In a tribute to his father and to his profession, the celebrated stage and screen actor rehearses his early career, cheerfully describing his successes and honestly recording his failures, professional and personal.
Lithgow, who has written eight books for children (I Got Two Dogs, 2008, etc.), begins in 2002 when his father’s health was failing rapidly. Serendipitously, the author decided to read aloud to him a story by P.G. Wodehouse, a story they both had loved when John was a child. A smile came to his father’s face, and the author believes this helped his recovery for another 18 months. (Later, we learn that the story—“Uncle Fred Flits By”—became the centerpiece of Lithgow’s one-man show Stories by Heart, a work he still performs regularly.) The author records fondly the peripatetic lifestyle of his childhood. His father, a theatrical nomad, traveled extensively, teaching, starting theater companies and festivals and mounting productions, especially of Shakespeare (one of the author’s life-long loves). His father never stayed anywhere long (his ambitions always exceeded his budgets—and, perhaps, his talent, though the author is far too kind to say so). Lithgow struggled through school—not with his studies (he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard) but with his uncertainty about whether to be an artist (painter) or actor. The latter won, of course, and Lithgow tells us about his school performances, his studies here and abroad, his tours and travails and his breaks in New York and Hollywood. He writes admiringly of his first wife—their marriage fractured when he commenced a number of torrid affairs during what he recognizes as a very late adolescence—and his subsequent 30-year marriage with his second wife, Mary.
Not a complex or innovative writer, Lithgow nonetheless emerges as genial, gentle, generous, grateful, self-deprecating and proud but never arrogant.