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JOHN LITHGOW is an actor with a broad range of interests and talents in every area of the entertainment industry – and even outside it. He has been working in show business since the early ’70s, and has achieved stunning success in wildly varied ventures. A list of his restless pursuits strains credulity.
In September 2011 Harper Collins will release Drama: An Actor’s Education by John Lithgow. In this memoir Lithgow shares a backstage history of his struggle, crisis, and discovery, and the scenes of his early life and career that took place before he became a nationally known star. Above all, Drama is a tribute to the most important influence in Lithgow’s life: his father, Arthur Lithgow. An actor, director, producer, and great lover of Shakespeare, Arthur brought theater to John’s boyhood, where performance and storytelling were a constant and cherished part of family life. Lithgow brings the theater worlds of New York and London to life as he relives his collaborations with renowned performers and directors, including Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse, Liv Ullmann, Meryl Streep, and Brian De Palma. Lithgow’s ruminations on the nature of theater, performance, and storytelling cut to the heart of why actors are driven to perform, and why people are driven to watch them do it. At once hilarious and reflective, Drama pulls back the curtain on the making of John Lithgow as an actor.
At heart, Lithgow is a theater actor. Theater is where he started, and he started big. In 1973, he won a Tony Award three weeks after his Broadway debut in David Storey’s The Changing Room. Since then, he has appeared on Broadway 19 more times, earning another Tony, three more Tony nominations, four Drama Desk awards, and induction into the Theater Hall of Fame. Lithgow was most recently seen Off-Broadway alongside Jennifer Ehle in Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, Douglas Carter Beane’s new play about a husband and wife team of gossip columnists. Lithgow also toured the country in the fall with his one-man show Stories By Heart, which he then brought to Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum for January and February. His other stage performances have included major roles in My Fat Friend, Trelawney of the “Wells”, Comedians, Anna Christie, Bedroom Farce, Beyond Therapy, M. Butterfly, The Front Page, Retreat from Moscow, Mrs. Farnsworth, and the musicals Sweet Smell of Success (his second Tony) and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In 2007 he was one of the very few American actors ever invited to join The Royal Shakespeare Company, playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon. And Lithgow’s most recent appearance on Broadway was in the revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons alongside Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson, and Katie Holmes.
In the early 1980s Lithgow began to make a major mark in films. At that time, he was nominated for Oscars in back-to-back years, for The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment. In the years before and after, he has appeared in over 30 films. Notable among them have been All That Jazz, Blow Out, Twilight Zone: the Movie, Footloose, 2010, Buckaroo Banzai, Harry and the Hendersons, Memphis Belle, Raising Cain, Ricochet, Cliffhanger, Orange County, Shrek, Kinsey, and a flashy cameo in Dreamgirls. Lithgow will next be seen on the big screen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Fox’s prequel to Planet of the Apes, which is directed by Rupert Wyatt and scheduled for released in August 2011.
For his work on television, Lithgow has been nominated for 11 Emmy awards. He has won five; one for an episode of Amazing Stories, and three for what is perhaps his most celebrated creation: the loopy character of the alien High Commander, Dick Solomon, on the hit NBC comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun. In that show’s six-year run, Lithgow also won the Golden Globe, two SAG Awards, The American Comedy Award, and, when it finally went off the air, a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He recently found new success in television drama with his 12-episode arc on Showtime’s Dexter, playing Arthur Mitchell the Trinity Killer. For his work on Dexter, Lithgow received an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series, as well as a nomination along with rest of the cast for the SAG Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance in a Drama Series.
Lithgow’s other major appearances on television have included roles in The Day After, Resting Place, Baby Girl Scott, My Brother’s Keeper, TNT’s Don Quixote, and HBO’s The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
And then there is Lithgow’s work for children: since 1998 he has written seven New York Times best-selling children’s picture books, including The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Marsupial Sue, Micawber, and I’m A Manatee. In addition, he has created two Lithgow Palooza activity books for parents and children; Lithgow Palooza Readers for use in elementary schools; and the The Poets’ Corner for Warner Books, a compilation of fifty classic poems aimed at young people, designed to stir an early interest in poetry. All of this work has won him two Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Awards and four Grammy nominations.
He sings, too. Lithgow has performed concerts for children with the Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Baltimore, and San Diego symphonies, and at Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. He has released three children’s albums: Singin’ in the Bathtub, Farkle & Friends, and the Grammy-nominated The Sunny Side of the Street, released by Razor & Tie Records. All of these concerts and albums have included several his of own songs and rhyming narrations.
And then there is the ballet. In 2003, the noted choreographer Christopher Wheeldon invited Lithgow to collaborate with him on a new piece for the New York City Ballet. The result was Carnival of the Animals, a ballet for fifty dancers, with music by Camille Saint-Saëns and with Lithgow’s verse narration. Lithgow himself spoke the narration from the stage. At a certain point he ducked into the wings, climbed into costume, and re-emerged to dance the role of The Elephant. He has performed this feat over twenty times. The project also spawned another award-winning children’s book, Carnival of the Animals, and another Grammy-nominated CD.
John Lithgow was born in Rochester, New York, but grew up in Ohio, graduated from high school in Princeton, New Jersey, attended Harvard College, and used a Fulbright Grant to study at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art. In 2011 Lithgow was honored as a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal recipient. He was honored by Harvard with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2005, and, at that time, was invited to deliver the school’s Commencement Address. He concluded his address with a new children’s book, written for the occasion and dedicated to Harvard’s Class of 2005. The book, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, is intended to instill an interest in higher education in very small children.
Lithgow has three grown children, two grandchildren, and lives in Los Angles with his wife Mary, a Professor of Economic and Business History at UCLA.