A Good Read

Much to Learn from Lithgow’s An Actor’s Education

After yet another disappointing realization that a bookstore I had frequented over the years had suddenly evaporated, I broke down and purchased the Kindle. Gotta say….I love it.

My first download purchase was based entirely on instinct.

After clicking on the Kindle Store link and perusing the various lists, categories, and genres available, one title jumped out at me.

I first saw John Lithgow in 1982 on the big screen in The World According to Garp (see my Five Films that Shaped Me to gather significance). He played ‘Roberta Muldoon,’ the transsexual ex-football player in the film adaptation of John Irving’s novel. He was one of the many unforgettable components from that influential film.

Lithgow, now 66, released his autobiography earlier this year and it is a must read for actors trying to make sense of their career choice. It is aptly titled An Actor’s Education.

Actors listen up! There is much to learn from those who have not only come before, but who have done the work.

John Lithgow was born into a life of the theatre. His father, Arthur Lithgow, was a Shakespearean scholar who launched and marshaled festivals across the country, usually at the whim of University hirings and budget allowances. It was a nomadic career that moved his wife and four children frequently, instilling in young John his first actor’s persona: the new kid on the block.

An Actor’s Eduction is all about the lessons Lithgow learned throughout his childhood, his stunted adolescence, and finally his arrival into adulthood. Lessons that he could readily identify and apply to his burgeoning passion for the stage.

The personal anecdotes of how roles came his way and the wide variety of productions and mentors he experienced are solid gold for actors, young and old, to digest.

As the cliché goes, John Lithgow is an actor’s actor. His candid analysis of how certain choices made brought on unexpected treasures is illuminating. But as he learned, through a blessed career that brought him not only artistic bliss but financial wealth, as well as marital failure brought on by one too many actor-actress romances, “acting is pretty great – but it isn’t everything.”

“I’ve had parallel careers in the theatre and in the movies,” says the actor. “What I offer to movie-makers is that I can put a tremendous amount of theatrical background and technical equipment at their disposal. I can make believable the over-the-top characters.”

It is abundantly clear that Lithgow’s dedication (and passion!) for his stage work, not only made him the actor he became, but gave him the richest experiences and relationships of his artistic life.

It is a book full of surprises. Lithgow, a Harvard grad who once dreamt of becoming a world-class painter but eventually put down the brush to dive full-time into his acting, is also a very good writer and storyteller.

Ultimately, however, An Actor’s Eduction is Lithgow’s tribute to his father. So this is not merely a good read for actors, but for anyone grappling with the advancing age of their parents or their own mortality.

The coda alone is enough to bring a tear to your eye, but do yourself an enormous favor and take the whole cover-to-cover journey with the two-time Oscar nominated, Tony Award winning John Lithgow. Not only educational, but motivational and even inspirational. And we all need that. Right?

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