John Lithgow on the love that was basis for “Stories By Heart”

Currently starring on Broadway in a one-man show: the versatile actor John Lithgow, performing what may be his most daring role yet. Lee Cowan has saved us a seat:

John Lithgow isn’t one to ignore a camera, but it took him a while to notice ours during our shared cab ride in Manhattan recently.

There were actually three: “Oh my God, why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t play to that camera once!

Yes, cab cameras are a first for this veteran, but hardly cabs themselves. In fact, he used to drive one during his struggling actor days. It was one of the hardest jobs he ever had. “Well, you see our nice leg room here?  He doesn’t have that legroom. And he’s not 6 foot 4! It practically crippled me. Literally, I would limp home.”

We were on our way to Broadway, where Lithgow is mounting a one-man show.

Actor John Lithgow, with correspondent Lee Cowan.

CBS News

He’s been honing it for years, trying to avoid the pitfalls of being all alone up on stage, as his terrible tale of the open fly illustrates.

“I said, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, my fly is open. Did anybody notice this?’ And a few people raised their hands. And I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?!'” he laughed. “And they roared with laughter, and the show never went better! I zipped it up and performed.”

The perils of a one-man show!

The two took their seats on stage, and Lithgow began to explain just how his new play got its start.

“Those of us who reach 60, 70 years old, if you’re lucky you still have your parents with you, and it’s a big, big part of your life, taking care of them and easing them into death,” he said.

Correspondent Lee Cowan joins actor John Lithgow on the New York stage.

CBS News

That was the crossroads that Lithgow was at in the Summer of 2002, when his then-86-year-old father, Arthur Lithgow, crumpled after a major surgery: “He was a very buoyant, jolly man. And after that operation, he just gave up. You know, he just fell into silence and depression, and we all knew if he doesn’t cheer up, he’s just gonna give up and he’s gonna die. So that was my task — I had to cheer him up.”

Arthur Lithgow was also an actor — a director and producer, too – who’d caravaned with his family across the Midwest pioneering regional theater, especially with his Shakespeare festivals.

“It’s where I was an apprentice actor and propmaker and mopper of…

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