When John Lithgow collects another acting award—a frequent occurence for a man who has won the Tony, the Golden Globe, and the Emmy among other trophies—he always gets a little more applause than the other winners. Perhaps the fond regard of his fellow actors is the highest award of all for Lithgow. It made the publication of his memoir of special interest to this reader.
Drama: An Actor’s Education is exactly what the title implies, a look at all of the events that brought Lithgow to his current status in the profession. As such, it’s more focused than most actor biographies, concentrating more on his youth and development as a stage actor and less on his most famous later roles on television and film. What it lacks in gossipy tales of contact with inflated egos (the one time Lithgow takes a colleague to task, he withholds the name), it more than makes up for with frank, often humble accounts of the many pitfalls he negotiated in his rise to stardom.
Central to the story is Lithgow’s complicated relationship with his father, an actor and theatrical producer of some skill whose star never rose beyond the regional theater. Young John struggled to escape his father’s shadow and find his approval. Later, he had to cope with the awkwardness that comes when child eclipses parent.
Lithgow is especially good at conveying how, in his youth, he was entranced by the lure of the theatre. He’s refreshingly honest about his mistakes as well, particularly in admitting to foolish affairs (most prominently with Liv Ullman) that led to the distruction of his first marriage. He’s generous in giving credit to all the people who helped make him what he is as an actor.
Because Lithgow has played a great variety of roles on stage and screen, worked at every level from playing humble parts to starring and also directing, his perspective is broad and well-informed. Whether you are interested in this particular actor, the art and process of acting in theater and film, or just the experience of a person trying to learn a skill and succeed, I think you’ll enjoy his book.
Check the WRL catalog for Drama: An Actor’s Education
Or try the book on audio CD, as read by Lithgow himself