Monday, 6 July 2015

Norman Lloyd: Terminal onscreen but living on in real life

It is funny how sometimes life can imitate art, and sometimes go in the exact opposite direction. In the 1980s, actor Norman Lloyd played Dr. Daniel Auschlander on St. Elsewhere, a character living with a terminal illness. Yet, in real life, a few months ago the actor celebrated his 100th birthday on Nov. 8, proving life does not always imitate art, but instead laughs in its face.

Norman Lloyd came to mind recently, because it was his 100th birthday celebration that was one of the last public appearances of actor James Best who passed away on April 6.

Norman Lloyd as Dr. Daniel Auschlander in St. Elsewhere.
St. Elsewhere
It was initially supposed to be a four-episode stint, but Norman Lloyd was so charming and so compelling, he became a recurring character on St. Elsewhere, a show set in a decrepit Boston hospital. That was really interesting, given he was a liver specialist with terminal liver cancer. I even recently read a comment he was the longest surviving liver cancer patient. Everything is possible on television.

What made Auschlander so compelling was that he attacked his illness head on and did not let it define him. In the pilot, he bounds some stairs and one of the other characters says, “Auschlander will outlive us all.”

In the world of St. Elsewhere, and in real life, that has proven to be the case.

Norman Lloyd as the conservative headmaster in Dead Poets Society.
Dead Poets Society
Perhaps Norman Lloyd’s most iconic role, in the ‘80s for sure, was the one he played in Dead Poets Society. He plays Mr. Nolan, the conservative headmaster at Welton Academy who was always suspicious of English teacher John Keating’s methods. Once Keating is dismissed after the death of a student, it is Mr. Nolan who takes over his class. And it is he who stands by helplessly imploring the students to get down, who one after another stand on their desks and declare, “Oh captain my captain”. At the same time he is ordering Mr. Keating to leave. Finally, all he can do is stand and watch as the majority of boys stand in defiance and signal their respect for their teacher.

It is one of the most moving moments in the movies ever, not just the ‘80s.

Parting thoughts
It’s funny how everything is inter-connected. Lloyd played alongside Eric Laneuville in St. Elsewhere, and played the teacher the students rebel against in the final scene of Dead Poets Society. Both figure prominently elsewhere in this blog.

Those were his only two roles in the 1980s, but both are memorable.

They are just part of a body of work that began in the 1930s with Alfred Hitchcock and continue to this day.

For an actor who played a man destined to die, Norman Lloyd seems like he’ll live forever.

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