After Years Of Telling Other People's Stories, John Lithgow Is Telling His Own

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John Lithgow performing in his one-man show "Stories By Heart." (Courtesy Joan Marcus)
John Lithgow performing in his one-man show "Stories By Heart." (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

Actor John Lithgow had two inspirations for his one-man Broadway show, "Stories by Heart": his father, and an 80-year-old story book titled "Tellers of Tales." His two-hour show is a storytelling tour de force, as Lithgow tells the story of his father, the stories his father told him, and, ultimately, performs the story he told his father at the end of his life.

Here & Now's Robin Young talks with Lithgow (@JohnLithgow) about the show, which runs at the American Airlines Theatre in New York through March 4.

Interview Highlights

On the show's origins

"In the summer of 2002, I just took care of my mom and dad when they needed it bad, and had the idea of reading them bedtime stories from the same book that my dad used to read bedtime stories to me and my siblings, 'Tellers of Tales,' a book of short stories. That was the beginning of the idea of creating this show."

On his range of facial expressions

"It's nice to have a little mystery. Bonnie Turner, she and her husband created '3rd Rock From The Sun.' She talked to me about my face. She said, 'It's a very bland face, but it can go anywhere.' I mean I think that's a function of being a character actor, and 'duality' is my favorite term. I love characters who appear to be one thing, and then you gradually find out they're something else."

On the P.G. Wodehouse farce "Uncle Fred Flits By," one of the stories told in the show

"The story I tell in the piece is that my dad was very old, and was convalescing from a very brutal operation, and was really near death, and very, very depressed. And I had the notion of reading him bedtime stories. I brought out the book, and the story that he picked was 'Uncle Fred Flits By.' And two things happened: I rediscovered the story, and it made my dad laugh."

On being able to read stories to his parents when their health was failing

"I was very lucky to sort of stumble onto that opportunity. It meant so much to both of them. One of the things about this show that I'm so grateful for — I mean, how lucky I am that I was able to do that for my parents when they were alive, and then I'm able to memorialize them this way? My dad was a man of the theater himself. He was a storyteller. And when you grow old as an actor, one of the things you have to deal with is the fact that the most important things in your life are gone and forgotten. I literally had to persuade him that he had had a life of great achievement. It was an enormous relief to him to have his son tell him that. This is a great thing, to speak his name in a Broadway show. A man of the theater who never got to Broadway."

This article was originally published on February 16, 2018.

This segment aired on February 16, 2018.



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