Over the course of a remarkable seven-decade career, Dustin Hoffman, 80, has scaled heights seen by just a handful of actors. He has earned seven Oscar nominations for films like The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Tootsie, Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man — winning statuettes for the latter two. On Nov. 27, that career was feted with a special tribute at the Gotham Awards. Hoffman’s “wide range of roles — often portraying antiheroes or the marginalized — have firmly placed him amongst the most compelling actors to have graced the screen,” explained IFP executive director Joana Vicente of the honor.
But a very different picture of Hoffman has emerged in recent weeks — one that stands in stark contrast to the sympathetic characters he plays on film. It began with a first-person account, published in The Hollywood Reporter, from Anna Graham Hunter, a writer who, in 1985 at age 17, endured a steady stream of Hoffman’s obscene comments, gropes and demands for foot rubs while she worked as an intern on the set of the TV movie adaptation of Death of a Salesman.
Hoffman previously responded to Graham Hunter’s claims in a statement saying, “I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”
Now several other women are coming forward with their own claims of Hoffman’s predatory behavior. All accounts have been corroborated by friends and family members in whom the women confided their experiences over the years.
In 1980, playwright Cori Thomas was a 16-year-old student at the U.N. International School, the daughter of the Liberian ambassador to the United Nations. There she grew close to the children of another high-profile parent — Karina and Jenna, the daughters of Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman — fresh off his Oscar win for Kramer vs. Kramer and a huge star at the time — was in the process of divorcing his first wife, Anne Byrne. One evening, she says, Hoffman took Thomas and Karina to dinner at a restaurant on Third Avenue in Manhattan. After the check was paid, Karina went back to her mother’s; but Thomas says Hoffman instructed her to follow the actor back to the hotel he was occupying during the divorce.
The plan had originally been for Thomas’ mother to pick her up at the restaurant, she claims. But, in this pre-mobile phone era, she says Hoffman left a note with the maitre d’ instructing her mother to go to the hotel to get her daughter. “I remember thinking that was very strange and I got a little bit frightened,” Thomas’ 85-year-old mother, Zuleika Thomas, recalls. “But then I remembered she was with his daughter, too, so I didn’t worry too much about it.”
Meanwhile, as Thomas waited for her mother inside the hotel room, Thomas says Hoffman disappeared into the bathroom to shower. “He came out naked,” Thomas recalls. “He got into the bed. And he asked me to please massage his feet.”
She says she was disgusted by the request but was too intimidated to refuse. She claims she removed her ring and began to massage Hoffman’s feet, and Hoffman “started making these suggestive comments, like, ‘You know I’m naked right now, don’t you?'” At one point, he picked up the phone by the bed and called another woman, she says. “He told her, ‘I’m getting my feet massaged by a beautiful young woman,'” Thomas recalls. “And he calls out to me, ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m 16.’ ‘She’s 16.'”
A little later, the same phone rang, Thomas recalls. It was the front desk: Thomas’ mother had arrived to collect her. “She came down to the lobby alone,” recalls her mother. “I remember she was very quiet.”
Not long after, Thomas told her sister, Blonnie Thomas, what happened. “We all were like, ‘Oh my gosh,'” Blonnie says. “Every time we would see a Dustin Hoffman movie after that for years, we were like, ‘Gross — you rubbed his feet naked.’ We were young at the time. It didn’t settle in that it was truly creepy behavior until years later.”
Kathryn Rossetter was an inexperienced young actress in 1983 when Hoffman took a liking to her at an audition for a Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman.
After stepping in to help her land the part of Willy Loman’s mistress — as Rossetter details in a first-person account of her time on that production — she says Hoffman would put his hands up her skirt each night before her cue. One night, Hoffman began to “stick his fingers inside me,” Rossetter says. This allegedly happened every performance, six to eight times per week.
Rossetter adds that Hoffman would order her into his dressing room during long breaks and demand that she “get on my knees and rub my feet. … Dustin would whisper, ‘higher, higher,’ trying to get me to move up his pants toward his genitals.'”
One night, she says, during a live performance, Hoffman instructed the crew to gather in the wings, then began groping Rossetter before lifting her slip above her head, “exposing my breasts and body to the crew and covering my face.”
According to Rossetter, Hoffman would ask her to pose with him for photographs at parties after each performance. Every time, Hoffman would squeeze her breast, then drop his hand before the shutter went off. All except one time, which was caught on film; Rossetter held on to the photo.
In April 1994, Rossetter and another actress, Jeanine Jackson, “got to talking about how we got started,” Jackson recalls. Rossetter told Jackson she had once been on Broadway and “how utterly miserable it was because of what Dustin Hoffman put her through. I was absolutely appalled,” Jackson says.
Video editor Melissa Kester was 20 when she says she met Hoffman at a recording studio in Malibu in 1985. Kester’s then-boyfriend was working on songs for Ishtar — sung (poorly) by Hoffman and Warren Beatty, who played bad songwriters in the film.
The first day there, the crew was gathered around a TV set with Hoffman watching his TV movie performance in Death of a Salesman. “I was talking about how much I loved Arthur Miller and how much I wanted to write in the industry,” Kester says. “He said, ‘I have a bunch of projects and we should talk. Give me your number.'”
Kester says she returned to the recording studio for another day of observing. She describes being introduced there to Hoffman’s second wife, Lisa Gottsegen, and their young children. “It seemed safe.” As Kester describes it, Hoffman was in the recording studio, performing the Paul Williams song “That a Lawnmower Can Do All That.” Between takes, she says, Hoffman announced from the studio, “I’m bored. Send Melissa in here.”
Game to play along, Kester says she entered the recording booth. She could see her boyfriend behind the mixing table through the narrow window, along with several other crewmembers observing. It later occurred to her that she and Hoffman were only visible from the shoulders up.
When recording began on the next take, Hoffman grabbed Kester firmly and pulled her into him, she claims. From the mixing table, it seemed like innocent palling around. But inside the booth, Kester says Hoffman was pushing his hand down into her pants. “And then,” she says, “he stuck his fingers into my vagina.” All the while, Hoffman never stopped singing.
“My boyfriend was right there,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do.” Hoffman proceeded to violate her for approximately 30 seconds, Kester estimates, before she finally pulled herself away and tried “not to make it look like a big deal.”
“I felt like it was my fault. I felt so cheap. It changed everything. I realized, ‘Of course he wasn’t interested in your writing,'” she says.
A few days later, Hoffman used the phone number Kester had given him. “He wanted to get together,” Kester recalls. “I didn’t want to be rude. We’re all trained to be polite. But I blew him off.” Hoffman called again. Kester turned him down again. Hoffman called a third time. “And then it dawned on me: ‘Oh my God. Do I have a stalker?’ I said, ‘I have a boyfriend and I love him. Please stop calling me.'”
Hoffman did stop calling Kester. But for three weeks, she says she sat on edge, terrified he would again.
Carolyn (not her real name) is a healthcare worker living in the Washington, D.C., area. In 1975, she was 21 and working as a tour guide on the busses that shuttled tourists to the various monuments in the capital. Hoffman, in town shooting All the President’s Men, randomly boarded one with his assistant one afternoon.
“Everyone was freaking out,” she recalls. Hoffman and Carolyn shared a few pleasantries and he exited the vehicle. About an hour later, the assistant boarded the bus again. “He told me that ‘Mr. Hoffman would very much like to spend the evening with me,'” she recalls.
Her mother dropped her off that evening at the Watergate Hotel. A group of fans were milling about, hoping to catch a glimpse of Robert Redford, who was also staying there during the shoot. She was sent to Hoffman’s room, who answered the door shirtless, she recalls.
“He was on the phone screaming at somebody,” she says. “And he motions at me to come into the room. This screaming went on for several minutes. And I remember thinking to myself: ‘Why are you staying?'”
Hoffman eventually grew more affable and started a conversation with Carolyn, shocking her when he mentioned things about her that she hadn’t shared before. “It was as if he had researched me before I got there,” she says. “He asked me, ‘What kind of doctor was your father?’ I knew I never told him anything about my father.” She announced that she was ready to head home.
To which, she claims, Hoffman replied, “Go home? You don’t think you’re getting out of here without having sex, do you?” She says Hoffman blocked the doorway and presented her with two options of sex acts. She chose oral sex — “I can’t remember the other option.” When it was over, she claims, Hoffman handed her a $20 bill for a cab home.
She spent the next week avoiding her job in a family beach house. While she was away, she says, Hoffman called her mother several times asking to take Carolyn out for dinner.
The fifth accuser, a woman who was not named in the initial version of this story, expressed that she no longer wanted the details of her encounter with Hoffman publicly disclosed. As a courtesy to the alleged victim, THR has removed the details of her account.