The Magazine

Act Three

The midlife monologue of John Lithgow.

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By VICTORIA ORDIN
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The final chapters recount time spent in London learning his craft, a first marriage, 12 shows on Broadway in the 1970s, and what to me is the biggest surprise: a brief recitation of the infidelities which led to the breakup of his marriage when his son was just six years old. Soon thereafter he met a professor of economics at UCLA with whom he had another two children, and to whom he remains blissfully attached 30 years later. He reiterates the truism familiar to anyone connected to the Industry: There is an electrifying energy and camaraderie in theater which film and television can never provide. He likes TV and movies well enough, but theater remains his first and deepest love. And Lithgow’s perspective on his dalliances with costars is the clearest, most rational I have heard by any man, let alone an actor:

In the theater, love and sex are occupational hazards. We actors are no more lovesick and libidinous than anybody else, but our working life is a chemistry lab of emotions
and urges.

An account of his psychoanalysis in the late ’70s—with a short, Jewish Upper West Side woman who also treated his first wife and his last lover, Liv Ullman—also reminds us that Lithgow is a product of an age of education, of culture and theater, now long gone. And the parting wisdom when reflecting on his decision not to star in the Broadway hit Betrayal—which put an end to his dream of splitting his professional energies between Broadway and Hollywood and, instead, marrying the woman with whom he had a second family—is equally revealing: “Acting is pretty great. But it isn’t everything.”

Victoria Ordin is a writer in Los Angeles.