This is a very different piece than what I had planned to post yesterday. I’ve trimmed my headline (gone: “And Congratulations, Madam President-Elect. OK Now to Exhale.”) I’ve deleted my excitement and that of two young women, 18 (a stranger at my polling place, who looked like Jean Seberg with her “Breathless” haircut starting to grow out), and 22 (a dear friend’s smart, talented daughter, a friend as well), that 96 years after women’s suffrage and 144 years after the first woman, Ohioan Victoria Woodhull ran for president, a woman was about to smash the highest glass ceiling.
But what remains today is the joy of a wonderful man, Norman Lloyd, having a big birthday (they’re all big somewhere north of 90). And although the election of an profoundly unqualified, unprepared bigoted and misogynist buffoon seems more like fiction than the plots of Norman’s films, this is still a great country that inexplicably (and I believe temporarily) has taken a detour away from the future.
Written yesterday morning:
Last week I phoned Norman, who has been an actor, director and producer (in theater, film and television) for more than eight decades, to ask him some questions about politics, and desperate for anything special to cut the stress of the endless campaign, to hear his beautiful voice and thrilling diction.
If you missed him in his screen debut in Hitchcock’s “Saboteur” (1942),–a small role, but the title character–perhaps you saw him in his most recent film, playing Amy Schumer’s grandfather, Norman, in “Trainwreck” (2015). Or as Dr. Daniel Auschlander on “St. Elsewhere” (1982-1988).
Born on November 8, 1914, Norman’s first presidential election was on November 3, 1936. (The 26th amendment to the Constitution, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, wasn’t signed into law until 1971, by Richard Nixon, who, in a very different time, said, ““The reason I believe that your generation, the 11 million new voters, will do so much for America at home is that you will infuse into this nation some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose, that this country always needs.”)
“Of course I cast my first ballot for Roosevelt,” Norman said. I told him that FDR got 523 electoral votes, second only to Ronald Reagan’s 524 in 1984 (when there were seven more to contest). Norman made a disdainful (yet elegant) sound and added, “Reagan wasn’t even a good president of the Screen Actors Guild.”
Norman was six when women got the right to vote in 1920 but although he remembers wanting to be an actor as a very young child, he doesn’t recall his family’s reaction to women’s suffrage. “We weren’t a political family. But I’m sure my mother voted.”
He continued, “Obama has been an extraordinary president. I voted for him twice.” Had he expected to see a woman elected president in his lifetime? Norman paused and then answered, “I guess I never thought about it. But I’m enthusiastic to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
As Norman and I were finishing our conversation, I asked what his plans were for celebrating turning 102. “Four days after my birthday, a bunch of friends–which he said in Brooklynese, the accent he’d shed before he first “tread the boards” in the 30s–are giving me a party on my road. I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t had an audience in a while.”
I contradicted him. “Oh, but that’s not true. Of course you’ve had an audience. We can see you–repertory cinema, TV reruns–you just can’t see us.” He laughed.
Before voting yesterday morning, I drank coffee from my favorite mug (bought at the Susan B. Anthony House Museum and House in Rochester), white with a quick reddish line drawing of the great feminist and her famous quote, “failure is impossible.” I still believe that. Susan B. Anthony had been dead for 14 years before women won the right to vote. We will elect a woman president (Elizabeth Warren? Tulsi Gabbard? Kamala Harris?). And somehow, through resistance, we will survive our 45th president.