I’m going to be honest—he was not originally scheduled for today. But the person I was initially planning to write about is only 74, and just turned that, and when you discover that the person with the title of Hollywood’s Oldest Working Actor is 105, you figure, “Yeah, better get to him quickly.” I’m scheduled through next August, with the exception of not yet having booked out Pride, and while, as the joke goes, not a lot of people die at the age of 105, it’s still a “get to him quickly” situation. I’m already counting on way too many people staying alive for a while, and sometimes, there’s too great a risk.
So, then—Norman Lloyd. Born Norman Perlmutter in the early days of World War I. His mother took him for singing and dancing lessons when he was a child because of her own love of the theatre, and he was a professional by the age of nine. He was planning to be a lawyer, but he dropped out of school during the Depression because he saw that plenty of lawyers were broke, too, and he could be a broke actor or a broke lawyer, and one didn’t take paying for college. And then he became one of the great successes of what is in my opinion one of the best programs in the history of the US government. He was one of the many actors hit by the theatrical closings of the Depression who found work for the Federal Theatre Project.
This was a great program that not enough people talk about, and I hope someone’s getting down Lloyd’s memories of it. He himself was involving in the Living Newspapers, shows produced about current events. Seriously, read up on these, because I don’t have the time to tell you in this article how amazing the whole thing was without taking away from how great Lloyd is. Great enough, in fact, that he soon left the FTP because Orson Welles and John Houseman invited him to instead be one of the founding members of another theatre—the Mercury Theatre. He was Cinna the Poet in their anti-fascist Caesar.
He was invited to Hollywood to be in the Welles Heart of Darkness that fell through. He says that another member of the Mercury Theatre on the Air’s cast gave him bad advice, and he impulsively returned to New York—thereby missing his chance to be in Citizen Kane. He said he always regretted it. Because of course he did. But he did return to Hollywood in 1942 to make his film debut in Hitchcock’s Saboteur (which also features Will Lee, who would make his first TV appearance as Mr. Hooper fifty years ago), and he’s steadily worked in film and TV ever since.
His producing credits go back to 1960. His TV acting dates to the 1939 World’s Fair and Streets of New York. He directed the bizarre (and Darren McGavin-starring) “A Word to the Wives,” a short about tricking a husband into renovating a kitchen that’s worth seeing riffed by Bridget Nelson and Mary Jo Pehl. (Star Marsha Hunt is still alive and also a centenarian!) He was in 2015’s Trainwreck, with Amy Schumer. He’s got the sort of career where I’m frankly disappointed to find no Lux reference; if he even did the radio version, I don’t see a reference to it. And he is still alive. He played tennis with Charlie Chaplin and has himself been portrayed as a character in a movie, and he’s still, it seems, ready to act. It’s amazing.