John Lithgow, Drama: an Actor’s Education

(2013-07-12 133)Title: Drama: an actor’s education [UNCORRECTED PROOF]

Publication Information: New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-173497-7

Library of Congress Classification: PN2287.L473

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Lithgow, John, 1945-
Actors—United States—Biography.

As stated, this is an uncorrected proof, which I got at one of the publishers’ functions for librarians the day before Book Expo America a few years ago. John Lithgow attended, but no one got a chance to talk to him. He read the foreword of his autobiography to those assembled and then left. The foreword deals with his father’s recovery from a serious operation and his bouncing back to his jovial self before his death less than two years later.

Lithgow’s book is about his life as an actor: the pitfalls and the privileges that come with the job. However, his father is always off in the wings, so to speak, as Lithgow recounts his life and adventures on the New York stage as well as in Hollywood. Lithgow’s father comes back into the autobiography on a regular basis. His father had a big impact on his life.

Lithgow’s father wanted to be an actor but ended up directing plays and went wherever there was work. He took his family with him as he moved from town to town. This took a toll on young John, who would make friends in his new town only to leave a year or so later and to have to start all over again. This type of moving affected him deeply and probably helped create what Lithgow called his “delayed adolescence.” His father never offered comforting words to console his son; as the autobiography progresses, his father’s fatal flaw emerges.

There is no doubt that Lithgow loved his father, but his father—like all fathers who are, after all, only human—was never there to give support and advice as Lithgow grew up. Lithgow can remember his father being there for celebrations and all the good memories he has of family functions. However, whenever there was a problem or crisis his father, though present, never gave his opinion or advice. Lithgow married at 21 and recounts that his father never offered him any advice about how much work a marriage is, or that he was too young to get married. Lithgow later divorces his first wife after a string of affairs that he has over the years, scarring himself, his ex-wife, and their young son.

Lithgow does not give any details about the “wild parties” held by the cast of the various plays in which he acted. He mentions these parties early in the book. It is only within the last thirty or so pages that he admits to his infidelity. He then discusses how leads in plays and movies very often end up falling in love, at least until the end of the production, when reality returns.

I never paid much attention to John Lithgow (I pay little attention to Hollywood overall), but this was an open and honest portrait of someone who has been on the stage and before the camera for decades. From his childhood to his second marriage, Lithgow recounts his life and experience as an actor with candor and humor.

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