Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday to the Great Norman Lloyd!

It was 100 years ago today that Norman Lloyd was born in  Jersey City, New Jersey. Well known for his appearances in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Spellbound (1945), Mr. Lloyd is one of our last remaining links to the Golden Age of Film. Having served as a producer (as well as director and occasional star) on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and guest starred on such shows as The United States Steel Hour and G.E. Theatre, he is one of our remaining links to the Golden Age of Television as well. Mr. Lloyd also appeared on various radio shows as well. He is then one of our remaining links to Old Time Radio as well.

Norman Lloyd began his remarkable career when he was very young. He was still a child when he first took the stage in the Twenties as a song and dance performer. He began his acting career as part of Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre. He was only thirteen years old when he made his debut on Broadway in the play Crime in 1927. In the Thirties he appeared on Broadway in productions of Noah and Power before joining Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre. He appeared in the Mercury Theatre's productions of Julius Caesar and The Shoemakers' Holiday on Broadway. The Forties would be a busy time for Norman Lloyd on stage. He appeared in such productions on Broadway as Liberty Jones, Village Green, and Ask My Friend Sandy. His career on stage continued to prosper in the Fifties, during which time Mr. Lloyd appeared in such Broadway productions as King Lear; Madam, Will You Walk; and Measure for Measure. He also directed two plays on Broadway: The Golden Apple and The Taming of the Shrew.

While Norman Lloyd never appeared on Orson Welles's The Mercury Theatre on the Air, he did appear in other radio shows over the years. He appeared in Norman Corwin's radio play "The Undecided Molecule" on Columbia Presents in 1945. He also guest starred on episodes of Columbia Workshop, Suspense, and Listener's Playhouse. He later appeared in several radio plays staged by the California Artists Radio Theatre, including adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Major Barbara, and many others.

While Norman Lloyd has worked on both stage and radio, he is better known for his career in film, a career which is still ongoing. He made his movie debut in the short "The Forgotten Man" in 1941, only a year before his historic role as Fry in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Saboteur (1942). He worked with Mr. Hitchcock again in the director's 1945 film Spellbound. Over the years Mr. Lloyd appeared in many films, including The Unseen (1945), A Walk in the Sun (1945), Reign of Terror (1949), the 1951 remake of M, and Limelight (1952). Norman Lloyd would be introduced to new generations of fans in such films as FM (1976), The Nude Bomb (1978), and Dead Poets Society (1989). Mr. Lloyd has continued to appear in films over the years, including the short "Photosynthesis" (2005), as well as the features In Her Shoes (2005) and A Place for Heroes (2014). Next year he will appear in the Judd Apatow film Trainwreck. In addition to acting, Mr. Lloyd also directed one motion picture, A Word to the Wives... from 1955.

As well known as Mr. Lloyd is for his film career, he may be equally well known for his career in television. In fact, Mr. Lloyd appeared on television before he ever appeared in a feature film. In 1939 he appeared in an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s The Streets of New York that aired on NBC's experimental station W2XBS in New York City on 31 August. He would return to television in the Fifties, although not initially as an actor but as a director. Mr. Lloyd directed episodes of The Adventures of Kit Carson, Chevron Theatre, and Omnibus. It was in 1957 that his friend Alfred Hitchcock brought Norman Lloyd on board his show Alfred Hitchcock Presents as an associate producer. Mr. Lloyd remained with Alfred Hitchock Presents for the rest of its run, becoming the show's producer and later executive producer when it changed to an hour long format as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962. Mr. Lloyd also directed several episodes of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He even occasionally acted in episodes as well, including the classic "Design for Loving".

Norman Lloyd would prove to have an extremely successful career in television on both sides of the camera. He produced such shows as Journey to the Unknown and Tales of the Unexpected, as well as many television movies. Mr. Lloyd also continued to direct television shows after The Alfred Hitchcock Hour left the air, including episodes of Columbo and Tales of the Unexpected, as well as many television movies. Of course, most audiences are probably familiar with Mr. Lloyd from the various roles he has played as an actor in television shows over the years. He may be best known as Dr. Daniel Auschlander on St. Elsewhere, a role he played for the entire run of the show. Mr. Lloyd also played the regular role of Dr. Isaac Mentnor on the short lived sci-fi show Seven Days. Over the years Norman Lloyd guest starred on such shows as One Step Beyond, The Most Deadly Game, Night Gallery, Quincy M.E., The Paper Chase, Wiseguy, Wings, and Modern Family.

Norman Lloyd has had a remarkable career, one that is all the more remarkable in that it is still continuing even as he turns 100. He is an incredible character actor, with a range far greater than most actors, even those from the Golden Age of Film. Over the years he played nearly every sort of role an actor could play. He appeared as one of film's most iconic villains, Fry, in Hitchock's Saboteur. In his second Hitchcock film, Spellbound, he played a role about as far from Fry as one could get, that of mental patient Mr. Garmes. In  A Walk in the Sun he played the rather pessimistic Private Archimbeau. Over the years he appeared in a wide variety of genres of film. From Hitchcock thrillers to war films (A Walk in the Sun) to films noirs (Scene of the Crime) to Westerns (Calamity Jane and Sam Bass) to swashbucklers (The Flame and the Arrow). He also worked with such legendary talents as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Charlie Chaplin. Regardless of what film in which he played or with whom he was working, Mr. Lloyd always delivered (and still does deliver) a great performance.

Of course, it is not enough that Norman Lloyd is a great actor. He also did great work as a producer and director in television as well. Alongside producer Joan Harrison, Norman Lloyd oversaw the day to day operations of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was involved in everything from the casting of episodes to the hiring of directors to the commission of scripts. Together Miss Harrison and Mr. Lloyd insured that Alfred Hitchcock Presents would be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, anthology shows of all time. The show featured scripts by such writers as Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Evan Hunter, and Stirling Silliphant. The show's episodes were directed by such experienced veterans as Robert Stevenson and Don Weiss (not to mention Mr. Hitchcock himself) as well as such newcomers as Robert Altman, William Friedkin, Arthur Hiller and Sydney Pollack. Alfred Hitchcock Presents was truly one of the shining moments in the last days of the Golden Age of Television, and Norman Lloyd was much of the reason it was so great.

Having worked with some of the most legendary figures in film and having worked extensively in television, Norman Lloyd is a rich source of stories of both the Golden Ages of Film and Television. What is more, in interviews he tells these tales with both charm and wit, and with such richness of memory that it is hard to believe the events happened decades ago. What is more, Mr. Lloyd is that most rare thing in Hollywood, a true gentleman. He was married to the same woman, his beloved wife Peggy, for nearly 75 years (until her death in 2011). From those who have worked with him to those who have only met him briefly and casually, one never hears an ill word said about Mr. Lloyd. He is the sort of man who treats everyone with dignity and always has a kind word for them. In the end Norman Lloyd is more than a great talent as an actor, producer, and director. He is more than a centenarian with a incredibly rich memory. He is, quite simply, a truly good man.

Friday, November 7, 2014

And the War on Thanksgiving Continues

Last year a number of retail stores generated controversy by either opening on Thanksgiving or by starting their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving. Among these stores were Target (which opened at 8:00 PM), Kohls (which opened at 8:00 PM), and Macy's (which opened at 8:00 PM). KMart opened at 6:00 AM, although it must be pointed out that this was nothing new for them. They have opened on Thanksgiving for the past 23 years. WalMart also has a "tradition" of being open on Thanksgiving, although they caused controversy by starting their Black Friday sales at 6:00 PM.

Unfortunately, while there was a good deal of controversy over stores either opening or starting their Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving last year, it seems many stores plan to do the same thing this year. In fact, some of them are opening even earlier. Both Kohl's and Macy's, which opened at 8:00 PM last year, are opening at 6:00 PM this year. J. C. Penney, which opened at 6:00 PM last year is opening at 5:00 PM.

Of course, the fact that stores will actually be open on Thanksgiving is yet another volley in what has become the retail industry's war on Thanksgiving. Long ago it seemed many retailers were determined to reduce Thanksgiving, long a holiday all its own, to simply an extension of the "Christmas shopping season". While the term "Black Friday" for the day after Thanksgiving did not gain currency until the Seventies, the day was regarded as the first day for Christmas shopping as early as 1907 (that year The Evening Times of Cumberland, Maryland made reference to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving).  Indeed, while we think of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a Thanksgiving tradition, it began in 1924 as "Macy's Christmas Parade". It was renamed "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" in 1927.

The idea of the day after Thanksgiving as the first day of the Christmas shopping season would even have an impact on the date when Thanksgiving was held. In 1939  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last (and that year, fifth) Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday of the month in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. The move proved controversial and in 1941 Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as the date of Thanksgiving in something of a compromise.

Or course, while the day after Thanksgiving, currently known as "Black Friday", has long been the first day of the Christmas shopping season, it has only been the past few decades that Thanksgiving has seemed in danger of being overtaken by Christmas. Even though the Christmas shopping season began the day after Thanksgiving, it was a rare thing to see stores put up Christmas decorations, much less see Christmas oriented commercials, before December. Over the years this has changed. It was many, many years ago that one started seeing  the first Christmas oriented commercials on the day after Thanksgiving or even on Thanksgiving. It was several years ago that the first Christmas oriented commercials started airing in early November. Now a few of them air even before Halloween has passed.

Given the phenomenon of "Christmas creep", in which retailers began advertising for Christmas at earlier and earlier dates, it was perhaps only a matter of time before retailers sought to begin the Christmas shopping season even earlier. Namely, rather starting the shopping season on Black Friday, starting it on Thanksgiving itself.

I personally find the whole phenomenon of stores being open on Thanksgiving depressing, distasteful, and offensive. The fact is that Thanksgiving has a long tradition in what would become the United States. The first Thanksgiving feast celebrated in the Thirteen Colonies was on December 4, 1619 by the settlers of Berkeley Hundred in Virginia. Another more famous Thanksgiving feast was later celebrated by the Pilgrims at Plymouth at some time between September 21 and November 9 of 1621. Annual Thanksgiving celebrations in the Thirteen Colonies were begun in Connecticut in 1639 and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1680. It was President Abraham Lincoln who officially recognised Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. It has been a national holiday ever since.

As a particularly old holiday Thanksgiving developed its own traditions, most of which centred around the family gathering together for Thanksgiving dinner. Indeed, perhaps no other American holiday is as centred around food and family as much as Thanksgiving is. Unfortunately, if retail workers are required to work on Thanksgiving, then they obviously cannot be home enjoying turkey and pumpkin pie with their families. Quite simply, in being open on Thanksgiving many stores are then robbing many families of what is one of the biggest holidays in the American year.

Now I realise some people will claim that they have a right to shop on Thanksgiving and that stores have a right to be open on Thanksgiving if they choose. I am not going to argue with either of these. That having been said, I also believe people have a right to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families on Thanksgiving, not that Saturday or that Sunday. If stores are going to be open on Thanksgiving, then, I would say that they should be staffed only by people who have volunteered to work that day. No one should be required to work on Thanksgiving. If the stores cannot get enough volunteers to work on Thanksgiving, well, then they simply cannot open.

Unfortunately I worry that stores will continue to open on Thanksgiving for the foreseeable future. As long as there are people willing to shop on Thanksgiving, the stores will continue to be open then. For those of us who think Thanksgiving should be for family and not for shopping. I can only suggest that we do not shop at stores who open on Thanksgiving. Fortunately there are a number of stores that do not do so and we might wish to give them our business instead. Costco, Lowe's, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom all close for Thanksgiving. It is stores like these that should be rewarded, not those who think greed outweighs family time spent together on a major American holiday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Godspeed Renée Asherson

Renée Asherson, the star of stage and screen who appeared in such films as Henry V (1944) and The Cure for Love (1949), died on 30 October 2014 at the age of 99.

Renée Asherson was born in Kensington, London on 19 May 1915. She grew up in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, as well as Anjou and Switzerland. She studied acting at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Her first walk-on part was in 1935 in John Gielgud’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the New Theatre (now known as the  Noël Coward Theatre) on the West End. Afterwards she spent 18 months as part of the Birmingham Repertory Company. In 1940 she appeared in Clifford Bax's play The Rose Without a Thorn. Afterwards she joined the Old Vic, appearing as Iris in The Tempest. She toured with the Old Vic company in the years 1940 and 1941, appearing in such parts as Maria in Twelfth Night, Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice, Ann Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Desdemona in Othello. In 1939 she made her television debut in Smiling at Grief.

It was in 1944 that Renée Asherson made her film debut in Carol Reed's film The Way Ahead. That same year she appeared as Princess Katherine in Laurence Olivier's film adaptation of Henry V. In the Forties she appeared in the films The Way to the Stars (1945), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), Hour of Glory (1949), Once a Jolly Swagman (1949), and The Cure for Love (1949). She continued to appear on stage, appearing in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Westminster Theatre in 1942, a production of  Lottie Dundass  at the Vaudeville Theatre, and a production of The Cure for Love at the Westminster Theatre in 1945.

In the Fifties Miss Asherson appeared in the films Pool of London (1951), The Magic Box (1951), The Malta Story (1953), The Red Dress (1954), and Time Is My Enemy (1954). She also appeared frequently on television during the decade. She played Queen Victoria in the mini-series Happy and Glorious. She also appeared on the TV shows Lilli Palmer Theatre, Rheingold Theatre, and ITV Television Playhouse. She continued appearing on stage, most notably as Stella in the West End production of A Streetcar Named Desire. She also appeared in such productions as a revival of Three Sisters, The Big Knife, and The Waltz of the Toreadors, and The Unexpected Guest.

In the Sixties Renée Asherson appeared in the films The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), and The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (1969). She appeared on television on such programmes as ITV Television Playhouse, BBC Sunday-Night Play, ITV Play of the Week, Love Story, Thirty Minute Theatre, and Strange Report.

In the Seventies Miss Asherson appeared in the film Theatre of Blood (1973). She was a regular on the television shows as Clayhanger and Flesh and Blood. She appeared in the Armchair Thriller serial "Quiet as a Nun". She also appeared on the television shows Country Matters, Away from It All, Victorian Scandals, Jubilee, and  A Man Called Intrepid.

In the Eighties Renée Asherson was a regular on the show Tenko. She appeared on the shows Love and Marriage, Crown Court, Time for Murder, Tom's Midnight Garden, and Chain. She also appeared in such television productions as Edwin, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced, Romance on the Orient Express, and Norbert Smith, a Life.

From the Nineties into the Naughts Miss Asherson appeared on the TV shows Screen Two, Screen One, Lovejoy, Brighton Belles, Performance, and Midsomer Murders. She appeared in the films Grey Owl (1999) and The Others (2001).

Renée Asherson was a very talented actress capable of a diverse number of roles. She played the demure Princess Katherine in Henry V in 1944, then played the steady and resolute WRAF Iris in The Way to the Stars the following year. She played the Tsarina in the Hammer Film Rasputin, the Mad Monk in 1966, and then played Norbert Smith's daft wife in Norbert Smith: A Life in 1990. Miss Asherson had considerable versatility as an actress, and she almost never gave a bad performance. She was indeed a rare talent.