Actor Stephen Tobolowsky's ‘dangerous' new book

Stephen Tobolowsky and Dean McCombs
Author and actor Stephen Tobolowsky with Gillian M. McCombs, Dean and Director, Central University Libraries

Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky explored the twists and turns of a creative life during a program and book signing sponsored by the Friends of the SMU Libraries October 3.

Tobolowsky was on campus to promote The Dangerous Animals Club, a book he described as "true stories from my life" that do not appear in chronological order but are woven together to "make sense at the end." He grew up in Oak Cliff, home of the "Dangerous Animals Club" described in the book's first chapter, and graduated from SMU in 1973 with a degree in theatre.

In an hour-long monologue that qualified as performance art, Tobolowsky touched on matters both serious and lighthearted as he threaded a theme of creativity through a patchwork of stories. In side-splitting detail, he recalled a first creative writing effort: when he could not find information in an encyclopedia about Moses Austin, he borrowed details from his mother's early life in Pennsylvania to write a fourth-grade history report. In a more serious vein, he talked about his understanding of "the first light" in Genesis as "the blinding spark of creativity."

And in a heart-pounding narrative laced with humor and pathos, Tobolowsky recounted "the most creative day of my life" – an afternoon, decades ago, when he was held hostage at gunpoint in a Snider Plaza grocery store. The incident was resolved without gunfire, and Tobolowsky left with his groceries and an unforgettable story to tell.

The Friends event was something of a homecoming for the actor-writer, known as "Tobo" to the friends he acknowledged in the audience. Among the family he introduced was "the most important man in the room," his father, physician David Tobolowsky. Dr. Tobolowsky served as director of medical services at SMU in the 1970s.

During a question-and-answer segment at the end of the program, Tobolowsky was asked when he knew a story was completed, and he replied: "As a writer your story is never finished."

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