Below are listed the six actors who reached the magical milestone of surviving in this world for a minimum of one hundred years, as of April 20, 2023.
106 years & 153 days NORMAN LLOYD (1914-2021)
A native of Jersey City, New Jersey, Norman was one of those actors whose face most of us instantly recognize, but whose name often escapes us. He joined Orson Welles – John Houseman legendary Mercury Theatre in the 1930s. His marriage to Peggy Craven survived seventy-five years until her death in 2011, just sixteen days after her ninety-eighth birthday. Norman would live on for another decade and is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Mr. Nolan in 1989’s Dead Poets Society. For six seasons and one hundred and thirty-two episodes he became known to TV audiences as Dr Daniel Auschlander on the hit series St. Elsewhere (1982-88). Norman was in movies and television from 1939 until 2015. He outlived his own father (who died at 55 in 1945), by seventy-six years! Alfred Hitchcock selected Norman to produce his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The two men became lifelog best friends.
103 years & 58 days KIRK DOUGLAS (1916-2020)
Kirk was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky in Amsterdam, New York in the middle of the First World War. After service in the US Navy during World War Two, he took up acting and was immediately successful in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and was soon on his way to becoming an established screen star. Douglas had more than his share of good luck. His wife talked him out of boarding Mike Todd’s private plane in 1958, prior to it crashing and killing everyone on board. Then, in 1991, he survived a helicopter crash that killed two colleagues. He made eight movies with his close friend Burt Lancaster but modern day audiences probably consider the 1960 epic Spartacus to be his finest screen achievement. Douglas, on the other hand, considered Lonely are the Brave (1962) to be his finest work, as well as his personal favourite. This writer is inclined to agree with him. In all, Douglas was nominated for three Oscars – Champion (1949), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Lust for Life (1956). He missed out all three times.
102 years & 246 days NEHEMIAH PERSOFF (1919-2022)
Nehemiah Persoff was one of that rare breed of character actor who could grab the focus of an audience whenever he appeared on the screen. Arthur Kennedy was another; so, too, was Lee Marvin before he achieved stardom. Persoff entered this world via Jerusalem, when it was part of the British Mandate of Palestine prior to becoming part of Israel. His family moved to America when he was ten. After three years in the US Army in WW2, Nehemiah studied acting with Stella Adler and was in the first ‘beginners’ class at the Actors Studio in 1947. He was married to his beloved wife Thia for 70 years until her death in 2021. Persoff played the mob boss in Some Like it Hot (1959). Five years earlier he played the cab driver in the, ‘I coulda been a contender…’ scene in On the Waterfront. I thought he was terrific as the outlaw leader in the John Wayne western titled The Comancheros (1961). The movie is a tad silly but Persoff is very convincing in his role.
100 years & 281 days BRUCE BENNETT (1906 – 2007)
Bruce began life Tacoma, Washington as Harold Herman Brix. He dropped the ‘Harold’ from his name and, as Herman Brix, represented the USA in the 1928 Olympics, winning silver in the shot-put event. He was MGM’s choice to play Tarzan in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), but suffered a serious shoulder injury in the film Touchdown! (1931, and was replaced by Johnny Weissmuller. Bruce would still get to play the vine-swinger, but only in an independent serial titled The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935). After landing contracts with both Columbia and Warners under his new name of Bruce Bennett, he played Cody in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), his most memorable role. He loved parasailing and skydiving, even in his final years. On one occasion he leapt from 10,000 feet over Lake Tahoe at the age of ninety-six!
100 years & 59 days BOB HOPE 1903 – 2003)
As everyone no doubt knows, Bob was born, not in America, but in Eltham, London, England. His Christian names were Leslie Townes. He and his parents moved to the USA when he was five years old. When he made his first movie appearance in The Big Broadcast of 1938, he sang ‘Thanks for the Memory’, which would become his signature tune. Today, he is best remembered for his association with crooner Bing Crosby in a string of ‘Road’ pictures, for his time spent entertaining troops during World War Two, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and for his quick one-liners, all of which were penned by his team of writers. In 1998 he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. There are at least two versions regarding why he adopted the Christian name ‘Bob’. Quite possibly neither is the truth.
100 years & 48 days GEORGE BURNS (1896 – 1996)
Note: Any photograph of George should include Gracie Allen.
George was a New Yorker, an actor, singer, comedian and author. Born Nathan Birnbaum to Jewish parents, he was one of twelve siblings. Incredibly, the man who made it to a hundred years of age began smoking cigars when he was just fourteen in 1910, and he smoked as many as ten a day all his life. In 1926, he married his most recent dance partner, a zany comedienne named Gracie Allen. It soon became apparent to George that audiences loved Gracie’s scatter-brained antics, so he gave her all the funny lines and became her ‘straight’ man. They were an enormous success until she passed away in 1964. In 1976, George won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Sunshine Boys.