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New York theater-goers are scrambling to find copies of a long forgotten 1939 book of 100 short stories featured prominently in John Lithgow’s one-man Broadway show, Stories by Heart.
Lithgow’s show is based around Tellers of Tales, a collection of stories selected by English author Somerset Maugham. The actor’s father, Arthur Lithgow (also an actor and director), read stories aloud from the book at bedtime to his family and Lithgow has that actual well-worn copy in hand during the show, which opened on January 11. Arthur Lithgow would act out the stories, making an indelible impression on his son, and John Lithgow returned the favor by reading the book to his father while caring for him in his later years.
Published by Doubleday Doran, Tellers of Tales has been out of print for decades. All copies that were listed on AbeBooks.com have been sold this week at prices ranging from $8 to $120. AbeBooks could have many more copies if they were available. Only a print on demand version of Maugham’s collection of stories is now available. Due to the book’s age and obscurity, it’s likely that only a small number of original copies still exist.
Lithgow’s Broadway show is about old-fashioned storytelling and is inspired by those bedtime hours listening to his father. He acts out two short stories from Maugham’s collection – Ring Larder’s Haircut and P.G. Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred Flits By.
Maugham (1874-1965), known as W. Somerset Maugham, was a playwright, novelist and short story writer, who enjoyed great popularity between the two world wars. His most famous book is Of Human Bondage, a semi-autobiographical novel. There have been numerous film adaptations of his writing.
This PBS interview shows Lithgow with his family’s copy of Tellers of Tales and explaining its significance.
Lithgow – who has won awards for his stage, TV and movie work – is best known for his roles in 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Crown, The World According to Garp, and Terms of Endearment.