Third Rock from the Sun
“If NBC had set out to ruin it, they couldn’t have done a better job. They kept trying to use us as a weapon instead of a show to be taken care of. It would have been nice to have stayed a big hit, but I'd rather be in a great show that nobody was watching than a lousy show that was a big hit, which is the case for most of the others.” John Lithgow on the constant time-slot changes and ultimate cancellation of “3rd Rock from the Sun”
A multitalented character player who has been a well-known face in TV, film and theater since the early 1970s, John Lithgow has confirmed he is a skilled actor with a wide range of material straddling comedy, drama, sci-fi, family fare and thrillers and numerous awards under his belt. The New York-born Lithgow is best known for his starring role as Dick Solomon in the NBC sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun” (1996-2001), wherein he won three Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe awards, a Golden Satellite award, an American Comedy award and two Screen Actors Guild awards. He is also memorable for playing the titular romantic hero in the TNT movie Don Quixote (2000, received a Screen Actors Guild nomination), Tom & Bob Bradley in the made-for-TV movie My Brother’s Keeper (1995, earned an Emmy nomination) and a fuzzy bachelor in an episode of “Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories” (1986), in which he nabbed an Emmy award.
The great actor also made a name for himself in the cinematic industry with his scene-stealing role as transsexual football player Roberta Muldoon in George Roy Hill’s The World According to Garp (1982). Due to his virtuoso acting, Lithgow took home a New York Film Critics Circle award and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association award, as well as a first Oscar nomination. He further cemented his position as a successful film actor with his next Academy Award-nominated performance in James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment (1983), playing a luckless lawyer having an affair with Debra Winger.
On stage, Lithgow received recognition and became famous for his roles in such Broadway plays as “The Changing Room” (1972, won a Tony award and a Drama Desk award), “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1885, earned a Tony nomination) and the 1988 “M. Butterfly,” where he was garnered another Tony nomination. Recently, he won a Tony award after portraying J.J. Hunsecker in the Broadway musical “Sweet Smell of Success” (2002) and was nominated for a Tony award for his fine staring turn as Lawrence Jameson in a Broadway production of “The Retreat from Moscow” (2005).
As for his private life, 6’4” Lithgow was once married to Jean Taynton but they divorced after a 14-year marriage, in 1980. He is currently the husband of Mary Yeager, a UCLA economics professor whom he married in 1981. From the marriages, Lithgow has two sons, Ian Lithgow (born in 1971, mother Jean Taynton) and Nathan George Lithgow (born in 1983, mother Mary Yeager), and one daughter, Phoebe McCurtain Lithgow (born in 1982, mother Mary Yeager).
Magna Cum Laude
Childhood and Family:
In Rochester, New York, John Arthur Lithgow was born on October 19, 1945, to parents Arthur W Lithgow, a theater director/producer (1915-2004) and Sarah Jane Price, a former actress and teacher. Due to his father’s occupation, the family moved quite often during John’s childhood until they finally settled down in New Jersey, where his father became the head of the McCarter Theater in Princeton when John was 16. Growing up in a warm home that encouraged artistic self-expression, young John developed a passion for panting and actively participated in the Art Students League in New York as a teenager. He graduated from Princeton High School in Princeton, New Jersey, and won a scholarship to Harvard University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1967. He next received a Fulbright scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
John Lithgow has been married twice. He was married to first wife Jean Taynton on September 10, 1966, but they later divorced in 1980. John and Taynton have one son named Ian Lithgow, an actor who was born in 1971. A year after the separation, John tied the knot with UCLA economics professor Mary Yeager, with whom he shares two children, daughter Phoebe McCurtain Lithgow (born on June 28, 1982) and son Nathan George Lithgow (born on September 13, 1983).
The World According to Garp
Raised by a theatrical producer and director parent, John Lithgow was exposed to the world of theater at a young age. At age six, he made his stage debut in his father’s production of “Henry VI, Part III,” but for young Lithgow, the theater was not yet a career. It wasn’t until Harvard University that he actually caught the acting bug. Upon graduation, he flew to London to hone in on his craft at London’s Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, while also working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and for the Royal Court Theatre.
Returning to the U.S. in the early 1970s, Lithgow made his first film appearance in 1972 with a bit part in Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues. He worked in theater the following year and scored a success with his Broadway debut in “The Changing Room,” for which he won a Tony for Best Supporting Actor in a Play, and a Drama Desk for Outstanding Performance. He stayed in New York for many years, creating a reputation for himself as one of the most respected Broadway stars. Twelve years later, Lithgow won a second Drama Desk, this time for Best Actor, as well as a Tony nomination for his brilliant starring turn as Harlan McClintock in “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and in 1988, he earned another Tony nomination for his role as a French diplomat falling in love with a Chinese opera singer in “M. Butterfly.”
In addition to stage work, Lithgow made many appearances on both TV and film, including The Country Girl (1974, TV), Brian De Palma’s Obsession (1976), Secret Service (1977, TV), The Big Fix (1978), Rich Kids (1979), All That Jazz (1979), The Oldest Living Graduate (1980, TV), Mom, the Wolfman and Me (1980, TV), Big Blonde (1980, TV), Blow Out (1981) and I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982). However, Lithgow did not reach real success until 1982, when director George Roy Hill cast him in the supporting role of macho football player-turned-insightful woman Roberta Muldoon in the film adaptation of John Irving’s The World According to Garp, also starring Robin Williams, Mary Beth Hurt and Glenn Close. For his stupendous efforts, Lithgow was garnered the New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor Award and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association for the same category. Moreover, his breakthrough role brought Lithgow a first Academy Award nomination.
His film career continued to blossom. After appearing in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Lithgow received extra recognition as Sam Burns, an ill-fated attorney who enters into an affair with Debra Winger, in the James L. Brooks-directed Terms of Endearment (1983), a romance film based on Larry McMurtry’s book, for which he was nominated for another Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The same year, he celebrated victory on the small screen by earning an Emmy nomination for his role in the scary, nuclear holocaust drama The Day After. Next up, he was seen in such films as Footloose, the cult favorite The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, The Glitter Dome (TV), 2010 (all in 1984), Santa Claus (1985), Mesmerized (1986), Resting Place (1986, TV), The Manhattan Project (1986), Baby Girl Scott (1987, TV), Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Distant Thunder (1988), Out Cold (1989) and Traveling Man (1989, TV). He also gave a memorable guest appearance as a bachelor whose life is distorted when he buys “The Doll” in a segment of NBC’s anthology series “Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories” (1986). As a result, he netted a 1986 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series. Lithgow also made a three-episode appearance as a guest host in the long-running, NBC sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” (1885-87).
During the 1990s, Lithgow kept busy with film and TV. Among his notable film performances were Bruce Derringer in the World War II drama Memphis Belle (1990), a psychopathic assassin hell-bent on vengeance against Denzel Washington in Ricochet (1991), dual characters in the psycho-thriller Raising Cain (1992) and the villain menacing Sylvester Stallone in the action-adventure flick Cliffhanger (1993). He also played various roles in such movies as The Pelican Brief (1993), A Good Man in Africa (1994), Princess Caraboo (1994), Silent Fall (1994), Hollow Point (1996), Johnny Skidmarks (1998), Homegrown (1998) and A Civil Action (1998). While on TV, he starred in a number of television movies and earned positive reviews for playing Tom & Bob Bradley in the made-for-cable film My Brother’s Keeper (1995), where he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special.
No stranger to television, Lithgow’s biggest break eventually arrived in 1996 when he made his debut as a series regular in the brand new, well-written, NBC sitcom “Third Rock from the Sun” (1996-2001), alongside Kristen Johnston, French Stewart and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Portraying Dick Solomon, the head of a band of aliens who, together with his naive crew, tries to pass for human, Lithgow showcased marvelous comic timing and won countless awards, including Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1996, 1997 and 1999, two Golden Globes for Best Actor in a TV Series in 1996 and 1997, a 1996 Golden Satellite for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, two Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series in 1997 and 1998, as well as an American Comedy for Funniest Male Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication in 1998. Moreover, he received numerous other nominations with the Screen Actors Guild awards in 1997 and 1999, the Golden Globe awards in 1998 and 1999, and the Emmy Awards in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
During the show’s break, the versatile actor executive produced and portrayed the titular romantic hero in the TNT film Don Quixote (2000), where he earned additional kudos when he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries. The Peter Yates-helmed telefilm also starred Bob Hoskins and Isabella Rossellini. He also provided his voice for Jean-Claude in the animated film Rugrats in Paris: The Movie - Rugrats II (2000) and Lord Farquaad in the hit Shrek (2001).
After “3rd Rock from the Sun” ended, Lithgow returned to his theatrical roots and once again drew public attention with his Tony-winning performance as J. J. Hunsecker in the Broadway musical “Sweet Smell of Success” (2002). The same year, he also acted in the teen comedy Orange County, and in the following year, he did voice over work for the animated Shrek 4-D (2003).
2004 saw the actor divide his time between film and theater. On the wide screen, Lithgow landed roles in two biopic films, Bill Condon’s Kinsey, where he portrayed Alfred Seguine Kinsey, opposite Liam Neeson, and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, playing film director Blake Edwards. On stage, he performed in the Broadway production of “The Retreat from Moscow.” In 2005, Lithgow portrayed the role of Lawrence Jameson in the Broadway musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at the Imperial Theater in NYC, a role that brought him another Tony nomination. In January 2006, he quit “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and gave the role to friend Jonathan Pryce.
The 61-year-old actor is set to play the small role of Jerry Harris in the upcoming drama-musical Dreamgirls (2006), for director Bill Condon. The film, which is based on Tom Eyen’s book, stars Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. Additionally, Lithgow will star in the pilot episode of the comedy serial “Twenty Good Years” (2006).