Ben's Top Pick for November
NORMAN LLOYD'S 102nd BIRTHDAY
There is no place I'd rather be than in front of the TV when TCM honors my friend Norman Lloyd on the night of his 102nd birthday. That's right--1.0.2.
You often hear the phrase "an actor's director"--as in William Wyler was "actor's director"--meaning a director skilled at eliciting the most out of his performers. I'd argue that Norman was a "director's actor." He understood precisely how to deliver what a director sought from a performance.
The caliber of the directors we have on our schedule to celebrate Norman's birthday is fitting for a man as grand as Norman Lloyd: We open with Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur, then follow it up with Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, Jean Renoir's The Southerner and Anthony Mann's The Black Book. Significantly, three of those directors--Hitchcock, Renoir and Chaplin--were among Norman's closest friends. The only reason I'm not sure about Anthony Mann is I keep forgetting to ask him about Mann. When I do, I suspect I'll be treated to stories that seem as fresh as if he'd just spent the weekend at Mann's house in the desert.
But many of Norman's stories date back to the depression and his days with John Houseman and Orson Welles in the Federal Theater, then later as a charter member of the Mercury Theater. Others recall his intense friendship with both Renoir and Chaplin, whom I suspect Norman would call the two greatest artists the cinema has ever produced. And then there's Hitchcock.
Their collaboration began with Norman's first movie, also our first picture of the night, Saboteur, with Norman playing the villain, the saboteur. It marked the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that lasted until Hitchcock's death in 1980. Their bond was sealed, though, when Hitchcock rescued Norman from the tentacles of the blacklist, hiring him to produce and direct his television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where Norman put to use all those little details he picked up as an actor working for Hitchcock, Chaplin, Renoir and Mann.
Norman's stories--about Hitch and Renoir, Houseman and Welles, tennis and Chaplin, Dead Poet's Society and St. Elsewhere, Bertolt Brecht and Babe Ruth-- are included in my conversation with Norman, Live From the TCM Classic Film Fesitval, which we'll be airing twice that night.
I hope my affection for Norman comes across in our conversation, because it is boundless. I trust you will as well after celebrating Norman's birthday with us on November 8th.
by Ben Mankiewicz