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Drama: An Actor's Education Hardcover – September 27, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061734977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061734977
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #806,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Q&A with John Lithgow on Drama

Q: Why did you call the book Drama?

Lithgow: The book is full of drama, both onstage and off. I’m an actor. I’m in the drama business. So in plotting the book, I decided to tell stories of my younger years and turn my own life into drama. What these stories have in common is that they were all formative moments, leading me to become the actor that I am today. Hence the subtitle: an actor’s education.

Q: Early in the book you write, “acting is nothing more than storytelling.” How do the two compare?

Lithgow: An actor is a storyteller all right, but he only plays a part. He is a single character in a larger drama, like an essential cog in a complex machine. A storyteller is in charge of the whole event – like a playwright. Where would an actor be without a play?

Q: In Drama, you admit that in your youth, you “had no intention of being an actor.” All these years later, could you imagine any other life?

Lithgow: No, I’ve long ago embraced my destiny as an actor. My great lost ambition was to be a painter, and I suppose I could have been a good one. But early on, acting won out.

Q: While it offers an inside glimpse of your life and career, Drama is also a tribute to your father. Tell us a little about the man readers will meet in the pages of the memoir. What was the most important lesson you learned from him?

Lithgow: My father was a pioneer in the American regional theater movement and remains one of the very few Americans to produce every single one of Shakespeare’s plays. He was a delightful, creative, and complicated man. He headed up our family of six, and because of his quixotic ventures, we led a gypsy-like existence while I was growing up, moving about ten times. What important lessons did I learn from him? Far more than I can list here. You could fill a book with them. And I did.

Q: What do you consider to be your biggest successes, both professionally and personally?

Lithgow: My biggest professional success? That’s a hard one. I guess the simplest answer is achieving a career where I can move easily between movies, television, and the stage, and from comedy to tragedy to horror. As for my biggest personal success, it’s my family and sporadically achieving the elusive goal of a happy life.

Q: Could you ever see yourself scaling back your stage and screen career and becoming a teacher like your father, inspiring a new generation of aspiring actors?

Lithgow: Not really. I remain too busy acting and too full of self-doubt to present myself as an expert on anything. If I aspire to anything as a teacher, it would be to teach by example.

Q: You have said that “it is far more interesting for a reader to read an actor’s backstage history of struggle, crisis, and discovery, out of the public eye, than a conventional, self-congratulatory rehashing of his ‘big moments.’” what are the lessons inherent in that “history of struggle, crisis, and discovery”?

Lithgow: We actors (and anyone else for that matter) learn much more about ourselves from failure than from success. Indeed, success in my business can be a source of egregious self-importance, self-delusion, and sometimes self-destructiveness. Succeed by all means, but remember your failures.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from reading Drama?

Lithgow: I hope that readers will find my memoir to be surprising and entertaining, and find the people and events in my life as fascinating as I find them. But I also hope that the book provokes some thought about this curious business I’m in. Why are actors driven to act? Why does everyone want to gather round and watch? What is this strange transaction between the entertainer and the entertained? And why can none of us do without it?


A Look Inside Drama
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Review

Drama is a cut above—touching, self-aware, and beautifully written.” (People)

“Warm and generous.  . . . Lithgow is relentlessly likable.  . . . A brisk book, packed with funny stories.  . . . A buoyant, heartwarming account of coming into one’s own.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“Anyone interested in an actor’s life—especially backstage—will find this book enlightening.” (USA Today)

“A memoir as finely crafted as one of Lithgow’s performances. Lithgow tells of transgressions, indiscretions, and a tabloid-worthy affair that my PR people could only have wished for. An exciting and revealing book, and what’s more, it’s about ACTING!” (Steve Martin)

“John Lithgow’s memoir is more than an insider’s view of his craft. The portrait of his father is as finely articulated as it is heartfelt, and the account of the young actor’s struggles with his too-young, too-early first marriage is both moving and candid. I loved this book.” (John Irving)

“This book has all the drama we’ve come to expect from John Lithgow, the alternately dark, tender, romantic, dangerous, deranged actor we find in Drama, which is also a family tale of the richest variety. A great read.” (Mary Karr)

“John Lithgow’s memoir is both unflinching and irresistible. It captures the long, hard road to the stage for any actor, or for virtually anyone trying to make it in New York, and shows how putting all of your hopes into the one thing you love isn’t so crazy after all.” (Gay Talese)

Drama recounts in graceful, considered prose a life that after a few wrong turns is now happier and more well adjusted than most.”- (Charles McGrath, The New York Times)

“Lithgow rises to the occasion with courageous honesty and fairness.  . . . There’s something breath-catchingly poignant in the simple, hard-won wisdom he imparts before taking his final bow: ‘Acting is pretty great. But it isn’t everything.’” (The Los Angeles Times)

“John Lithgow’s memoir, Drama, reminded me that the world is indeed all a stage and that professionals have some great ideas about how to perform on it.” (Drew Gilpin Faust, The Wall Street Journal)

More About the Author

Writing a children's book was not something that I pursued. It pursued me. It started when I was asked to write a narration for a symphony for kids. I realized that it had the text for a book. From that text "The Remarkable Farkle McBride" was born. And once the first book was successful, others followed.

My sixth (!) children's book, "Marsupial Sue Presents the Runaway Pancake," was just published this fall. This is a sequel to "Marsupial Sue," one of my most popular storybook characters.This story was inspired in part by two different things: The "Runaway Pancake" song is a guaranteed show stopper whenever I sing it in one of my Paloozicals Concert for Kids , and my performing on Broadway this year in "Dirty Rotton Scoundrels" made me think that Sue might like to put on a show of her own with all of her animal friends.

I credit my parents for fostering my love of literature and books. I have fond memories of my father reading chapters aloud from great thick books like "The Jungle Book" and "A Teller of Tales".

I have carried on my father's tradition by reading aloud to my own kids when they were little. I have also started a few traditions of my own, like singing to them and playing really mediocre guitar, building castles with them out of refrigerator boxes and treasure hunts across museums. Once I even created a very elaborate paper chase across the entire campus of UCLA for my daughter Phoebe's 16th Birthday. Some of these games were inspiration for all of the Lithgow Palooza books and books with kits that have been published by both Simon and Schuster and Running Press.

Although writing is an arduous process for me, there is nothing better than seeing a child falling in love with one of my stories.

Customer Reviews

It is very well written.
Patricia R. Andersen
In John Lithgow's autobiography, he gives the reader a taste of what it's like to be an actor and to also live in the "real world".
Jill Meyer
If you like him as a person or as an actor, you'll like this book.
Lorraine Nuccio

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
and an actor's life. The problem with some autobiographies is that they're often self-reverential, self-serving, or totally lacking in self-awareness. (Bill Clinton - I'm looking at you!) The BEST ones provide the bad with the good and hope the reader can come to their own conclusion about the quality and substance of the writer's life. (Katherine Graham's autobiography is a great example). Most autobiographies are somewhere in between and succeed in giving a glimpse of reality, though often distorted slightly by the writer's sensibilities. In John Lithgow's autobiography, he gives the reader a taste of what it's like to be an actor and to also live in the "real world".

Lithgow was the son of actor and director parents. The third of four children, John was raised in Ohio, but often moved between Massachusetts and Ohio, because of his father's often precarious career in local theater. Arthur Lithgow was a pioneer in presenting Shakespeare and other plays in Ohio play houses, and gained great prominence as a director. The family finally landed in Princeton, New Jersey when John was in high school because of his father's job at the university. John went to Harvard College, where he was active in student theater, although he had planned to be an artist. Since he had been acting in his father's productions since childhood, he found his "home" at Harvard's Loeb theater where he was considered a good stage actor and director. An early marriage while at Harvard to a woman six years his senior eventually came undone after producing his first son when Lithgow finally gained success as a Broadway actor and had an affair with Norwegian actress Liv Ullman. He made a successful and happy marriage and had two children with a professor at UCLA that has lasted 30 years.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By T. I. Farmer VINE VOICE on September 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Many of us, I'm told, have dreams about holding long, intimate conversations with famous people and becoming their indispensable confidants. John Lithgow's book approximates that effect, and it's doubly spellbinding because his real, personal voice is so different from the loopy or far-gone characters he so often realizes on film, stage or television.

Here are John's formative years laid bare for conideration. There are funny showbiz anecdotes, like the time he lowered a stage backdrop onto Marcel Marceau's head, or the time an aroused dog attacked his leg as he was trying to make time with an influential casting director. All that is ticket-of-entry stuff, the kinds of war stories passed around a back table at Sardi's.

What comes across more indelibly, though, is the weird cocktail of emotions that propel a good actor forward -- ego and neediness, bravado and melancholy, and how they both marry an actor to the world and separate him. John is unstinting on that score, and also on his relationship with family. He makes you understand what a psychically rough business it is, and how scarred the survivors become.

This book is as close as most of us will ever come to having a complex, nuanced actor take you into his confidence and show you around behind his eyes. It is as if you are sitting down for a long, languid long-haul overseas flight and discover that your seatmate is John Lithgow; you have hours to kill, the bar cart is open, and he doesn't mind talking. What an unforgettable flight that would be, and what a book this is.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Patricia R. Andersen VINE VOICE on August 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
John Lithgow's autobiography is different from many(many) autobiographies. Mr Lithgow looks back and tells the reader the story of his life as he was an old friend, catching you up on what has happened since you have last seen him. He doesn't act as if he is so important, the world would fall apart without him. He sees his faults and freely admits to the mistakes he has made. He's not a name dropper although a few times there are real people who pass through his life. He does admit to many affairs during his first marriage, but it's not like "I slept with this one, that one and the other one". He doesn't try to lay the blame on his first wife or his parents or anyone but himself. I have always liked him as an actor, but I was especially impressed with the way he treated his family in the book. Many people, not just actors, will lay the blame at somebody else's feet. It is refreshing to see someone who can accept his part in his life.
You can (and do) learn many things about John Lithgow, the actor and the human, in this book. He talks of his parents, how his father Arthur Lithgow was a producer of Shakespeare plays, the pain of losing his first child, the confusion he felt when trying to decide between Liv Ullman and his first wife.
But more than a retelling of Mr Lithgow's life story, more than just a collection of "I worked here with this person" is the deep abiding love Mr Lithgow has for his parents, especially for his father. The book opens with Mr Lithgow's father hanging on to his life. Mr Lithgow steps in (as he said he was "the logical choice" because he was not working at the time) to help take care of his aging parents. I have known too many people that "ditch" their sick ones when the going gets a little bit ugly not to appreciate what a great trait this is in a person.
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