Norman Lloyd: Hollywood’s Long Distance Runner, Part 2

Actor/Director/Producer Norman Lloyd, born 1914.

*This is the second part of a revised and updated version of a Norman Lloyd interview which was first recorded in March 2010 just prior to the actor/director/producer’s appearance at the first Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.

Here is the link to Part 1:    

The one and only Charlie Chaplin aka Charles Spencer Chaplin

Jeff Stafford: You mentioned Charlie Chaplin. When did you first meet him?

Norman Lloyd: I had a friend named Tim Durant and he was one of Chaplin’s closest friends. Durant was really a very stylish guy, a figure out of the twenties the way he dressed. He was a great horseman and a great tennis player. I met him at Joseph Cotten’s because Joe and I had been together in the Mercury Theatre. Joe was a friend of mine and when I came out here I looked him up and he was most gracious and I was often there playing tennis on Sundays. One Sunday there was Tim Durant who was a superb tennis player. I would say a better tennis player than I except that I don’t like to reveal those things [Laughs]. Anyway, Tim and I played and we had a good time. He was very close to Charlie, not only tennis but social events so he asked me if I’d like to come up and play at Chaplin’s. I said of course and went up there and met Charlie and was in total awe because Charlie was, no question, a genius. From the time I was an infant I remember Charlie Chaplin pictures and my laughter during them. It was an effect on my life and millions of others. At one time he was the most famous man in the world during the silent picture era because those pictures were playing in every country around the world.

JS: What year did you met him?

NL: I think it was around 1946 or so.

Buster Keaton (left) and Charlie Chaplin play former stage legends in Limelight (1952).

JS: How did that lead into you being hired for Limelight, which was much later in 1952?

NL: Charlie simply asked me to be in it because by that time I knew Charlie very well. Each time [we played tennis] I got on a more conversational level with Charlie and finally one day I get a call from Charlie’s butler Watson. Was I available to play tennis at 3 o’clock on a given afternoon with Mr. Chaplin? I said yes and came up and that started a whole relationship of my playing tennis with him about 3-4 times a week.

In those days we played singles, sometimes doubles, but mostly singles. And I became a regular fixture up there. After awhile, Charlie would say “Scotch or Old Fashioned?” after we played – which I found very nice. And he one day said “Why don’t you invite your wife up and we’ll have dinner here” – he was married to Oona at this time. And my wife came up and she and Oona hit it off like ham and eggs. It was great. While the girls would go into another room after dinner and gossip, Charlie and I would speak high thoughts. Then socially he would invite us out to dinner with him and to parties at his house so I became a great friend of his.

A tennis afternoon at the home of Charlie Chaplin with writer/producer Arthur Laurents (left), Norman Lloyd (center) and Chaplin.

One day he said to me he’d seen me in Volpone out here in which I’d had something of a success. “You know anything you want to do, I’ll do with you and go in half.” Well, I was floored. Here was this guy who could be the greatest figure in the history of pictures offering me a fifty/fifty deal with him. And I said “Well, yes, Charlie, there is something and it was They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Charlie gave me the money and said just don’t use my name. I bought all the rights to it except the live television rights which then didn’t mean a damned thing. This would have been around 1947 or something. And we were going to make it as a picture and Charlie wanted his son Sydney to play the lead. I was going to direct it, Charlie was going to write it and produce it. He didn’t let on at the time but he was an authority on dance marathons. He used to go to them all the time.

We never got around to working on it except for one day [when] he sketched out some ideas. At that time he was still finishing up Limelight and in that period [1949-1951] he didn’t want to work on anything else. So we never did it. We owned it for sixteen years and then the rights ran out because the author died. If the author had lived we could have renewed by simply paying a dollar. But if the author dies the rights revert to the estate and I tried to renegotiate and they said, no, you’ve had it a long time. I never told them Chaplin was involved. I’m suspect because I didn’t make it but I thought the 1969 movie was a poor movie.  I thought the girl Jane Fonda was totally miscast and the guy was nothing – Michael Sarrazin. He wasn’t a bad actor but he wasn’t this guy. And the girl should have been Marilyn Monroe but that’s a whole other story. The girl had to be someone you found on Gower Street. She couldn’t be Jane Fonda with her breeding.

They developed this entire screenplay with somebody – I think it was Robert E. Thompson…and there was somebody going to direct it. I’ve forgotten who it was though I know [Sydney] Pollack did it eventually. But there was a director they had in mind who developed the sets for them. The sets were done by Harry Horner. Oh, James Poe who was a screenwriter wanted to direct it and Fonda had him do a test with her but after the test she said he can’t direct this picture….so let’s get another director. They went after a very fine English director Jack Clayton and Clayton was brought over and he saw all the sets built already and he said, Well. I don’t go with these sets. We’ll have to design a new picture. They said we can’t do that, we’ve put all this money into these sets and he said, “I won’t direct a picture on someone else’s sets” and he quit right there and went back to England. Pollack was available and he got the job. But the picture…it had none of the quality of the book. I mean the book is rich. In France it was considered one of the great American books of its period.   Charlie even sketching that one day – he had such ideas that if I had shot the picture I would have looked like a genius. But he developed the whole relationship of this guy, this poor schmoo and a seagull. The dance place was on a pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean and they broke every ten minutes or so. Charlie had this guy save pieces of his sandwich which was a meager offering to keep him and his partner sustained, offering pieces of this sandwich to this seagull…which was so Chaplinesque. It isn’t in the book. And the point is the gull would come at regular intervals expecting the guy on the pier to give it a few crumbs of white bread. It was only one day’s work we talked about because he wanted to get back into Limelight and all the things he had to do with it.

The Chaplin family with wife Oona on the far left

Then he decided to take his family and see where he had been born and, by his family, I mean Oona and Geraldine and Michael and Josephine and Victoria [The four children of Charlie and Oona]. There were still three more to come in Switzerland. But he wanted the four to see where he was raised. I remember him coming into his sun porch one day. We were going to play tennis and he said, “Well, I talked to my man Charlie Schwartz and I don’t owe a penny and I am clear and can go and take my family over.” As you know, in the middle of the ocean, they told him you can’t come back to the U.S. unless you pass a moral turpitude test…and the rest you know. But I always treasure that I had a real friendship with Charlie.

JS: At which stage did you branch out from acting and get into directing and producing in television on such shows as the Alcoa Premiere and The Adventures of Kit CarsonNL: I have a Kit Carson credit but I had nothing to do with it.  A new thing came along called television. This dates me of course, as if you didn’t know. MCA, which was then the most powerful agency in town, was led by Lew Wasserman and Jules Stine. They decided they would try this new medium and see what they could do with it as a means of making a lot of which they were brilliant at. So they had a guy named Karl Kramer, who was very important to them. He was sort of the secretary of the company and through Kramer they put up $100,000 dollars to take space in the studio of Eagle-Lion, which no longer exists, and make a series of half-hour pictures to be made in a day and a half. If it was a big production, two days. But you really learned your craft doing those, I tell you. They would wait until they got eight scripts and then shoot them.

Their sponsors were Chevron and Gruen Watch. It so happens that they worked with a guy who shared the same space named Leon Fromkess, I think it was, who was making Kit Carson. So we were making those two shows I had mentioned to you [The Streets of New York, Brigham Young] where Kit Carson was also being made. That’s why I am identified with having made Kit Carson but I didn’t. Now, the interesting thing is that Jay Kantor, who was the heir apparent at MCA – hired a guy named Richard Irving and another guy, a prominent radio director, and Jay Kantor suggested to them and then to me, “Why don’t you get into this Norman?” I had been directing at the La Jolla Playhouse.

La Jolla Playhouse founders from left to right: Mel Ferrer, Dorothy McGuire and Gregory Peck.

So I said, “What the hell, I’ll do it and wait for my next acting job.” So the three of us did these shows which I described to you and that was how I got into it. The La Jolla Playhouse, where I had been directing, by the way, was put together by Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire and Joe Cotten and Jennifer Jones. So we were a very high class stock company. It was during that period that Jay Kantor saw that maybe a theatre director might be interested in this sort of thing [television]. Then Hitchcock and Joan Harrison, who was producing his television show took a second show on called Suspicion to be done with Alfred Hitchcock Presents. They felt it was too much work for just the two of them so they then asked me to come on and be an associate producer and eventually producer and then become an executive producer.  JS: You were involved in a lot of my favorite episodes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents – “The Jar,” “Specialty of the House,” and others.

NL: “Specialty of the House” was directed by Robert Stevens who was sheer brilliance. He was wonderful. He won the only Emmy the show ever won. That show, which ran for ten years, won one Emmy for a thing called “The Glass Eye” which Bob Stevens directed and starred Jessica Tandy. I did about 25 of them but the two shows I would like to be remembered for are “The Jar,” a Ray Bradbury story written by James Bridges with Pat Buttram and Collin Wilcox. I think it’s a terrific show. And then I did “The Man From the South” with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre…the cutting off of the fingers. I still have “the chopper” that Peter Lorre wanted to cut the fingers off with. When the show finished, I said I’m taking this [the chopper]. We had a great cameraman, “Curly” Linden, who’d won the Academy Award [for Around the World in 80 Days] and when Peter would raise the meat chopper, “Curly” would hit it with a light so it gleamed and Peter would always have this wonderful grin on his face in anticipation of cutting off the finger. When Steve actually lit the lighter, he would let the cutter drop and his face would grow so sad, on the verge of tears…my god, he was wonderful. You know that thing of Steve lighting the lighter, they made a game of it in the schoolyards. They gave it a name – Zippo – because that was the name of the lighter. Yes, we were truly a bad influence on society. That is the thing I am most proud of.

Peter Lorre (left), Neile Adams (real life wife of Steve McQueen) and Steve McQueen star in the TV episode “The Man from the South” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

JS: On that TV series you worked with Bernard Herrmann on scoring a few of the episodes, didn’t you?

NL: Well, Benny Herrmann was one of my dear friends and we worked very closely. As a matter of fact, he had gotten in trouble in Hollywood – not political – but he was so mean to the orchestra when they scored. He was some character, jeez. He had gotten into such trouble with his temperment that it was finally difficult for him to get work. Finally Stanley Wilson, who was head of the music department at Universal and was a good friend of Benny’s, said, “We’ve got to do something about Benny.” When I said I had some shows, I put Herrmann on them. I put him on practically everything I did for some period. The best way to work with Benny was to leave him alone. But it was so sad, heartbreaking because he had done…I don’t know how many pictures with Hitchcock over a period of about ten years, the great Vertigo score, Psycho. When Hitch was doing Torn Curtain the studio was meddling and Hitch was now getting on in years and having some difficulties. And the studio started to interfere with Hitch.  In the case of Torn Curtain, they said to Hitch, now is the time in movies when movies have hit songs so why don’t we get a composer who’ll do a hit song for the movie? But no, Hitch was loyal to Benny Herrmann. The studio had said also that the Herrmann scores were too heavy or whatever so let’s get something we can convert to a song or something. So Hitch sent an enormously long cable to Benny, which I saw, and the essence of it was “No Richard Strauss.” That’s my phrasing of it but you know what I mean? “No Also sprach Zarthustra.”

This is an entertaining movie with a pretty girl, Julie Andrews, and who’s the guy? Paul Newman. So Benny sat down and wrote a score. In those days, before they developed the enormous lot that Universal has now, you would go over to the Goldwyn Studios to score which had the most perfect sound for scoring in town. You couldn’t remove a splinter from that place without getting arrested because the sound was perfection. So the orchestra assembles at the Goldwyn Studios and under Benny’s direction they do the main title of the picture. Benny says we’ve ready for Hitch to hear this so they sent over to Universal and he is driven over in his car and they play the main title for him. It’s pure Richard Strauss. Hitch gets up, says, “This is not what I asked for.” That’s not the direct quote but it’s the essence of what he said and he walks off the set and instructs the assistant director to dismiss the orchestra. He never heard another note other than the main title. He had the whole score thrown out and he broke Benny Herrmann’s heart.

Bernard Herrmann & Alfred Hitchcock in happier days in the 1950s

Benny called me, said he had to have a meeting with me. So I met him at a coffee shop on a very hot day in L.A. and he told me the story. He wanted me to intercede for him with Hitch. I said, “You know Benny, I love you as a friend but I am not going to intercede for you with Hitch because you and I know there is no point. Once Hitch does anything like that, that is it. Right or wrong, that’s it…he was that way. He didn’t believe in confrontation. He just did it. So that was the end of the relationship of those two guys and it was very sad.

But Benny…I had worked with him and he had done lovely work for me. Of course he was a discovery of Orson’s actually. Not only with Citizen Kane but they went back to radio.  My favorite story about Benny and radio is he was doing what was then known as the Columbia Workshop. Benny was a real character because he was an Anglophile who spoke with a lower East Side accent. So Benny is conducting the CBS orchestra and in the booth is John Houseman and I think Irving Reis and so forth. John Houseman was known as Jack to his intimates. In the midst of the number, Benny throws down his baton and shouts into the mike, “Jack, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you at least twice, there’s a strong fascist element in the woodwinds!”

Benny was something, oh god. I’ll tell you one other great story about him because it’s delicious. As I said he was an Anglophile and he had an English car – a very special breed – it was an Avis or a name like that. And Benny had a special mechanic who did it – Harry Nickels – and he brought it in one day and said to Harry, “You know this thing, there’s something wrong, would you work on it?” So he left the car with Harry and a couple of days later Harry calls him and said the car’s ready, come in and take it. Benny gets in it, he drives around the block, he comes back and says to Harry, “This isn’t right. The car isn’t right.” Harry says “What’s wrong?” He says, “I don’t know but it’s not right.” So Harry says, “Ok, let me have it for a day” (and Harry loved Benny too and had been working with him for years). So Harry takes the car and later calls him and says, “Now it’s ready for you.” So Benny gets in the car, drives it around the block, comes back to Harry and says, “It’s great. It’s perfect. It’s now in the key of F.” He was a character. When he was in trouble, we’d just gather around him with Stanley Wilson and gave him things to do.

Joseph Cotten, American actor whose prime stardom was between 1941 (Citizen Kane) & 1949 (The Third Man).

JS: I didn’t know that Joseph Cotten had a TV show. You were in one of the episodes, weren’t you?

NL: Yes, I was and I think Harry Horner directed it. I can’t remember the name of it but it wasn’t very important.

JS: Was his show a dramatic series, like a half hour drama each week?

NL: It was a drama show. It only ran a short time, one season if that. I got on it because I was a friend of Joe’s. I loved Joe. I think he’s one of the most underrated actors in the history of film and if you look at The Third Man, the performance in that picture is Joe Cotten. He is the picture, Orson does the fancy stuff. He was beautiful and easy-going. Great style. He did a lot of radio, both in New York and when he got out to be a picture star. He was doing a show and they handed him [something] and said would you announce this – they were on the air at the time – and he said, “And next week’s star will be….Sonny Tufts?” (incredulous tone). It became a show business legend, one of the big laughs in show business.

A scene from 1944’s Since You Went Away with Jennifer Jones, Robert Walker (center) and Joseph Cotten.

The other one I love is a picture he made during the war called Since You Went Away with Selznick and the same thing happened. He got on the air and they were doing a broadcast for it and someone slipped him something and said, would you say something about the picture? So Joe gets in front of the mike and says, “Since You Went Away is the longest picture I’ve seen this year.” Joe had wonderful humor. We were together in The Shoemaker’s Holiday. He was also in Julius Caesar [Both Mercury Theatre Productions]. In The Shoemaker’s Holiday, we worked quite a few scenes together…and we were bad people. We lacked disciple (laughs).

JS: He had such a wonderful speaking voice.

NL: Marvelous. He was a gentleman. Stylish. You know David O. Selznick used to call him Richard Harding Davis because Richard Harding Davis – I don’t know if the name means anything to you – was a world famous correspondent, an American, at the early part of the 20th century. He used to dress the way that Tom Wolfe, the journalist [did] in white and those fancy hats. And Joe had a little of that in his dress so Selznick used to call him Richard Harding Davis.

Actor Norman Lloyd attends The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences’ Presents The 60th Anniversary Screening Of “Limelight” at AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater on October 3, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

*This is the conclusion of the interview. For those of you you would like a good overview of Norman Lloyd’s career, look for Matthew Sussman’s outstanding documentary Who is Norman Lloyd? (2007), which might show up on Netflix someday or other streaming services. Or check out some of the films mentioned in this interview where he is a featured actor or TV episodes where he serves as producer or director or both.

Other websites of interest:



1 thought on “Norman Lloyd: Hollywood’s Long Distance Runner, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Norman Lloyd: Hollywood’s Long Distance Runner, Part 1 | Cinema Sojourns

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