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John Lithgow on Picking Up a Tony in Bell-Bottoms and a Ruffled Shirt

John Lithgow on Picking Up a Tony in Bell-Bottoms and a Ruffled Shirt
John Lithgow
Damn! Nanette Fabray mispronounced my name!'

You probably recall John Lithgow's 2002 Tony win for Sweet Smell of Success and his nominations for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, M. Butterfly and maybe even Requiem for a Heavyweight. But his first victory could qualify as a Tony trivia question. The year was 1973, and the play was David Storey's The Changing Room, a behind-the-scenes look at a British rugby team. Lithgow took home the prize in his Broadway debut performance, and he's still a showing off his range on the New York stage almost four decades later, most recently in the off-Broadway comedy Mr and Mrs. Fitch and the Broadway revival of All My Sons. Here, he recalls his first big acting accolade.

Which year did you win your first Tony?

For which role and show?
Kendal in The Changing Room

Where were the awards held?
Imperial Theatre (I've acted there twice since then.)

Who hosted?
My God. I don't remember!

What did you wear?
A rented, bell-bottomed 70s tux with a ridiculous ruffled shirtfront. Also a mustache.

Who was sitting next to you?

My first wife

Who did you think would win your category?
Barnard Hughes [for Much Ado About Nothing]

What was the first thing that ran through your mind when they said your name?
I'm going to faint. Also, "Damn! Nanette Fabray mispronounced my name."

Did you forget to thank anyone?


Did you cry?

If you could relive that night, would you change anything?
I would drop the phony British accent (I didn't know I had it). Also, that ruffled shirt.

Who were you most surprised to hear from after your win?
The head of Baltimore Center Stage (they hated me for pulling out of a job to do the show).

Did winning a Tony change your life? How?

Sure. What can I say? I've never been out of work since.

What's your biggest memory of the night?
Pouring rain, and everyone crowded under the Imperial marquee. Also Gwen Verdon dancing. Also Ben Vereen's acceptance speech for Pippin.

What's the best piece of advice you can offer for getting through Tony night?
Bring snacks. This is something I learned from Mrs. Gerry Schoenfeld.

Where do you keep your Tony?
It's in storage; I haven't seen it for years. But it's nice to know it's there. Also I have a nice shiny one from 2002. I'm looking at it right now!

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