By Jim Lowe
THE LOWE DOWN
Sam Lloyd Sr. was a businessman, state legislator, town moderator, family man and more, but first and foremost he was a man of the theater — and a larger-than-life one at that.
“He was always flamboyant and dramatic, even on a personal or political level. That would light the room up — he was a natural leader that way,” said Steve Stettler, producing artistic director of Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Vermont’s oldest professional summer theater, where Lloyd performed in more than 1,000 productions.
That flamboyance might be seen as narcissistic in some, Stettler said, “but in Sam’s case, it was a genuine love of life and people, and of the world he lived in — and being of service to it.
“You can’t be on stage and play that many roles and not have some ego, but it was really more about the delight of sharing a play with others — and the delight of passing the bottle bill when he was in the state Legislature,” Stettler said.
Lloyd died at his Weston home of heart failure on March 24. Part of a professional theater family, he was the brother of Christopher Lloyd, the father of Sam Lloyd Jr., both successful television and film actors, and husband of Barbara Lloyd, who still performs at Weston Playhouse.
Stettler, and founding directors Malcolm Ewen and Tim Fort — currently the triumvirate guiding the renowned professional theater — were student actors when they first came to Weston Playhouse in 1973.
“Sam had been acting there for over 20 years and living there a dozen or so years,” Stettler said in a recent telephone interview.
“My first summer, he played the stage manager in ‘Our Town.’ It was an absolutely exquisite production when we were a by-and-large non-Equity college company. He really raised the bar for the rest of us,” he said.
“Sam was a god for us,” Stettler said. “And, of course, he was still running the bowl mill and raising a family and, soon after that, serving in the Legislature. He was larger than life.”
Fort and Ewen, now long-established theater professionals, also found their lives deeply touched by Lloyd. Fort wrote from Kingston, Ontario, where he is head of the drama department at Queen’s University:
“My mentor and friend, Sam Lloyd, was already a legendary actor at the Playhouse when I arrived for my first summer in Weston in 1973 (to join him onstage to support his commanding performance in ‘Our Town’). For many years thereafter, I had the privilege of learning from him by sharing the stage with him and observing his boundless generosity as both an actor and as a person.
“He was that true professional who loved and respected the art: intelligent, focused and perfectly nuanced on stage — mischievous, funny and openhearted everywhere else. He was also a true Yankee storyteller, whose wry wit kept him eternally irrepressible.
“In the end, he set the standard for us all as both a stage performer and friend — and, as importantly, through his more than 50 years on stage, he came to define the larger spirit of the our community and our Playhouse as a place where artists of his caliber could find in Weston an artistic home for the ages.”
Ewen wrote from Chicago, where he has worked at the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre since 1987:
“It’s hard to write a short statement to react to a life like Sam Lloyd’s — there’s so much to say. Sam meant a lot to the Weston Playhouse, kind of anchoring the theater in the community in our early years. His presence sort of legitimized the three of us when we took over in 1988 — the Lloyds being there signaled to the community that the new guys would be OK.
“Personally, Sam meant a lot to me. He was never happier than enjoying a meal with friends (unless it was watching his beloved Red Sox on TV). He loved telling stories about his past and the Playhouse’s past.
“Many Playhouse alumni have remarked on his passing by saying it’s hard to imagine Weston without Sam. I am happy to have been one of his friends, and I will miss him so much.”
Lloyd was born in New York City on Sept. 8, 1925, and grew up in the suburban communities of Stamford and New Canaan, Conn. In 1942, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving with distinction in the Pacific during World War II in the 21st Marines 3rd Division, including the invasion of Iwo Jima.
After the war, Lloyd trained at the Feagin School of Drama and Radio in New York City, and played summer stock in Ridgefield, Conn. and Chatauqua, N.Y. He then joined the acting company at the famed Cleveland Playhouse, where — interrupted by a return to duty with the Marines during the Korean War — he spent many productive seasons.
Lloyd first came to Weston Playhouse in the summer of 1951. From then on, he was a stalwart of Playhouse productions, including“Sherlock Holmes” in 1990, with his wife Barbara, brother Christopher, and son Sam.
During the late 1950s, Lloyd moved to New York City, where he studied with Uta Hagen, understudied Walter Matthau in the Broadway production of “A Shot in the Dark” and appeared in “A Cook for Mr. General” with a young Dustin Hoffman. He has also appeared in three Vermont films, “The Spitfire Grill” (1996), “Where the Rivers Flow North” (1993) and “Bereft” (2004).
Lloyd and his family moved to Weston full time in 1960. He owned and operated the Weston Bowl Mill for more than three decades, while finding time to serve eight years in the Legislature, and moderate the Weston town meeting for almost four decades.
“Sam was a master at being able to speak to all the citizens of the town — and have each of them think he represented them,” said Stettler, also a Weston resident.
Lloyd served repeated terms on the Vermont Environmental Board, was a member of the Weston select board and planning commission, and the Flood Brook School board. A dedicated environmentalist, he was among the authors of Vermont’s billboard law and Act 250, both of which were dedicated to preserving the Vermont that he loved.
Still, Lloyd’s biggest passion was the theater. And he didn’t let age stop him, performing his one-man Shakespeare show into his 80s.
“He was still doing ‘Christmas Carol’ at 89, and doing the most memorable Scrooge anybody’s ever seen,” Stettler said. “He loved the theater, loved the stage and loved the people with whom he worked. That love was contagious — and he passed it onto the people who worked with him and watched him.
“They wanted to see more Sam.”