Born: November 8, 1914;

Died: May 11, 2021.

NORMAN Lloyd, who has died in his sleep aged 106, had an eighty-year career on stage, screen and radio that saw him at the forefront of some of theatre and film’s most maverick moments.

Blessed with a commanding presence that belied his slight stature, he worked with Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, and came into contact with other groundbreaking artists, including Bertolt Brecht, and composers Arnold Schoenberg and Hanns Eisler.

In the 1930s, Lloyd worked on the cutting-edge of what was then described as social theatre. With the Theatre of Action collective, he was directed by Elia Kazan. It was there that he met his wife, actress Peggy Craven. They were together for 75 years.

Director Joseph Losey brought Lloyd into the Federal Theatre Project, who devised living newspapers of contemporary events. Other members included Orson Welles and John Houseman, who broke away to form their own Mercury Theatre Company.

Lloyd was invited to become a founder member, appearing in Caesar (1937), an audacious modern-day adaptation of Julius Caesar that made explicit references to the rise of European fascism. He played Cinna the Poet, whose murder by a mob after handing out poems on the street saw Lloyd’s turn stop the show for what he later said was three minutes.

In 1939, he was set to appear in what would have been Welles’s big-screen directorial debut, a version of Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, before the plug was pulled after six weeks. He missed out on doing Welles’s enduring classic, Citizen Kane, after moving back to New York. He later took a job with Hitchcock, playing the title role of a doomed Nazi who plummets to his death from the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942).

He made more films with Hitchcock, including Spellbound (1945). He also appeared in The Southerner (1945) for Jean Renoir, and played the Fool in Houseman’s Broadway production of King Lear (1950). He appeared in Losey’s remake of M (1951), and played a stage manager in Chaplin’s initially sidelined, late-period classic, Limelight (1952).

Some of his professional and personal associations saw Lloyd and many of his collaborators sidelined by the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee investigations that shook Hollywood. He was saved from the blacklist by Hitchcock and became a successful TV producer and director on his mentor’s long-running anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Latterly he became best known for a long-running stint as Dr Daniel Auschlander in TV medical drama, St. Elsewhere (1982-1988). Originally only scheduled to appear in a handful of episodes, he ended up becoming a key cast member for the show’s entire six-year run.

He also appeared opposite Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (1989), directed by Peter Weir. He made his last film aged 100, by which time he had become the oldest working actor in Hollywood. His acting peer Karl Malden once described him as “the history of our industry”.

Born Norman Perrimutter in Jersey City, New Jersey to Max Perrimutter, an accountant-turned-furniture-store manager, and Sadie (née Horowitz), a bookkeeper, he grew up in Brooklyn with his two younger sisters, Ruth and Janice. Sadie sang, and her interest in theatre saw her send her son to singing and dance classes. He performed at vaudeville shows, and by the time he was nine had turned professional.

He graduated from high school aged 15 and briefly enrolled at New York University before dropping out in his sophomore year. He saw how the Depression had decimated America, and, intent on pursuing his dream, became an apprentice actor with companies in New York City and New Hampshire. He was directed by Losey, who suggested he audition for what became his first Broadway role in Andre Obey’s play, Noah (1935).

He acted on stage right through to the 1950s, and worked extensively during the early part of that decade at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. In 1956 he oversaw a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. After working as actor, director and producer on Alfred Hitchcock Presents through to the 1960s, Lloyd went on to direct other TV shows, including a 1971 episode of Columbo, Lady in Waiting.

His other passion was tennis, which he had taken up aged eight. He would later share a court with a succession of his contemporaries, including Chaplin, Joseph Cotten and Spencer Tracy.

He returned to the big screen in 1977 in Robert Wise’s psychological horror, Audrey Rose, and a year later played the boss of a radio station in the film, FM. He went on to appear in The Age of Innocence (1993). In 2014, he appeared in a documentary, Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles.

Lloyd’s life was just as astonishing right up to his final film role aged in Judd Apatow’s comedy, Trainwreck (2015). When he made it he was already 100 years old. “It’s a matter of attitude, and having a positive attitude,” he said as LA City Council honoured him for his centenary year in 2014. “I really think it’s all from the mind. If you feel you wanna’ live, you’ll live.”

He is survived by his son, Michael. He was pre-deceased by Peggy in 2011 and by his daughter Josie in 2020.