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Windsor Star (22/Jan/1990) - Norman Lloyd: Hungry enough to survive those lean, early days



Norman Lloyd: Hungry enough to survive those lean, early days

AS A YOUNG ACTOR, Norman Lloyd was a member of Orson Welles's now-legendary Mercury Theatre, along with Joseph Cotten and others who followed the young master west to Hollywood.

In those Mercury days, Lloyd said over a cup of coffee, Welles was already constructing his own legend. He liked to order sumptuous meals from Longchamps restaurant and feast at the lip of the stage while the rehearsals went on and his cast watched with a mixture of envy and rage.

"We were young and we were starving. All the time," Lloyd says. "One day, a woman in the cast crept forward and begged for one strawberry from his tart. He sent her away with a bellow that shook the theatre."

STILL IT WAS an exhilarating time and Lloyd played Cinna the poet in Welles's modern-dress, anti-Fascist version of Julius Caesar. One extraordinary evening, Welles proposed they do the dress rehearsal of "The Shoemaker's Holiday" after the night's performance of "Julius Caesar" and invite the audience to stay on and watch.

"Half the audience did. Meantime the word went around Broadway. like wildfire, and when the curtain went up we had a standing-room-only crowd of actors from all the other plays in town."

AFTER THE Mercury days, Lloyd himself went on to a long Hollywood career, most memorably in recent years as Dr. Auschlander on St. Elsewhere and as the unpleasant headmaster who gave Robin Williams such trouble in Dead Poets Society.

Lloyd had his first big-screen success as the villin of the title in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur, who met poetic justice unforgettably by falling to his death from the Statue of Liberty. (It was an effect achieved with Hitchcock's usual ingenuity: Lloyd lay in a kind of saddle atop a hydraulic lift, which descended as Lloyd flailed his arms.)

"WHILE WE WERE shooting Saboteur in New York, the French liner Normandie burned at her pier," Lloyd says. "Hitch quickly got Universal Newsreel to take footage of it for him and then had some matte plates made of the West Side Highway along the Hudson River. Later he put me in a mock-up of a taxicab and said, 'On cue, look to your right.' I did. When the picture was edited together, what I was looking at was the Normandie burning. For 45 years people have been saying, 'What a great piece of acting! Boy, that look!' I was looking right, on cue."

Lloyd also acted for Hitchcock on Spellbound in 1945, the same year he appeared in The Southerner for Jean Renoir. Later he acted in Limelight, the last film Charlie Chaplin made in the United States.

TOGETHER WITH his experiences with Welles, it made a remarkable quartet of creators to have worked with. Lloyd has discussed them all in an oral history, called Stages, with the interviewing done by Francine Parker, herself a filmmaker.

One linking gift, so to speak, seemed to Lloyd to be that the great directors were confident enough in their own right to allow the actor freedom to suggest and to experiment.

"Renoir was the warm humanist, erudite and gentle. Chaplin and Welles both said he was the great director. Chaplin was always the champion of the immigrant underdog. Hitchcock always saw the innocent in combat with evil."

WELLES, FOR Lloyd, was the exception: the conjurer less intrested in themes or a point of view than in images, settings, movements, lighting. "He never paid much attention to the performances," Lloyd says of the Mercury days. There was no doubt of Welles's brilliance, but it was less clear, in comparison with the other three men, who the interior Welles really was.

"Jean (Renoir) told me that when he was starting out, he was terribly afraid people would think he was trading on his father's reputation, and that he would try to make his films, even in black and white, look like his father's paintings.

THEN, IN HIS last years, Renoir used to run one of his films at home every weekend, and he said: 'I realize now that I've tried to be as much like my father as I could be.'"