For the past few years, Doug and I have been attending a 4th of July gathering up in my old neighborhood – Beachwood Canyon, under the Hollywood sign. We arrived early this year and sat down at tables in the backyard decorated fancifully in red, white and blue and nursing lethal (but great-tasting) Sangrias. An elderly man sat next to me regaling the other guests with stories of old Hollywood. He looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place him at first. Suddenly, I realized he was the actor Norman Lloyd, and to my surprise, he was (as of this writing) 101 years old.
According to him, he is officially 101 ½. You may recall Norman Lloyd from the TV show St. Elsewhere where he played Dr. Daniel Auschlander. Coincidentally, St. Elsewhere was the show that earned me my SAG card when I did a quick and forgettable scene with Ed Bagley Jr. and Howie Mandel. Norman has also appeared in a long list of feature films that include Saboteur, Spellbound, and Limelight. His latest project, that he completed at the young age of 99, was Trainwreck with Amy Schumer.
Norman told us he lived next door to Ed O’Neil (star of Modern Family) who invited him to have lunch with director Judd Apatow. After they finished eating, Apatow asked if he could walk him to his car. Norman had a driver’s license and drove around town up until 2014 when his son insisted he give it up. He believes that Apatow walked him 1 ½ blocks to his car to see if he could actually walk that far. Right after that, he cast Norman in Trainwreck as the old man in a wheelchair. Norman says he adored Amy Schumer who would say anything “unedited” no matter who she was talking with.
Norman was close friends with Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, and Jean Renoir. He also befriended Bertolt Brecht. He quipped about the time he was working with Hitchcock on a film with Kim Novak. Hitchcock had the sniffles and Norman asked him if he was coming down with a cold. Hitch replied, “The cold in my nose is a certain actress.” It’s well-known that Hitchcock and Novak didn’t get along.
He and his wife, Peggy Craven were married for 75 years until her death at the age of 98 in 2011. It was one of the longest (if not the longest) marriage ever recorded in Hollywood. He still retains a housekeeper that he says he pays a fortune to (more than most) because she was a favorite of his wife. The woman had the gall to ask for a raise and he had to say no.
In the 1930’s, Norman worked with the Group Theatre, the Theatre of Action and the Federal Theatre Project. which he says was “one of the great theaters of all time.” He, Orson Welles and John Houseman left the Federal to form the Mercury Theatre where he played leading roles for years. He mentioned that although he believed Orson Welles was one of our “greatest talents” he was not a pleasant person to work with. In fact, he was a tyrant.
In the early 40’s. he hooked up with Hitchcock and went on to have a long friendship and working relationship. Not only did he appear in several of his films but also went on to act, direct and produce numerous episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. You can view his credits on his IMDB page.
Norman was particularly enamored with Charlie Chaplin, whom he considered to be a genius. He talked about the time Chaplin married his fourth wife Oona O’Neil. She was 18 at the time and he was in his 50’s. Oona was the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neil. Norman said that although it seems hard to believe they were deeply in love.
He was an avid tennis player and played twice a week up until 2015 when he suffered a fall. In his younger days, he often played with Chaplin, Joseph Cotton, and Spencer Tracy.
Norman Lloyd – Secret of longevity
When I asked him what his secret of longevity was he said bluntly, “Luck.”
At the party, the discussion turned to the idea of retirement. Norman Lloyd hasn’t and does not have any desire to retire anytime soon. He is the oldest living male “working” actor as of this date. Another man at the party who worked for a box making company told Norman he hadn’t retired yet because otherwise all he’d do is sleep. Norman agreed.
To be honest I sat transfixed for hours listening to him speak with his articulate stage-trained voice like a fly on the wall. He was so mentally alert with memories crystal-clear and in such good shape, he could have easily been a 70-year-old rather than a centenarian. There were also very few wrinkles on his face. A friend who writes a vegan blog asked me (hopefully) if he was vegan. I told her “no.” He sat at the table chewing on a large piece of BBQ chicken, corn on the cob with butter as he sipped on a “lethal” Sangria. He passed on dessert, though.
How many centenarians do you know who can eat corn on the cob without it being cut off and mashed?
I’m hoping to look and feel as young as actress Olivia de Havilland, who just turned 100 this month if I’m lucky to live that long.
The other living actors ahead of Norman in age are all women and are not still working. Lupita Tovar is currently the oldest. Then comes Connie Sawyer, Alice Ludes, Julie Gibson, Mary Carlisle and then Norman Lloyd. Olivia de Havilland, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Kirk Douglas are a few years behind. Betty White is still a youngster compared to all of them.
For more about Norman Lloyd, you may enjoy his book Stages of Life in Theatre, Film, and Television – click here to view
Do you think Norman Lloyd’s secret to longevity is just “luck?” Please leave a comment below.