Norman Lloyd, veteran Hollywood hyphenate, is dead at 106

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Norman Lloyd, veteran Hollywood hyphenate, is dead at 106
He was the chilly fascist sympathizer who kept audiences on the edge of their seats as he dangled from the Statue of Liberty in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 film “Saboteur.”

by Eric Nagourney

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- He was the young actor who moved the audience as Cinna the poet in Orson Welles’ 1937 theatrical production of “Julius Caesar.”

He was the chilly fascist sympathizer who kept audiences on the edge of their seats as he dangled from the Statue of Liberty in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 film “Saboteur.”

And he was the kindly Dr. Auschlander on the popular 1980s hospital drama “St. Elsewhere.”

His face was recognizable to generations of people. But his name? Well, just consider this: When a filmmaker decided to make a documentary about him, he ended up titling it “Who Is Norman Lloyd?”

Lloyd, who died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles at 106, carved out a successful career over seven decades as an actor, producer and director, working with some of the best-known names in the business — even if his own was barely recognized.

His death was confirmed by producer Dean Hargrove, a longtime friend.

In addition to acting under Welles and Hitchcock, Lloyd worked with Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht, John Houseman and Jean Renoir. He became good friends with Hitchcock and a frequent tennis partner of Chaplin’s. And he had stories to tell about all of them.

“He is a fount of stage and movie lore, full of juice at the age of 93,” The New Yorker wrote when “Who Is Norman Lloyd?” was released in 2007.

When Lloyd spoke, he did so with the sort of delivery that suggested an upper-crust upbringing and impeccable schooling. As it happened, he was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Nov. 8, 1914, and the only social climbing his family did was to move to Brooklyn. The aristocratic voice came later, when it was suggested that he take elocution lessons to erase his accent.

“He sounds like he was born in London,” a friend, Peter Bart, the editorial director at Variety, once said. “It’s not an affectation. It’s just the way he sounds.”

Lloyd began performing when he was very young, appearing before ladies’ clubs, he told The Star-Ledger of Newark in 2007. “‘Father, Get the Hammer. There’s a Fly on Baby’s Head’ — that was my big number,” he recalled dryly. “So you can imagine what that act was like.”

But the young man was set on an actor’s path, and eventually he began working under Welles at the Mercury Theater in New York. The pay was poor, but it was the Depression, and he was better off than many of the people who crammed the theater in search of a cheap diversion. Lloyd’s performance as Cinna, in a version of “Julius Caesar” that Welles set in Mussolini’s Italy, brought him acclaim.

“By many accounts, the most electrifying moment in ‘Caesar’ was the brief scene in which Cinna the Poet is mistaken for one of the conspirators and is set upon by the mob,” Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker in 2015 in an article about Welles.

When Welles moved to Los Angeles in 1940 to make films, the young Lloyd went with him.

Welles’ first movie project fell through, however, and Lloyd, who was expecting a baby with his wife, Peggy, a fellow performer, decided to look for work elsewhere. Welles’ next project went better: It was “Citizen Kane.”

But while Lloyd missed a chance to have a role in that classic film, he did manage to get cast by Hitchcock in “Saboteur.” His role was a big one: Fry, a fifth columnist bent on attacking American targets during World War II.

At the film’s climax, he topples over the edge of the Statue of Liberty’s torch and dangles as the film’s hero (Robert Cummings) tries to pull him to safety by his sleeve. (If a spoiler can be forgiven after all these years, Fry’s fate is less like that of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint as they perch on Mount Rushmore in another Hitchcock film, “North by Northwest,” than that of King Kong on the Empire State Building.)

Other roles followed, including in Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945), Chaplin’s “Limelight” (1952) and Jean Renoir’s Hollywood movie “The Southerner” (1945). But Lloyd gradually began to turn to producing and directing.

During the Hollywood blacklist period, his work dried up because of his past associations with leftist performers. He credited Hitchcock with reviving his career by insisting that he be allowed to hire Lloyd to produce and direct episodes of his television shows, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”

Lloyd took whatever work he could get until almost the end of his life. He had roles in an episode of “Modern Family” in 2010 and in the 2015 Judd Apatow movie “Trainwreck.” He also continued to spend a lot of time on the tennis court.

Lloyd “still plays tennis and still follows the serve to the net, which is daunting,” Bart said in an interview when his friend was well into his 90s.

In 2014, the year he turned 100, the Los Angeles City Council proclaimed Nov. 8, his birthday, “Norman Lloyd Day.”

Peggy Lloyd, who was born Margaret Hirsdansky and who was married to Lloyd for 75 years, died in 2011. She and Norman Lloyd had met when they co-starred in a play called “Crime,” directed by Elia Kazan.

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Matthew Sussman, who directed the documentary about Lloyd, said its title came late in the game as he was telling acquaintances what he was working on.

“That would be the question,” he said, “almost every time: ‘Who is Norman Lloyd?’”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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