John Lithgow is one of the most theatrical personalities I can think of. Yes he acts in film & television, but perhaps more importantly, he is an ostentatious performer.
He’s not subtle. Not only is he a big man with a larger than life physical presence, but he has a unique speaking voice.
And so I was delighted to see that he had undertaken to write something funny about the American presidency at a time when everything seems so so very serious. Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown is Lithgow’s second book, following bestseller Dumpty. Alas I didn’t see the earlier one, and only know of it from the jacket blurb for the new book. From looking online it seems that the previous book is –wow–from 2019. It reminds me of Lithgow’s cautionary preface where he expresses his frustration at how fast things are moving, that his “new” book may already be out of date even though he only finished writing it in June.
Aha so Lithgow’s “old” book is actually newer than many books I consider “new”..!?
It seems apt on the American Thanksgiving weekend to express gratitude for an artist who’s willing to put himself on the line & in print. Perhaps the target is easy, perhaps the humour isn’t especially profound, in silly couplets alongside line drawings.
As I read them I can hear them resounding in Lithgow’s powerful speaking voice.
And so perhaps the best thing I can do is to remind you of his greatest moments, that echo in the mind as we read the poems and look at his drawings.
I first discovered Lithgow in the early 1980s for a series of performances I saw again & again through the magic of home video. He was Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp, Sam Burns in Terms of Endearment, and Pastor Shaw Moore in Footloose. Yes there were lots of other roles but these were the ones that persuaded me to trust Lithgow no matter what sort of character he was assigned to portray.
And then came Third Rock from the Sun, my favorite television series of its era. Not only did I admire the premise but I loved the execution.
Whether romancing Emma Horton in Terms of Endearment, driving all the kids crazy from the pulpit in Footloose or taking orders from The Big Giant Head in 3rd Rock, there‘s an intelligence manifest in everything he does. It can be a twisted intelligence, for instance his masquerade as a university professor in 3rd Rock, a pompous ignoramus who manages to seem smart: not unlike a few professors I remember.
And shortly thereafter came Shrek, with Lithgow in a kind of self-parody as the diminutive Lord Farquaad. The animated character looks just like Lithgow, loudly overcompensating.
Lithgow explains that there’s another purpose to this book beyond entertainment. In time you may want to recall the name of one of the bit players in the story, one of the grotesques. Do you want to have to look them up on google? Or better yet you can pull up one of Lithgow’s rhym-inders, to recall Bill Barr the door or the Tortoise named Mitch (although those two alas aren’t fading away quickly enough for my taste).
It’s no surprise while perusing Lithgow’s bio to discover that he has also done children’s books. Trumpty Dumpty is really just another kids book, perhaps best thought of as bedtime verses with the pictures to match.
I’m ready to turn to a children’s author for whatever solace I can find.