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Norman Lloyd (1914–2021), actor in “St. Elsewhere,” Hitchcock films

by Linnea Crowther

Norman Lloyd was a centenarian actor whose career spanned nine decades and included roles in Alfred Hitchcock films, “Dead Poets Society,” and the soap opera “St. Elsewhere.”

Incredible career longevity

Lloyd’s impressively long career in Hollywood led many to marvel over the history he carried in his head. He could reminisce about playing tennis with Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) and had the privilege of calling Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) a friend (and calling him “Hitch,” as his friends did). He worked with Orson Welles (1915–1985) when he was a pre-“Citizen Kane” boy wonder and fractured a rib playing basketball with Karl Malden (1912–2009). But his fascinating memories didn’t end with the deaths of his fellow stars of Hollywood’s golden age – he also had stories to tell about Judd Apatow and the Coen Brothers. That’s because of the staying power that made him Hollywood’s oldest working actor.

Early theatrical career

It all began in 1932. Lloyd left New York University at 17, after two years of study, because he already knew he wanted to act. He spent the first decade of his career in the theater, with emphasis on social theater collectives including the Theatre of Action and the Federal Theatre Project. With the latter, he appeared in a number of “Living Newspapers” productions, dramatizing current events.

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It was as a theater actor that Lloyd crossed paths with Welles, who put on a 1937-’38 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” renamed simply “Caesar,” with his critically acclaimed Mercury Theatre in New York City. Lloyd played Cinna the Poet, bringing to the role his show-stopping interpretation of the character.

Lloyd suspected that his celebrated performance may have annoyed Welles a bit – the director, playing Marcus Brutus, would have preferred to be the star of the show. Several years later, Lloyd told the AV Club in a 2015 interview, the men met again. “Orson embraced me in this tremendous embrace and whispered in my ear, ‘You son of a bitch.’ And that was the last time I saw him! I took it as a mark of affection.”

Welles hoped to assemble the actors of the Mercury Theatre, including Lloyd, to star in a film adaptation of “Heart of Darkness.” The whole troupe traveled to California and began preparations to make the movie. But when the production stalled and then entirely stopped, Lloyd and a few others went back to New York to resume their onstage work. Had he stayed, Lloyd later realized, he would have been cast in the project that soon followed the aborted “Heart of Darkness” – 1941’s “Citizen Kane.”

Movies and television

Another year would pass before Lloyd returned to Hollywood and resumed his stalled movie career, and it would be another legendary director who lured him there for the second time. Hitchcock cast Lloyd in his 1942 spy thriller, “Saboteur.” Lloyd remained in Hollywood and took a role in a second Hitchcock film, “Spellbound,” in 1945.

He would work with his friend again on the TV series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in the 1950s and ’60s – both in front of the camera and behind it. Lloyd directed and produced a number of episodes of the classic television anthology, including the popular 1960 episode “Man From the South,” based on a story by Roald Dahl (1916–1990) and starring Steve McQueen (1930–1980) and Peter Lorre (1904–1964).

St. Elsewhere

Lloyd continued to act and direct throughout the 1960s and ’70s, but his next high-profile role wouldn’t come until 1982. It was then that he agreed to do a short arc on the award-winning TV drama “St. Elsewhere.” His part was intended to last for just four episodes, but when the show’s creators discovered how much they enjoyed writing for and working with him, they invited him to stick around. His Dr. Daniel Auschlander became a popular featured character, remaining with the show for its entire six-season run.

Notable later roles

It wasn’t long after the end of “St. Elsewhere” that Lloyd took another part that made him highly recognizable to younger audiences. In 1989’s “Dead Poets Society,” Lloyd played Mr. Nolan, the strict headmaster who became a villain as he administered corporal punishment to a student and fired a beloved teacher, played by Robin Williams (1951–2014).

In the 1990s and beyond, Lloyd largely worked on television. One notable role came in 1993 on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In the episode “The Chase,” Lloyd played Captain Picard’s former mentor, Professor Richard Galen. Before his death, Lloyd was the oldest living actor to have appeared in the “Star Trek” franchise. Lloyd also had guest-star spots on “Modern Family” and “Murder, She Wrote,” as well as a recurring role on “The Practice.”

Lloyd returned to the big screen in 2015 for the raunchy comedy hit “Trainwreck.” Playing a nursing home resident with an eye for the ladies, Lloyd delighted in trying out director Judd Apatow’s improvisational style. Apatow called working with Lloyd “a career high moment” in an interview with Variety.

Lloyd on his long career

“I do a lot of thinking about the long story of my life, and some of it astounds me.” —from a 2015 interview with the AV Club

Tributes to Norman Lloyd

Full obituary: Los Angeles Times

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