For many dozens of Norman Lloyd’s closest friends, one of the most highly anticipated events of every year has long been the great character actor Norman Lloyd’s birthday party on November 6. The countdown (or, more accurately, count-up) to 100 was a much-relished slow-motion occasion, but Norman has long since put that milestone in the rear-view mirror. Still vigorous, mentally alert and blessed with a booming voice that could doubtless still be heard from the back row of a large theater’s second balcony, Norman a few days ago turned 106. Olivia de Havilland long ran a close second to Norman in Hollywood’s longevity department but, with her death last July, Norman has the field all to himself. It will certainly be a while until any Hollywood figure now in their 90s will threaten the actor’s record (although another Norman—Lear—who’s a neighbor and a regular at Norman Lloyd’s birthday bashes, is looking pretty good at 98).
Although Norman continues to receive visitors at his cozy, tree-enshrouded home on the Westside, the usual boisterous November 6 gathering at a generous neighbor’s place was clearly not possible this year. Instead, over the weekend he presided over a crowded Zoom affair to accommodate the many guests he normally encounters in person. Then on Monday, my son Nick and I were joined by Los Angeles Film Critics Association president Claudia Puig and her husband Jerry Taylor to present Norman with a special new Legacy Award, recognizing Norman’s exceptional contributions to film and the arts over a nearly nine-decade career. Among the highlights encompassing his 1930s stage work with the likes of Pierre Fresnay, Elia Kazan, Joseph Losey, Orson Welles, John Houseman and Aaron Copland; his film debut as the villain who fell from the Statue of Liberty in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur; and his extensive subsequent work in film, theater and television (most famously in for his long run as Dr. Auschlander in St. Elsewhere) decades afterwards (his final film appearance—to date—came in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck in 2015).
As is his custom during these socially dismal days, Norman receives visitors while sitting at a table in his breakfast room, which opens upon an outdoor patio where his guests can sit. One is required to speak loudly and clearly — something Norman does as a matter of habit, having been well trained to pitch his voice to the back of the most cavernous theaters. He also inspires one to match him in the unfashionable art of precise enunciation, at which he excelled on Monday as he enthused about Joe Biden’s victory (Norman was essentially gray-listed during the 1950s; Hitchcock ignored studio jitters by hiring him to become associate producer, frequent director and sometime actor on Alfred Hitchcock Presents for eight years).
But most of Norman’s thoughts and comments focused on another Brit-made-good, Charlie Chaplin. Norman recalled how he was taken to Chaplin’s home one day in the early 1940s to play tennis and was soon not only a regular on Chaplin’s court but also an actor in Limelight. Norman boomed out memories of the one Hollywood figure he considered a true genius for a good 20 minutes, many of them centering upon tennis (they were evidently very well matched).
If you listen to the brief accompanying snippet, you’ll get a sense of Norman’s continued dedication to theatrical enunciation and diction.