: "Norman told me word had gotten out that his character was going to die, and I think they got a lot of fan mail - there was a public outcry. People didn't want to see him go because there were so few television series that had that kind of a character. People felt comfortable with him - people who had gone through dire circumstances could empathize with Auschlander."

But just how long WOULD Paltrow let Auschlander live? Sensing an imminent demise of the kindly doctor, Blythe Danner stepped in. NORMAN: "This great friendship had developed between our families and we love them both. So we were fond of saying, 'If Bruce decides to write me out, Blythe is going to divorce him (laughs)."

Jennifer Savidge &
Ed Begley, Jr.
Jennifer Savidge backs up Norman's story. "Supposedly Blythe said to Bruce, 'If you kill this guy off, our marriage is over! (laughs)" But when ON CALL confronted the master producer, he tried to diffuse the tale. PALTROW: "It sounds cute, but the truth is everybody realized what a valuable contribution Norman made - not only his talent, but the character as well meant to the balance of the series."

However, we gave the last word on this matter to that "repulsive little showman" from Jersey City. "Yes," said Norman, "Blythe threatened him! (laughs)"

And so, we owe a debt of gratitude to Bruce AND Blythe for keeping Auschlander alive. NORMAN: "It was the longest remission of cancer in medical history!"

Thus, Norman became a regular member of the cast, and was content to limit his involvement with St. Elsewhere to acting. "There was some talk the first or second year about 'Did I want to direct?' and I said 'No thank you fellows.' ON CALL wanted to know why such a distinguished director would refuse the helm, even occasionally.

Norman Lloyd
NORMAN: "Because of a couple of reasons. I loved this character of Auschlander and I didn't want to compromise it by starting to direct, because when you direct, another personality comes in. It's a more severe personality. It's more demanding in a funny way. Although you are trying to preserve the ego of the actor and you have a constant interest in him, there's a strain due to the rate of speed that you have to shoot these television shows. And I had shot so many of them way back. There was a constant feeling then that you're 'walking away' from shots that you haven't completed because of the time element - you've got to finish a certain amount of pages every day - just like a feature. And I found that to be unsatisfactory... I didn't want any more of that. So I didn't want to put myself in that situation on St. Elsewhere which might compromise my whole Auschlander world there. I loved the Auschlander character, and that was enough for me... I loved it."

Behind the scenes, the St. Elsewhere ensemble was grateful to see Norman stay on., especially among the younger actors who were "spellbound" by his tendency to tell stories of the old days in film and television. Norman owned up to these daily monologues. "Well, just try and stop me," he boasted.

STEPHEN FURST told ON CALL, "I always looked forward to coming to work because between set ups (Norman) would talk to us about film and television history - it was like going to a film school seminar, I was mesmerized by him and I didn't even want to get up and leave to go do my next scene."

JENNIFER SAVIDGE: "Howie (Mandel) and I were terrified by being thrown into this enclave of talented people... Norman came along with this wonderfully warm, loving, nurturing character - it was like the father figure for all of us."

CYNTHIA SIKES adds, "He was so wise and so kind and so much fun. He was always there to tell stories and make you feel comfortable. I always learned so much from him. He was very supportive of me, and very generous. I felt like he really saw me and saw what my potential was, and where my heart was. He was very kind to me. I can't say enough good things about him. He is an amazing man."

Stephen Furst & Jeannie Elias
FURST: "I never felt an age difference between Norman and me - he was a friend - a peer - I never felt like I was talking to an older person."

And that's understandable... After all, Norman demolished Stephen in a couple of celebrity tennis tournaments. Said FURST, "I couldn't even keep up with him!"

And that court-side spirit carried over into Lloyd's work as well. FURST: "Norman was impeccable. I mean, I look at the gag reel now, and there's not much of him on there."

ED BEGLEY told us why. "He always knew his lines. He was extremely professional."

Norman's career has been most enjoyably recounted in his delightful book, Stages...of Life in Theater, Film, and Television. Stages offers Norman's analysis of and detailed commentary on the great directors with whom he has worked. Stages is still in print and available from Limelight Editions, Proscenium Publishers, Inc. Lloyd told ON CALL that Stages really should have been penned a long time ago. "It was at Hitchcock's 75th birthday party. Francois Truffaut was there and said to me "you know you ought to do a book, having worked with Hitch, Chaplin, Welles, Renoir and others." Of course, Norman added, "Life all actor/producer/directors, I didn't do a thing about it (laughs)."

But later Norman did do something about it, and we are glad that he did.

Finally, we harbor back to Ed Begley's compliment on Norman's professionalism, for which Hume Cronyn agreed. In a letter sent to Lloyd not long ago, Cronyn described the kid from Jersey City as "THE ULTIMATE PRO"... a phrase Norman told us might make a fitting epitaph some day.

Of course, we asked Norman if Hume's assessment might not leave us wondering if the reference was to career or to competitive tennis. To that Norman replied, "Oh, I hope it's for tennis!"

* * *

Editor's note: Many of Norman's films are available on home video, among them Spellbound, The Southerner, Saboteur, The Flame and the Arrow, Limelight, Dead Poets' Society, and The Age of Innocence. To our knowledge, the only video of his Hitchcock Presents directorial work is "Man from the South" available through GoodTimes Home Video.

Note from blog editor: This article is presented here for historical preservation, so please ignore any claims to availability for any media products mentioned herein. Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

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