Hollywood Flashback: Dustin Hoffman Cross-Dressed for Success in 1982's 'Tootsie'

Tootsie Still - Photofest - H 2019
Courtesy of Photofest

As a theater adaptation dazzles on Broadway, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at the film's famously troubled production.

It's safe to say that the Tootsie musical that opened April 23 had an easier time getting to Broadway than the 1982 movie did getting to the silver screen.

It was, as they say, a "troubled" production. The film went through three potential directors in preproduction (Dick Richards, Hal Ashby and, finally, Sydney Pollack), eight writers (Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal were credited; Barry Levinson and Elaine May are among those who were not), and multiple script revisions.

At the time, the $21 million budget ($55 million today) was considered wildly extravagant for a comedy. The film centered on a deadly serious New York actor named Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman, then 45) disguising himself as "Dorothy Michaels" to get a much-needed job on a soap opera. Pollack, who died in 2008, saw the plot as the "story of a guy who puts on a dress and by so doing becomes a better man."

Robert Osborne's THR review called the film a "quintessential Christmas gift" that "looks to be a commercial blockbuster, not only via word of mouth but thanks to Hoffman's strong performance."

Hoffman, who won a best actor Oscar with his previous film, Kramer vs. Kramer, was paid $4.5 million ($12 million today) and had lots of ideas for the script, not all of them welcome. Gelbart later wrote what he learned from the Tootsie experience was: "Never work with an Oscar winner who is shorter than the statue."

In the end, the attention to detail, from the one-liners ("How do you feel about Cleveland?" is the cameraman's response when asked how far he needs to pull back to make Dorothy "look a little more attractive"), to the cast (Teri Garr and Jessica Lange as love interests, Bill Murray as the best friend), to Dorothy's unforgettable styling, paid off. The movie's domestic gross was $177 million ($466 million today), which put it just behind E.T. as 1982's highest-grossing film and made it Columbia's biggest hit ever. Tootsie received 10 Oscar nominations, but only Lange won for supporting actress.

"I knew that the Tootsie premise and Dustin would be a huge hit," recalls former Columbia CEO Frank Price. "Stars have lots of ideas. They're not always good, but you have to listen to them to get to the good ones."

This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.