October 4, 2012
By Joy Tipping
Actor Stephen Tobolowsky thoroughly charmed an audience of book-lovers, friends and family at today’s luncheon-lecture-book signing hosted by the Friends of the Southern Methodist University Libraries. The actor, who grew up in Oak Cliff, graduated from Kimball High School and SMU’s acclaimed theater program.
He’s on a multicity tour for his first book, The Dangerous Animals Club, a book of stories from his life, some having to do with his gazillions of appearances on TV and in films, some not. The stories also have a podcast life, as part of his The Tobolowsky Files (coming soon to an NPR station near you).
Before today’s (Wednesday's) talk, he said being on a book tour is “like being on the anvil of the sun in Lawrence of Arabia” (meaning the crossing of the Nafud Desert in the film, a journey thought to be suicidal). “You never get to sleep.”
He seemed in a fine mood, though, exuberantly greeting the many friends who showed up from his time at SMU, including local comedian-comedy writer Jill Peters, who directed his then-girlfriend Beth Henley’s first play at the school (Henley went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Crimes of the Heart). Tobolowsky, or Tobo as his buddies call him, also got support from his wife, Ann, father, brother, sister and other family members at the casual shindig.
He told a couple of Dallas-based stories having to do with creativity and his curiosity about the “first light” mentioned in Genesis. It couldn’t have been the sun, because God didn’t create that till the fourth day — a contradiction that at first bothered him. He’s now decided that the “light” is “the blinding spark of creativity, inspiration, the thing that makes us human.”
In the first story, he recounted his days in Texas-history class with Mrs. Norton at Jefferson Davis Elementary (now Barbara Jordan Elementary), assigned to do a report on Moses Austin, the father of Stephen F. Austin. “The only thing I knew about Moses Austin in the fourth grade was that he wasn’t in the World Book, which meant I was done for,” Tobolowsky recalled. He decided to just make it up, drawing on his mother’s life for inspiration. So, in his version, Moses Austin led 200 settlers to Texas from the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania (where his mother grew up). As the time for his little speech drew near, he decided to make it 10,000 settlers. “If I’d had more time, it might have been another Moses altogether,” he said. “Let my people go … to Waxahachie!”
Tobolowsky also told a harrowing, but hilarious, tale about “the most creative day of my life,” when he was, at 25, held hostage during a robbery at the Safeway in Snider Plaza. Perusing an exotic display of mangoes, he was surprised when a stranger “put his hand on the front of my grocery cart.
Read the full story.
# # #