I'm sure most of you recognize the man on the right, the now-legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, but you ordinarily wouldn't know the man on the left, except, well, I just gave away his name in the title of this post. Yes, it's Norman Lloyd, never a household name, though he was in or involved with movies and TV shows that themselves may have attained that status, and, if you were a bit adventuresome in your 1980s television watching choices, and not too squeamish about hospital-related matters, Lloyd's by-then elderly face would have been familiar as well.
Though he acted as a child, his career more or less begins with the now-legendary Federal Theatre Project, itself a subsidiary of the now-legendary Works Progress Administration, itself a subsidiary of the now-legendary New Deal. The goal of the FTP was to keep stage actors, stage directors, and playwrights from starving to death during the Great Depression. It did that but also had an influence on popular entertainment that lasted decades beyond its elimination by an arts-hating Congress in 1939. For instance, while involved with the theatre, Lloyd became acquainted with two very promising actors-writers-directors-producers by the names of Orson Welles and John Houseman. When Welles and Houseman left the FTP to start their own theatrical troupe, the now-legendary Mercury Theatre, they asked Lloyd to join them, which he did. In fact, he acted in the theatre's very first production, William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Performed in (1930s) modern dress, common enough in Shakespeare productions these days but a novelty back then, the production is said to have had clear antifascist overtones with Lloyd as Cinna the Poet dying at the hands of the secret police-like mob in a case of mistaken identity. So successful was this and other Mercury productions that Welles and Housman were invited to do a radio version, the now-legendary Mercury Theatre of the Air, in which Lloyd also took part, though he seems to have been otherwise occupied during the now-legendary "War of the Worlds" broadcast. God only allows so many now-legendarys in a person's life, and Lloyd already had more than his share. In fact, his decision to stay in New York rather than move out to Hollywood with the rest of the Mercury Theatre meant he lost out on a role in the now-legendary Citizen Kane. Realizing his mistake, Lloyd moved out to Tinseltown on his own a year later, where he came to the attention of the aforementioned Alfred Hitchcock, who, as it turned out, had a few-more now-legendarys to throw Lloyd's way.
Alfred Hitchcock's political views remain something of a mystery. I've read several biographies of the great filmmaker, and they don't tell you, when in England whether he voted for Labor or the Conservatives, or after he became an American citizen sometimes in the 1950s, whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. It can be claimed by anybody along the political spectrum whose particular shade of thought happens to be out of style, but there is a definite distrust of authority that runs through Hitchcock's work. Policemen and British and U.S. intelligence agencies are never out-and-out villains in his movies, but then they don't have to be, since the cops and government agents are shown to be so menacingly inept, they often end up doing the real bad guys work for them! I wonder if Hitchcock viewed the McCarthy Era through that same lens. He wouldn't have to be a communist himself to think that the anticommunists were on a wild goose (or goose-stepping?) chase that could take them right to the top of the Statue of Liberty. Hitchcock at least saw Norman Lloyd as more like Robert Cummings in Saboteur than like, well, Norman Lloyd in Saboteur. But it wasn't a Hitchcock movie that hastened Lloyd's show biz resurrection but something that as much as any hit at the box office turned Hitchcock into a now-legendary figure: television. Of course, I'm talking about the long-running anthologies series titled Alfred Hitchcock Presents (and, when another 30 minutes was added to it, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.) Though he owned the show, and contributed the opening and closing remarks, Hitchcock in 1955 still had a thriving theatrical movie career (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds all still lie ahead) and so entrusted the actual production of the series to a favorite screenwriter of his, Joan Harrison, and Lloyd, who in addition to being an actor had also done some directing and producing. CBS protested the hiring of Lloyd, as had MGM earlier, but Hitchcock got his way. So why didn't John Houseman? Hard to say. It may have been that Hitchcock's apolitical demeanor made the whole thing seem like less of a threat than it did with Houseman, who owed his career to the still-controversial New Deal. And as a Hollywood power player, Hitch simply may have had more clout than Houseman (after all, The Paper Chase and all those Smith Barney commercials--"They make money the old-fashioned way, they earn it"--were still 20-some years in the future.) Under Lloyd's and Harrison's stewardship, the suspense anthology series earned high ratings and critical acclaim. In addition to producing the show, Lloyd directed 22 episodes, two more than Hitch himself.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Alfred Hitchcock Hour finally came to a close in 1965. For the next 17 years, Norman Lloyd kept himself busy producing and directing made-for-TV movies, interspersed with the occasional acting job, though that part of his career seemed mostly done with. An occasional acting job-turned-permanent changed all that in 1982. Lloyd was only supposed to appear in six episodes of a new medical drama series playing Dr. Daniel Auschlander, a liver specialist who finds out he has liver cancer, culminating in his character's death in episode six. However, the producers liked him so much that they put the cancer in uneasy remission, and those six episodes became six seasons, as Aushlander dealt with his own mortality while presiding over a large staff (and a large acting ensemble) in his role as Chief of Services at the run-down, inner-city, Catholic-turned-public-teaching hospital St. Eligius, derisively referred to as "St Elsewhere" by medical professionals who worked elsewhere, and from which the series took its name. Like costar Williams Daniels, who played the grouchy and sarcastic heart surgeon Dr. Mark Craig, Lloyd could go from drama to comedy and then back again, and then back again after that, at the turn of a coin, which an actor often had to do on St. Elsewhere. Though classified as a drama, the series had a wicked sense of humor (such as when a patient is crushed to death in a folding hospital bed) and, for some reason, loads of pop culture in-jokes ("Floyd has worked here forever. He may bury us all" Get it?) The humor was woven into the very fabric of the show (look at its title) and not what you would call "comedy relief". If you want that, go watch that other 1980s medical drama ("Trapper John M.D. His patients never die," Auschlander replies when asked which TV character he would most like to be.) No, St. Elsewhere would often throw a pie in the face of its serious subject matter, while still basically taking it seriously. You just had to watch it to know what that sentence means. Though it never got all that high of ratings, and at the end of every season seemed to be on the brink of cancellation, St. Elsewhere was easily the best show on TV in the 1980s, and one of the best shows of all time. If Norman Lloyd hadn't been in it, and hadn't been so wonderful in it, I probably wouldn't have bothered with this post. Two great Auschlander moments right at the top of my head, one dramatic, and one comedic. I said earlier he spent much of his time pondering his own mortality, and never more so than when he was at home with his wife, played by the equally wonderful Jane Wyatt. When Katherine has a health emergency of her own and needs an operation, Auschlander still can't quite stop talking about his own problems. However, after the surgery, which turns out to be a success, he goes to her hospital room and profusely apologizes to his unconscious wife for his self-centeredness. The comedic? Well, you wouldn't think chemotherapy is a subject that could produce a lot of yuks--I've seen first hand its effects on a close family member, and they were indeed unpleasant--yet a very funny scene has Auschlander getting his usual treatment, and trying to relax to it by listening to classical music. I don't remember if it was Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, or Brahms, if I ever even knew to begin with, but the symphony is interrupted by a dog's bark. Auschlander opens his eyes and sees a German shepherd getting the same treatment! Auschlander is disabused of his self-centeredness once again. We all have problems, even dogs.