WESTON — Sam Lloyd craved the greasepaint of Broadway. Then he caught sight of the grit.
On Oct. 19, 1961, the actor stepped into New York's Playhouse Theatre — where Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke had just finished their Tony Award-winning run of "The Miracle Worker" — and prepared to open in a new play insiders predicted would be
"A Cook for Mr. General" was an Army version of "Mister Roberts," the hit comedy Henry Fonda had performed 1,157 times four blocks away before making it into a movie. Lloyd and a fellow newcomer named Dustin Hoffman took their places on the top-flight stage. If only they had a top-flight script. The final curtain fell on the flop less than a month later.
Lloyd consoled himself by wheeling his newborn daughter around Manhattan. He gazed into his child's shining eyes — and at the soot all over her face. Thinking back to his days as an up-and-coming actor at Vermont's Weston Playhouse, he traded the gritty city for the Green Mountains, where he continued to act — both creatively and civically — until his death Friday of heart failure at age 91.
"Sam Lloyd could have played on any stage," Weston Managing Director Lesley Koenig said in a resulting statement. "The Weston Playhouse and state of Vermont are fortunate indeed that he chose to play on ours."
In his lifetime, Lloyd could tell stories about family members making it big in Hollywood. His brother Christopher is famous for hair-pulling antics in the "Back to the Future" movie trilogy, while his son Sam Jr. has appeared in such television comedies as "Scrubs" and "The Middle."
But the elder Lloyd could boast his own successes. Moving to Weston in 1961, he served on the local planning commission and volunteer fire department and in the state Legislature and on its Environmental Board, all while owning the Weston Bowl Mill for three decades and moderating Weston's town meeting for some 40 years.
As a legislator, Lloyd served on the House Natural Resources Committee during its fine-tuning of Vermont's newly adopted Act 250 land-use law. He received what he thought was the honor of reporting the committee's refinement proposals to the full chamber.
"What I didn't realize," Lloyd told this reporter upon his 80th birthday in 2005, "and what nobody told me was the fellow who reports the bill is the one who is challenged and addressed by all those who oppose it."
Lloyd continued to act at the Weston Playhouse, home of the state's oldest professional theater company and located across the street from his own house. Appearing in more than 1,000 productions, he especially appreciated a 1990 version of "Sherlock Holmes" that also featured his brother, son and wife.
"I was interested in theater from the beginning," Lloyd would recall.
Born Sept. 8, 1925, in New York, he acted in school plays as his family moved to Connecticut and New Jersey, then returned to Manhattan to study at the Feagin School of Drama and Radio (after serving in the Marines during the World War II invasion of Iwo Jima) before apprenticing at the Cleveland Play House in Ohio.
"It was there I met a very fine actor who really changed my life," Lloyd went on. "I said to him, 'I want to get back to my roots in New England — do you know any nice summer theaters there?"
The actor not only suggested the Weston Playhouse but also wrote Lloyd a recommendation.
"On the strength of that," Lloyd said, "I was accepted sight unseen."
Lloyd started working summers in Vermont in 1952, only to return to New York to understudy for Walter Matthau in the Broadway comedy "A Shot in the Dark" (Matthau, alas, didn't believe in sick days) and snag his supposed big break in "A Cook for Mr. General," only to return to Weston after 28 performances.
Lloyd appeared in three Vermont films (1993's "Where the Rivers Flow North," 1996's "The Spitfire Grill" and 2004's "Bereft"), won the Vermont Arts Council's Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement, and funneled his good fortune into a computer program for Flood Brook Union School in nearby Londonderry.
Back in 1992, after voters rejected two plans to enlarge the school, Lloyd read how computers could benefit students. He and his wife offered to give a "large amount of money" for technology. (Lloyd wouldn't publicize how much, but the trust fund would total $1 million.) The two conditions: 1. the school have enough space and, 2. the community be able to use the computers after hours.
The third time was a charm. Voters approved a new building by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
"It just struck me as something that was essential," Lloyd said, "that I was able to do."
Lloyd is survived by his wife, Barbara; children Sam Lloyd Jr., Laurel Lloyd, Robin Lloyd and Sandra Yaple; siblings Christopher Lloyd, Ruth Lloyd and Adele Lloyd; four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, three stepchildren, three step-grandchildren, one step-great-grandchild and numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held at a later date, with contributions directed to the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company.
"Theater is a wonderful avenue for communication," Lloyd said before one show. "And I particularly enjoy when grandparents come with their grandchildren. To see them interested and following along, from one age group down to the other is very exciting. It doesn't get any better than that."