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L Entries
Elsa Lanchester
Martin Landau
Robert Lansing
Glen A. Larson
Jack Larson
Christopher Lee
Mark Lenard
John Lennon
John Lithgow
June Lockhart
Robert Longo
Peter Lorre
Eugene Lourie
George Lucas
Bela Lugosi
William Lundigan
 
LITHGOW, JOHN
(1945– ). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Obsession (Brian DE PALMA 1976); "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" (1982), episode of Faerie Tale Theatre; Twilight Zone—The Movie (Joe DANTE, John LANDIS, George MILLER, and Steven SPIELBERG 1983); The Day After (tv movie) (Nicolas MEYER 1983); Terms of Endearment (James Brooks 1983); The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (W. D. Richter 1984); 2010: The Year We Make Contact (Peter Hyams 1984); Santa Claus: The Movie (Jeannot Szwarc 1985); "The Doll" (1986), episode of Amazing Stories; The Manhattan Project (Marshall Brickman 1986); Harry and the Hendersons (William Dear 1987); The Country Mouse and the City Mouse: A Christmas Tale (animated tv movie) (Michael Sporn 1993); "You, Murderer" (1995), episode of Tales from the Crypt; Third Rock from the Sun (tv series) (1996–2001); Rugrats in Paris (animated; voice) (2000); Don Quixote (and co-produced) (tv movie) (Peter Yates 2000); Shrek (animated film; voice) (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, and Scott Marshall 2001).
 
It is a pattern often observed in contemporary Hollywood: an actor makes an impression with a distinctive role in a popular film, garnering critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination; insecure producers, desperate to laden their projects with as many good-luck charms as possible, assume that this actor can guarantee box-office success and begin to cast him in every single part he might conceivably perform; then, as he fails to rise to these multiple challenges, and as these various films fail to duplicate the success of his breakthrough film, the actor finds himself blackballed as box-office poison and must carry on his career in whatever second-tier venues he can insinuate himself into. Considering the 1980s, since Olympia Dukakis blissfully did not venture into science fiction films, I will examine the career of John Lithgow.

After knocking about Hollywood for a while— including a turn in Brian DE PALMA's Obsession that nobody noticed— Lithgow became famous for his role in The World According to Garp (1982), proving that a large man can be amusing and affecting while wearing a dress. Of course, this is a skill that every British comedian masters during basic training, but somehow an American actor doing the same trick never fails to impress. Suddenly, the phone of Lithgow's agent was constantly ringing, and any filmgoer during the mid–1980s soon found Lithgow impossible to avoid.

Lithgow responded to these numerous opportunities in two ways: by blending in with the scenery (The Day After, Terms of Endearment, 2010: The Year We Make Contact) or by chewing it (Twilight Zone—The Movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Santa Claus: The Movie). To put it mildly, it is hard to imagine anyone being impressed by any of these performances. If you ever hear someone disparaging the acting skills of William SHATNER, for example, all you have to do is to show them Shatner's effective performance in The Twilight Zone's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," followed by Lithgow's disastrous re-enactment in the film version.

Not only was he making audiences squirm, but Lithgow may have served as a baleful influence on other performers; Christopher LLOYD had once been a fairly subdued performer, but after they appeared together in Buckaroo Banzai, Lloyd apparently decided that he would henceforth emulate Lithgow's hopelessly over-the-top approach, eventually destroying his own career in the process.

As Hollywood grew disillusioned with Lithgow, he found himself with fewer and fewer opportunities to demonstrate stolid dullness (The Manhattan Project) or inanity (Harry and the Hendersons). A sharp decline in film offers naturally suggests a switch to television, and Lithgow soon found himself starring in the science fiction sitcom Third Rock from the Sun. Critical opinions of this series vary wildly. Some say that the show offered scintillating satire, effectively conveyed by Lithgow's brilliant comic acting; others (including myself) regarded it only as a blander version of Mork and Mindy helmed by an uninspired actor doing what scores of other performers might have done. Since its cancellation, reruns of Third Rock from the Sun have been conspicuously unavailable, at least on the broadcast and cable networks available in Los Angeles, and nobody seems to be clamoring for a big reunion special, suggesting that its skeptic observers are now being vindicated.

If one can't make it in television, one of the next rungs down the ladder is providing voices for animated films, and so it is not surprising to find Lithgow contributing to Rugrats in Paris and Shrek —although the producers of the second film for some reason decided to kill off Lithgow's character so as to eliminate him from the already-planned sequel. Having also demonstrated on television that he was yet another actor who couldn't quite handle the character of Don Quixote, Lithgow may finally be fading from view, ready for the dinner theatre circuit or similar humiliations. Still, there is always the chance that an old Hollywood friend, or some producer making his way down a long list of possibilities, will someday call Lithgow's agent and give him one more chance to recapture old glories.

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