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John Lithgow
John Lithgow, photo by Robin Holland
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March 6, 2009

Please note this interview was originally broadcast on January 2, 2009.

He's played heroes, villains, saints, sinners, a ballet-dancing elephant, and a space alien, now actor and children's author John Lithgow — best known as Dick Solomon from NBC's hit show 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN — reveals a new side of himself… poetry lover. The award-winning stage and screen star Lithgow shares his favorite poems, insights into acting, and thoughts on the enduring power of art. Lithgow recently starred in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's ALL MY SONS. He has penned several children's books, as well as compiled poems for THE POETS' CORNER: THE ONE-AND-ONLY POETRY BOOK FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY.

Find out more about John Lithgow below. Also, explore the Moyers Digital Archive for poetry highlights and investigate the history of politics and theater in a photoessay.

Theater
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels At heart, Lithgow is a theater actor. Theater is where he started, and he started big. In 1973, he won a Tony Award three weeks after his Broadway debut, in David Storey's THE CHANGING ROOM. Since then, he has appeared on Broadway nineteen more times, earning another Tony, three more Tony nominations, four Drama Desk Awards, and induction into the Theater Hall of Fame. His performances have included major roles in MY FAT FRIEND, TRELAWNEY OF THE “WELLS,” COMEDIANS, ANNA CHRISTIE, BEDROOM FARCE, BEYOND THERAPY, M. BUTTERFLY, THE FRONT PAGE, and, most recently, RETREAT FROM MOSCOW, MRS. FARNSWORTH, and the musicals SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (his second Tony), and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. In 2007 Lithgow made his Royal Shakespeare Company debut as Malvolio in Neil Bartlett's production of TWELFTH NIGHT. His time performing in England was truly an honor considering few Americans are invited to appear with the RSC. This past spring, Lithgow presented his critically acclaimed one man show, John Lithgow: STORIES BY HEART at Lincoln Center.

Film
John Lithgow and Robin Williams in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP In the early 1980's Lithgow began to make a major mark in films. At that time, he was nominated for Oscars in back-to-back years, for THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. In the years before and after, he has appeared in over thirty films. Notable among them have been ALL THAT JAZZ, BLOW OUT, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, FOOTLOOSE, 2010, BUCKAROO BANZAI, HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, RAISING CAIN, RICOCHET, CLIFFHANGER, ORANGE COUNTY, SHREK, KINSEY, and a flashy cameo in the recent DREAMGIRLS, and in the upcoming CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC.

Television
For his work on television, Lithgow has been nominated for ten Emmy Awards. He has won four of them, one for an episode of AMAZING STORIES, and three for what is perhaps his most celebrated creation. This was the loopy character of the alien High Commander, Dick Solomon, on the hit NBC comedy series 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN. In that show's six-year run, Lithgow also won the Golden Globe, two SAG Awards, The American Comedy Award, and, when it finally went off the air, a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His other major appearances on television have included roles in THE DAY AFTER, RESTING PLACE, BABY GIRL SCOTT, MY BROTHER'S KEEPER, TNT's DON QUIXOTE, and HBO's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS.

Writing
And then there is Lithgow's work for children.

Since 1998 he has written seven NEW YORK TIMES best-selling children's picture books, including THE REMARKABLE FARKLE MCBRIDE, MARSUPIAL SUE, MICAWBER, and I'M A MANATEE and I GOT TWO DOGS. In addition, he has created two Lithgow Palooza activity books for parents and children, LITHGOW PALOOZA READERS for use in elementary schools, and THE POETS' CORNER for Warner Books, a compilation of fifty classic poems aimed at young people, to stir an early interest in poetry. All of this work has won him two Parents' Choice Silver Honor Awards, and four Grammy Award nominations.

Musical Performance
Lithgow has performed concerts for children with the Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Baltimore, and San Diego Symphonies, and at Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Luke's. He has released three kids' albums, SINGIN' IN THE BATHTUB, FARKLE & FRIENDS, and the Grammy-nominated THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, released by Razor & Tie Records. All of these concerts and albums have included several his of own songs and rhyming narrations.

John Lithgow and the New York City Ballet In 2003, the noted choreographer Christopher Wheeldon invited Lithgow to collaborate with him on a new piece for the New York City Ballet. The result was CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS, a ballet for fifty dancers, with music by Camille Saint-Saens and with Lithgow's verse narration. Lithgow himself spoke the narration from the stage. At a certain point he ducked into the wings, climbed into costume, and re-emerged to dance the role of The Elephant. He has performed this feat twenty times, and will repeat it with the Houston and Pennsylvania Ballets. The project also spawned another award-winning children's book, CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS, and another Grammy-nominated CD.

John Lithgow was born in Rochester, New York, but grew up in Ohio, graduated from high school in Princeton, New Jersey, attended Harvard College, and used a Fulbright Grant to study at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art. He was honored by Harvard with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2005, and, at that time, was invited to deliver the school's Commencement Address. He concluded his address with a new children's book, written for the occasion and dedicated to Harvard's Class of '05. The book, MAHALIA MOUSE GOES TO COLLEGE, was calculated to instill an interest in higher education in very small children.

Published on March 6, 2009.

Guest photo by Robin Holland.

Also This Week:

JOHN LITHGOW
Actor John Lithgow. He's played heroes, villains, saints, sinners, a ballet-dancing elephant, and a space alien, now actor and children's author John Lithgow — best known as Dick Solomon from NBC's hit show 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN — reveals a new side of himself ... poetry lover.

THEATER AND POLITICS
Traverse the history of political theater from the Ancient Greeks to Shakespeare to Arthur Miller and Off Off Broadway.

LIFE AND POETRY
Celebrate poetry with selections from the JOURNAL and the Moyers Digital Archives.

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