Posted by Jeff Stafford on April 3, 2010
In conjunction with TCM’s first ever film festival in Los Angeles, I wanted to interview some of the people who will be presenting movies at the event. At the top of my list was actor/producer/director Norman Lloyd who will be introducing Alfred Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR at Mann’s Chinese Theatre on April 25th. The subject of a recent documentary, WHO IS NORMAN LLOYD?, the 94-year-old raconteur has known and worked with some of the biggest names in the world of theatre, radio, film and television including Orson Welles, John Houseman, Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin, Bernard Herrmann, Joseph Losey, Alfred Hitchcock and John Garfield to name just a few. The following interview was recorded on March 2nd, 2010 .
TCM: I wanted to find out what was the first actual film appearance you ever made. I saw a source that claimed you had appeared in something called THE STREETS OF NEW YORK in 1939.
Norman LLoyd: That was television.
TCM: Right. So that must have been one of the very first TV productions.
NL: It was an experiment by NBC. They took over some radio studios they had in the NBC Rockefeller Studios there in New York. And they tried to do a couple of plays in these radio studios. In other words, the sets were up against the wall and [for] the next set the camera moved over along the wall facing another set, then it moved over to another set…which was THE STREETS OF NEW YORK directed by Anthony Mann.
TCM: And I understand Jennifer Jones was in that too?
NL: Yes, under the name of Phylis Isley…which was her real name.
TCM: Now was that an actual live TV production at the time?
NL: It was live. Whether it was national or not, I mean it was whatever they had because this was the start of an experiment called television and right after that we got in the war and they just dropped the whole thing. So then we renewed after the war but this was the first time and there is a kinoscope of five minutes of that. It’s the worst – on my part – the worst acting known to man. It was absolutely ghastly. George Coulouris was in it with me and Whitford Kane and Phylis Isley and John Call. Now I did two shows at that time. I did THE STREETS OF NEW YORK and there had been a play on Broadway about Brigham Young that starred Dean Jagger and Mildred Natwick. And they decided they would try that on this new thing called television. And they asked me to play this sort of character lead on it that was supporting Dean and Natwick. I wasn’t in the theatre production but I was in this production on television.
TCM: So this was your first time on television but you were also acting on the stage in New York. At what point did you actually go out to Hollywood and start to make films?
NL: In 1942 for Hitchcock. By the way, I had started in 1932 with Eva Le Gallienne down at the Civic Repertory Theatre so I had almost ten years of that when Hitch cast me in this part in SABOTEUR we did second unit work around the base of the actual Statue of Liberty early in December 1941. And then in 1942 February I came to do the meat of the picture. And that was my first real film.
TCM: Did you have to do a screen test for that part?
NL: Yes I did. Hitchcock asked John Houseman – both of them were under contract to David O. Selznick – and when Hitch was going to proceed with this picture he asked John Houseman who was vice-president of Selznick International if he knew of a young actor – an unknown – who he wanted for the part of the saboteur. And John Houseman recommended me because John Houseman had been partners with Orson Welles in the Mercury Theatre. So Houseman knew me from the Mercury Theatre when I was in JULIUS CAESAR and THE SHOEMAKER’S HOLIDAY. So John recommended me and I met Hitch – I think it was about 8 o’clock in the morning. Why he was a great one for starting early. He then said “Fine, I would like you to test” and I did. And fortunately I got the part.
TCM: When you were creating the character of Frank Fry did he try to give you instructions on his behavior or did he let you come up with the physical interpretation of the part?
NL: I think in all fairness I can say he let me develop that character as an actor. What I want to make clear is that you should learn with Hitchcock a couple of things. One, as he said (imitates Hitchcock’s voice) “I hire professional actors and expect them to do their jobs.” So much for all that internal directing. Number two – in my case, I realized quickly that with his direction – which was fascinating – that he told you where to go, where to look, he staged the scene in such a way that you realized THAT was the direction. In other words, he knew every cut that he wanted to make. So that he would stage you into a scene and you realized he didn’t direct you internally but he told you what to do…to go and sit down..to go and stand or whatever. There’s the famous story about a particular actor who I shall not mention who was in one of his pictures and Hitch directed him to sit at a certain point and the method actor asked him “Why did I sit?” and Hitch said “To put your ass in the seat of the chair.” So do I make my point?
TCM: Now I always thought the ending of SABOTEUR was interesting because Hitchcock put you in the position of jeopardy instead of the hero. It almost make the audience feel sorry for you.
NL: He said later on that he made two big mistakes that he could mention as a director – or storyteller I should say. One was the ending of SABOTEUR and the other was a picture called SABOTAGE [aka THE WOMAN ALONE] which I’ll describe to you in a moment of why he went wrong with that. But here, yes, he said, I think several times long after we shot it that the wrong man was in jeopardy. It should have been Bob Cummings and not me. He did a picture once, which was SABOTAGE, where we know that at a certain time a bomb is going to go off and you know a teenaged boy carrying a suitcase..there’s a bomb in it, the boy doesn’t know there’s a bomb in it, and he keeps cutting to the clock and the bus is stuck on Oxford Street in London. And it really drives you crazy with the suspense. And finally at twelve o’clock the bomb goes off and the boy is blown up with the bomb. And a lot of other people. But the point is (imitating Hitchcock’s voice) “I shouldn’t have blown up that boy.” It’s a fabulous sequence and he couldn’t let go of it because it’s such a great sequence.
TCM: For your next Hitchcock film SPELLBOUND you didn’t have to go through the same casting process for that?
NL: No, I knew Hitch. He became a friend and he was a friend for a long time, about 38 years. And you know I later on produced for him on the television show. But at this point [for] SPELLBOUND he simply asked me…I think it was 1944…and I had gone back to New York after SABOTEUR. I came out again in 1944 for John Houseman to do a picture at Paramount. And in the course of time I very quickly looked up Hitch as a friend and at that time he started to make SPELLBOUND and he asked me to do this part which was very early in his career with Ingrid Bergman. So he just said, would you do the part?, and I did.
TCM: Was Salvador Dali ever actually on the set of SPELLBOUND to supervise the fantasy sequence?
NL: No, he wasn’t there when I was there. It was my hand you see doing all that stuff. The man who seemed to be around when that was going on under Hitch’s direction was William Cameron Menzies. And he had something to do with all that but it was Dali, yes. But he was not there the day I shot.
TCM: Were you a free lance actor then or did you sign a contract with a studio?
NL: At which point?
TCM: Between the years 1945 & 1952 it looked like you were working for a lot of different studios.
NL: Yes, but in 1945 I was put under contract to METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER and I did THE GREEN YEARS there, THE BEGINNING OR THE END, the atom bomb picture there. I did A LETTER FOR EVIE there.
TCM: SCENE OF THE CRIME?
NL: No curiously, SCENE OF THE CRIME, which was the best thing I did there, was after they had let me go. Actually their letting me go was actually rather amusing. I’ll tell you what it was. I was under contract there and they were very kind, very nice and about this point…in the latter part of the 1945… [something happened] Lewis Milestone, who made a masterpiece in this town called ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and whom I had acted in a picture called A WALK IN THE SUN which I think is a beautiful film. A terrific film. Working with Milestone as a actor we got to talking about this, that and other things and he signed a deal to do a picture called THE ARCH OF TRIUMPH with Bergman and Boyer and Charles Laughton and Louis Calhern. Wonderful cast. And he asked me if I would be his associate because he felt there was a directorial bent in my shorted career. So I wanted to do that. Now it so happens I was still under contract to Metro and they sent me a script that they wanted me to be in – I think Arch Oboler was going to direct it. And when you’re that young you’re crazy and wonderfully so and I said “No, I’m not going to do this. I reject your script.” Well, Billy Grady who was in charge of the talent at Metro said “What? Take his clothes” – which were in my dressing room – “And throw them out on Washington Boulevard.” And I was delighted because I could then go to work for Milestone which is what I wanted.
TCM: It sounds like that contract player system wasn’t a good thing for everyone.
NL: I’ll tell you something. We all chafed under it. We all said if we were only free what masterpieces we would make and what great acting would go on. You know, in retrospect, now that it’s a hundred years later, that was the best way to make pictures….The studios were the best way to make pictures. I don’t care what anyone says. I know there were some independent films and independent producers and so forth who made wonderful films. But if you’re talking about the motion picture industry and the way to make a program of pictures, that was the way. And for actors it was great because you keep making pictures. And even though – because it’s in the nature of talent to beef all the time…I mean you’re not a real artist unless you’re beefing all the time and it’s our nature to say “Oh if they’d only free me, god what I could do”…But when I look back and I think what’s going on in this town today, that was the way.
TCM: Well, the studio system lasted a long time and produced a lot of wonderful movies…even the B movies which look better than a lot of movies you see today.
NL: Oh, some of them are marvelous. The film noirs. The B movies as you say, wow. Boy, some of the writing in them. So racy for its time.
TCM: Now there’s one director you worked with early on that I wanted to ask you about, Jean Renoir. On THE SOUTHERNER, was his style of directing in Hollywood difficult for the cast and crew because he was European? And was that a good or bad experience?
NL: You know…I’ve worked with Chaplin, with Hitchcock, with Welles..no one was more beautiful than Jean Renoir. Jean Renoir was off by himself. He was the most beautiful person. A great artist. A man who conjured up a whole world when he worked. And only the other day I ran the BBC interview with Orson Welles…and he thought Renoir was the greatest director. In a documentary in which Welles said the least important person on the set is the director. You know that’s Orson showing off. But the thing is I could go on forever about Jean Renoir. I loved that man. I thought as an artist he was…I mean, when you think of GRAND ILLUSION, RULES OF THE GAME and other pictures…LE BETE HUMAINE, BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING. You see he had a story to tell. As Chaplin used to say an artist is as great as his story he has to tell, not the particular script..who the artist is, what is the story he brings to the script. What is his life? And Jean was France. He brought a whole nation into his script. A script like GRAND ILLUSION is literature. It’s not a motion picture script. You can read it as literature. Oh well, I could go on.
So when I worked on THE SOUTHERNER with him I already knew him. I was brought into his office by my agent at the time and the part was not fully written….and he talked a lot about it, what he wanted out of it. I just caught fire. Jesus, I gotta work with this guy. This is just remarkable…an experience. We worked it out what we had to do and we made the picture so working with him… the language…at that time he was just beginning to maneuver well with it.
He had made an earlier picture called SWAMP WATER with Dana Andrews, Anne Baxter and Walter Huston. And since you referred to the language thing there’s an amusing story about Jean where he was directing them. It was his first picture in English. And they did a scene… Anne Baxter and Dana…[laughs] and Jean said [he imitates the director], “That scene is very good but you should smell a little.” So they looked at each other and tried to figure out where in the scene they should “smell”… Anyway they tried it again. Jean said “I like it. I like it. But you should smell a little.” Well, it took them a long time, about five or six [takes] but he was meaning “smile.” So it began in the Okefenokee Swamp where he was making the picture. In a long shot he had someone doubling for Anne Baxter and he called out to her, “Little girl, when you get in the boat, wet a little.” Well, she was somebody they picked up in the swamp to do this in the long shot and she didn’t know how to go about “wetting.” He meant “wait.” I loved Jean, I loved him. What an artist, my god, and what perception!
TCM: I had heard that William Faulkner had worked on the screenplay of THE SOUTHERNER. Was he ever on the set? Did you get to meet him?
NL: Faulkner? No, he was not on the set. It seemed to be common knowledge, only long after, because the credits comes to a fellow named Hugo Butler I think….so if Faulkner was working with Jean… it would have been in the privacy of Jean’s home or Faulkner’s out here. Because you never knew with Faulkner. He said he wanted to work at home – you know that story? They found him in Oxford [Mississippi] He’d gone to the studio and said I’d like to work from home today.
One of my favorite stories in picturemaking was we were doing a scene by the San Joaquin River [for THE SOUTHERNER]…no, it was by the house they lived in…that is Zach Scott and Betty Field, a beautiful actress. There was a little truck garden there and the scene required a cow to do through it and trample on it and the cow was to be chased by a little dog, a little Charleston terrier. Well, first take, the dog was put in the scene and he’s scared of the cow and he runs out of the scene. Second take, he runs out of the scene. Finally they try another device..[but] he’s so frightened of this cow…so finally on the fifth take as he ran out Jean caught him and threw the dog back in at the cow’s feet and said to the dog “Act, idiot.” We became so close as friends. And I became friends with his son Alain. And Jean Renoir was a major thing in my life. But you know Orson and Chaplin both thought he was the number one man.
TCM: Speaking of Orson Welles, I know you worked with him in the Mercury Theatre but did you ever have an opportunity to act with him in a film?
NL: In 1939 the year after the Mercury [Theatre] closed…RKO signed Orson to a deal to make a picture called THE HEART OF DARKNESS, the Joseph Conrad story. And Orson brought us all out here to make the picture and when I say out here – Los Angeles from New York. He [Orson] combined elements from his theatre company such as myself and George Coulouris and certain technicians, stage manager and all that and his radio company. He combined the two and we were all brought out here. We were here for six weeks. We had one reading of the script and RKO decided it didn’t want to make it. As you know it was later made as APOCALYPSE NOW by Coppola but set in Viet Nam. Now Orson was going to do it in the original setting of the novel…After we were here six weeks – and I must say my tennis improved enormously, I didn’t do a damn thing – we were all shown into Orson’s office [at RKO] and he told us the studio wasn’t going to do the picture but they gave him an opportunity – if he came up with another property – to make another picture with them. So he asked us all to stay. There was no money forthcoming. We had been paid for six weeks but we were so spoiled we insist on being paid even when we don’t work. Especially when you have a tennis game. So I went back to the hotel and discussed this with my wife and we thought about it…and my wife and I decided to go back to New York. As a consequence, I never made a picture with Orson Welles because he then put together CITIZEN KANE. But you know – just dumb luck. I don’t know what I would have played in KANE. There were a lot of parts but I fell into SABOTEUR which overlapped in a funny way during the same time period. And SABOTEUR was more rewarding for me from a personal standpoint, even if I’d been one of those guys in CITIZEN KANE…But the thing is, my wife and I already had the money (we had been paid for those weeks). We were real actors so we were broke all the time. So we thought about it and said we can’t wait until he makes a deal. We better get back to New York where I can get a job… so that’s why we went back.
TCM: There was a movie you made later, which I suppose was a B movie, and one that I love called HE RAN ALL THE WAY. And I just wanted to get your memories on making it. And it was made at the height of the blacklist, right?
NL: John Garfield was one of the most beautiful guys I’ve ever known. He was a wonderful person and a damn good actor. John Berry [the director] was very close to me. I first met him..he was an extra in JULIUS CAESAR for Orson… and he had directorial ambitions. Later on he staged the road company of NATIVE SON, which had regionally been staged by Orson. Eventually John Houseman brought him to Hollywood as a director where he did good work. He was a very dear friend. He was blacklisted and…at the time they would try to serve him – they came in the front door literally – he went out the back door and over a fence and made his way eventually to various stops…people helped him and he got to France where he made quite a few pictures. HE RAN ALL THE WAY was when he was let back in the country, so to speak. Because it was the last picture Julie [Garfield] made. That was 1951… well the Blacklist was in effect. Garfield was not a man who was gonna be influenced by that. And he had his own company. I think they made HE RAN ALL THE WAY.
He had a company with a guy named Bob Roberts who had been his business manager. So the picture was made under that shadow so to speak. The cameraman was James Wong Howe, whose wife was blacklisted I believe – Sanora Babb. And Berry had been blacklisted and Garfield in effect was blacklisted because they said his wife was a leftie. And he had been identified with the Group Theatre which was considered left wing…he worked with [Clifford] Odets in those group theatre plays. Yes, so all in all, he was of the Left and Berry was of the Left and I knew them both very well and they asked me if I’d be in the picture and I said of course. Because I wanted them to have every possible break. Julie needed a break. He wasn’t being hired. So the picture was made. It’s a good picture and he’s very good in it. And he then went back to New York and he did a play in New York…the title of which escapes me… and he was talking about doing another play. I think he was talking about doing Volpone. He may have done Peer Gynt, I don’t know. There was talk of it anyway and then he died. It was a sad, terrible story because he was 39 years old. He had a lot of work to do in front of him. And he was a wonderful guy, a terrific guy.
He was raised up from the streets of New York by Angelo Patri who was the foremost educator in the New York area. But he spotted this kid and had him do elocution and different things. And Julie came out of the streets…and he brought that quality into pictures. He brought his story in so when they released a picture called FOUR DAUGHTERS with the Lane Sisters in it – Garfield was the young man. He created a sensation because he brought that quality in. It wasn’t the same as Cagney who brought the quality of the streets in. It was different and when you’re talking about Cagney you’re talking about THE GREATEST. But it had its own almost poetic flavor. No, I can’t speak enough about him and what they did to him.
TCM: And just before that you had worked with Joseph Losey on a remake of M?
NL: It was done in the United States and…I know Joe very well and I’d done four plays in the theatre with him, the most important of which were THE LIVING NEWSPAPERS which were unique in the history of the American theatre. And we did those on the Federal Theatre. And Brooks Atkinson, who was then the foremost critic, thought that they were major contributions to the history of the American theatre. And I played the leading roles and Joe directed them. So I knew Joe very well and Joe had worked in the theatre after that without much luck and then he got into radio and then he was brought out to Hollywood. Now in Hollywood not much went too well for him.
He made a picture called THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR and then he made a picture with Evelyn Keyes called THE PROWLER…he made it with Sam Spiegel. I never saw it but the notices said the first reel was great and then it ran into trouble but it doesn’t matter. The thing is, it’s a good picture. But then nothing was happening and then he was blacklisted. But before he decided to go to Europe he made M for [Seymour] Nebenzal who owned the property. They owned it from the original production that Fritz Lang had done with Peter Lorre. And Joe did a good job on it. And David Wayne was very good in it. But I tell you my friend, Peter Lorre…that’s one of the performances in the history of films. If you said the five greatest performances, certainly Lorre in M is one of them. And by the way, the whole picture, the way it was shot, balloons going up in the air…and the way Lang directed it….Joe took the job because he didn’t have a job…But it was not a picture to remake because it was perfection itself. So Joe asked me to be in it and I said to myself, why are we remaking it? But what the hell, there’s a check at the end of the week.
TCM: You mentioned Chaplin earlier. When did you first meet Charlie Chaplin?
NL: I had a friend named Tim Durant and he was one of Chaplin’s closest friends. And Tim 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. Now we get down to it. I met him actually at Joe Cotten’s because Joe and I had been together in the Mercury Theatre. So 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 and not long after he was going up to Chaplin’s to play; he was very close to Charlie, not only tennis but social events. They would go places together and so on – so he asked me if I’d like to come up and play at Chaplin’s. And I said of course and went up there and I met Charlie and I was in total awe of Charlie 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.
TCM: So what year was it when you met him?
NL: I think it was around 1946 or so, somewhere in there that Tim brought me up there.
TCM: How did that lead into you being hired for LIMELIGHT, which was much later in 1952?
NL: How did I get in it? Charlie simply asked me to be in it because by that time I knew Charlie very well. The thing is…the first time I played tennis and then I went back with Tim….each time 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? And 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 because, 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. And while the girls would go into another room after dinner and gossip, we – 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.
Then one day he said to me – he’s seen me act in the theatre, 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 himself. 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. And 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 it for his son Sydney to play the lead, and 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. [This was] not when he bought it, when he bought it it was [during MONSIEUR] VERDOUX. But he had started work on LIMELIGHT…and in that period [1949-1951] he didn’t want to get 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 and 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 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. Then they had Jack Clayton so we lost it and they developed this entire screenplay with somebody – I think it was Robert Thompson…oh, 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, Jim Poe, James Poe who was a screenwriter and he wanted to direct it and Fonda had him do a test with her and after the test she said he can’t direct this picture. So let’s get another director so they went after a very fine English director Jack Clayton and Jack 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.” And 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. And 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. The book was considered in France 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, this poor jerk….and a seagull. The dance place was on a pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean and they broke every ten minutes or so. And Charlie had this guy save pieces of his sandwich which was a meager offering to keep them 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 out 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…And then he decided to take his family and see where he had been born and by his family…he then had Oona and Geraldine and Michael and Josephine and Victoria – four by Oona. There were still three more to come in Switzerland. But he wanted the four to see where he was raised…and 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.” And as you know, in the middle of the ocean, they told him you can’t come back unless you pass a moral turpitude test…and the rest you know. But I always treasure that I had a real friendship with Charlie. And when you know guys like Chaplin and Renoir and Hitch you’d had a pretty good life in a way. You’re not really slumming, you know?
TCM: Now 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 Carson?
NL: I didn’t actually do Kit Carson. The reason that seems to be in my dossier is….this is how I got into it. 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, 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 their making a lot of money. At which they were brilliant at – making money. 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 two days time…no, a day and a half. And 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. And 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 Carsons. 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 and 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 – it never happened but at that time he was…in order to facilitate MCA getting into all this they 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?”…because I had been directing at the La Jolla Playhouse and he knew that I directed in the theatre.
So I said, “What the hell, I’ll do it and wait for my next acting job.” But it turned out…we did it and 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 Greg Peck and Dorothy MacGuire 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.
TCM: 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 twenty five 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, I really do. 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]. This is history…. And I loved Peter’s expression. We had a great cameraman, “Curly” Linden, who’d won the Academy Award [for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS] and he…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, so on the verge of tears…my god, he was wonderful. And 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.
TCM: Now 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…and he was some character, jeez…he had gotten into such trouble with his temperment that it was finally difficult to get work. And 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”… and 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, it was 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..But 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. But 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 in it, the essence of what I saw, 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 had that and he sat down and wrote a score. In those days, before they developed the enormous lot that Universal has now…in order to score, you would go over to the Goldwyn Studios which had the most perfect sound for a music score 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. And Benny says we’ve ready for Hitch to hear this so they sent over to Universal and he comes over in his car – driven over – 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 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. We’re not doing this score. He never heard another note other than the main title. So he had the whole score thrown out and he broke Benny Herrmann’s heart.
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 Herrmann and radio is he was doing what was then known as the Columbia Workshop and Benny was a real character because he was an Anglophile who spoke with a lower East Side accent – East Side New York, First & Third (imitates accent). And Benny is conducting the CBS orchestra and in the booth is John Houseman and I think Irving Reis and so forth. And John Houseman was known as Jack to his intimates. And in the midst of the number, Benny Herrmann 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, he 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. And when he was in trouble, we’d just gather around him…with Stanley Wilson and gave him things to do.
TCM: I didn’t know that Joseph Cotten had a TV show and 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.
TCM: But 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. Great admirer of Joe’s. I think he’s one of the most underrated actors in the history of film and if you look at THE THIRD MAN, which is the whole big thing about Orson and the cat licking off of Orson’s shoes…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 New York and when he got out to be a picture star. And 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. 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…Later I’ll tell you stories about him when 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).
TCM: He had such a wonderful speaking voice.
NL: Marvelous. I loved Joe…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 – but he was a world famous correspondent, an American, at the early part of the 20th century and he used to dress the way that Tom Wolfe, the journalist [did], in white and those fancy hats – Richard Harding Davis dressed that way. And Joe had a little of that in his dress and so Selznick used to call him Richard Harding Davis.
TCM: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I look forward to seeing you introduce SABOTEUR in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 25th at Mann’s Chinese Theatre at 3:30 pm PT. For those of you who can’t attend, look for Matthew Sussman’s excellent documentary WHO IS NORMAN LLOYD?, which may be available on DVD sometime in the near future. Check the sources below as well.
Interview conducted by Jeff Stafford
http://movies.nytimes.com/2007/11/23/movies/23norm.html – NY times review WHO IS NORMAN LLOYD? review
Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.
Actors Alfred Hitchcock Bela Lugosi Bette Davis Blu-Ray Boris Karloff Buster Keaton Cary Grant Charlie Chaplin Citizen Kane Comedy Dracula DVD Elizabeth Taylor Film Film Noir FilmStruck Frankenstein Fritz Lang Hammer Films Hammer Horror Horror horror films Horror Movies Humphrey Bogart James Bond James Cagney Joan Crawford John Ford John Huston John Wayne Joseph Losey MGM Movie movies Night of the Living Dead Orson Welles Peter Lorre Psycho Roger Corman Screwball Comedy Steve McQueen The Exorcist Warner Archive Westerns