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A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Meet Hollywood’s 100-and-over set: they’re legends, they’re healthy and they’re still working.
In late July, 100-year-old Norman Lloyd and 102-year-old Connie Sawyer paid a visit to the Park La Brea apartment of Patricia Morison, 100, each arriving solo in an Uber and making a point of complimenting their driver’s abilities.
Lloyd worked in films directed Hitchcock (1942’s Saboteur and 1945’s Spellbound), Chaplin (1952’s Limelight) and Scorsese (1991’s The Age of Innocence), and popped up in small but memorable parts in Dead Poets Society and Modern Family. Morison was a Paramount contract player in the thirties and forties who relocated to Broadway and in 1948 originated the title role of Kiss Me Kate. And Sawyer was a comic who opened for Sophie Tucker in the Catskills and worked night clubs before becoming a character actress on the Great White Way and in Hollywood. (You may remember her as a wheelchair-bound woman who robs Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, for which she was credited as “elderly lady”… 21 years ago.)
Sawyer and Lloyd still are working — this year she appeared in a Super Bowl commercial and an episode of Ray Donovan and he in Trainwreck, which, he tells the ladies, “has a couple of scenes which, when you and I went into the theater, were inconceivable.” (Sawyer responds, “Yeah, with the girl comedian [Amy Schumer]? I hear she’s dirty. I want to go see her!”) Morison, meanwhile, is retired, unless you count her YouTube’d rendition of The King and I‘s “Shall We Dance” (she played Anna in the 1950s onstage) that recently went viral.
All are in good health. “I don’t feel any age,” says Morison. “I know I’m old, but I just feel like me.” Lloyd puts it this way: “There’s a conflict between what’s in your mind and what’s in your body.” They each led active lives. Sawyer says, “I always danced, played golf, swam — I was a doer all my life.” “I was playing good tennis up until 100,” says Lloyd, who had a regular game with Chaplin and once played a set with a young man named John F. Kennedy. “It was only after [a recent] fall that I became aware of my age. I move slowly and I used to move fast. I miss that.”
Morison, raised a Protestant, became a Catholic (“It’s been a big part of my life, but I’m not cuckoo”); Sawyer is a proud Jew (“I’ve always been very spiritual,” she says, and she still attends services each Saturday and on holidays); Lloyd never has been religious. Morison and Sawyer say they never drank more than a glass of wine (Morison’s father was an alcoholic) and both only “pretended” to smoke (Sawyer to fit in at the nightclubs where she worked). Lloyd, who hasn’t smoked since 1943 and only drank socially, says his grandfather who took a shot of whiskey every night before dinner and lived to 104: “This I have taken up since I hit 100.” Morison never married but “did alright” with boyfriends; Sawyer was married for 10 years before her husband, with whom she had two children, divorced her; Lloyd was married for 75 years (his wife, Peggy, died in 2011), has two children and enjoys wrestling with his grandsons.
Considering their varied backgrounds, one has to wonder if there really is a secret to making it to 100. Sawyer’s opinion: “We got good genes — I think that’s mostly the secret!”
Sawyer says, “I never thought I’d live to be 102. I went to live at the [Motion Picture & Television Fund] home when I was 91 — I went too early!” Jokes aside, she takes advantage of all their activities: “The other day we had a jazz band of 10 pieces and they put a dance floor in the dining room and I danced all afternoon! I like to dance.” “So do I,” chuckles Morison. Sawyer continues, “I still go on auditions. I don’t get too many parts because they don’t buy old ladies as much as they used to, but it keeps me young.” Despite ankle pain, she also goes to exercise class three days a week — that, and four pills a day, keep her in fighting form. Every day, Lloyd takes a vitamin for his sight and rides an indoor bike. Morison, who also takes only a single vitamin, isn’t as mobile, but revels in visits from loved ones and in her memories. Sawyer feels they’re what make life worth living: “I keep talkin’ to the guy upstairs and I keep saying, ‘I’m not ready yet… I like being alive!”
All three are disheartened by the state of the world today. “In our time we had heroes,” says Lloyd. “I can’t stand to watch the news because people are shooting everything,” sighs Sawyer. “What’s gonna happen to our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren?” Morison adds, “I don’t know how we’re gonna mend it.” They still have hopes and dreams. “I watch the Dodgers every night — no reading anymore — and I dream that I could have hit that home run,” chuckles Lloyd. “My dreams are with my family,” Sawyer volunteers. “I always have dreams,” says Morison. “I love this world and I look forward to everything.” Can they recall the happiest moment of their life? “There were so many,” Morison and Sawyer say simultaneously.
As the three gather for a group portrait, the mood lightens. The photographer says to Lloyd, “Norman, can you put a hand on Patricia’s shoulder?” “I can go further,” he says cheekily, without missing a beat. As the camera snaps, he glances from side to side and whispers conspiratorially, “You know, girls, we’ll get a series out of this!”
Read more from The Hollywood Reporter‘s Top Doctors Issue:
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