If modern film history has a voice, it is Norman Lloyd's. An actor for more than 70 years, Lloyd has worked with -- and known as friends -– filmmakers as diverse as Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir.
A peerless raconteur with an impeccable memory, the 97-year-old Lloyd had a capacity crowd at the Cannes Film Festival (including directors Alexander Payne and Abbas Kiarostami) in the palm of his hand as he answered questions from critics Todd McCarthy and Pierre Rissient about his long career.
Lloyd's best-known work (unless you count his TV stint on “St. Elsewhere”) was his first appearance, a key role as a Nazi spy in Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 "Saboteur." His character famously plunges off the Statue of Liberty. But before he ever came to Hollywood, Lloyd had a distinguished stage career that included a place in Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre and the role of Cinna the Poet in Welles’ 1937 production of "Julius Caesar," which Lloyd remembers as having, in Welles' celebrated staging, the contemporary feel of "political melodrama written the night before."
Once in Hollywood, Lloyd became extremely close to Renoir, the son of painter Auguste Renoir, after appearing in the director's 1945 "The Southerner." Though dismissed by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck as "not one of us," Renoir earned the admiration of Chaplin as well as Welles: "They both said he was the No. 1 director," Lloyd recalled.
Perhaps the most moving story Lloyd told involved Renoir in his declining years. The director embarked on a project of seeing all his films. When he'd viewed them all, he said to Lloyd: "'When I started to make films, I was determined at all cost to be as unlike my father as possible. But having seen all my work, I realize that what I've been trying to do all my life is imitate my father,' Lloyd shared, before adding, "What an amazing statement from a man near the end of his life."
Lloyd's close association with Hitchcock led to his working as a producer and director on the classic TV series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." As the Cannes audience sat spellbound, so to speak, Lloyd recounted going to see Harold Pinter's 1960 "The Caretaker" and talking to the British playwright about possibly writing for the Hitchcock show.
As it turned out, Pinter had a TV script already written, which was sent on to Hitchcock to consider. His epigrammatic response: "I don’t do that sort of thing."
-- Kenneth Turan
Photo: Norman Lloyd is reflected in a mirror at his home in Brentwood on May 15, 2009. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times