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Arthur Lithgow, 88; Director Founded 2 Shakespeare Festivals

March 26, 2004|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Arthur Lithgow, an actor and director who was a pioneer in the American regional theater movement and the founder of two major Shakespeare festivals in the 1950s and '60s, has died. He was 88.

Lithgow, the father of actor John Lithgow, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at his home in Amherst, Mass., his son said.

In 1952, Lithgow founded and became artistic director of the Antioch Shakespeare Festival at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Within a six-year period, the critically praised outdoor festival produced all the works of Shakespeare and earned accolades from the new queen of England. Lithgow directed and acted in many of the productions.

In 1962, he established the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Lakewood, Ohio, which continues today as the Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland.

A year later, Lithgow became the artistic director of the McCarter Theatre at Princeton University, a position he held until 1972 when he moved to Boston as a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts.

"He gave me my first professional job," John Lithgow recalled this week, when asked about his father's influence on his career. "I worked for him many times in his Ohio festivals, but my first Equity contract was working for him at the McCarter Theatre in 1969. I sort of wanted to resist acting, but I'd done so much of it by the time it came to make a decision, it was the logical choice."

Born in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Lithgow grew up in Melrose, Mass. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and drama from Antioch College in 1938 and a master's in playwriting from Cornell University in 1948. He served in the Army in 1945.

Lithgow retired in 1995 after holding a variety of other teaching and directing jobs that included serving as administrator and director of the Brattleboro Center for the Performing Arts in Brattleboro, Vt., and a stint as a visiting associate professor of theater arts at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

In addition to his son John of Los Angeles, Lithgow is survived by his wife, Sarah; his son David of New York City; two daughters, Robin of Los Angeles and Sarah Jane Bokaer of Ithaca, N.Y. ; two sisters, Marion James of Melrose and Jeannette Peverly of Milton, Mass.; and 13 grandchildren.

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