Dustin Hoffman's Director Responds to On-Set Harassment Claim
Volker Schlondorff says Anna Graham Hunter mischaracterized Hoffman's behavior, whom he insists was "a kidder" on the set.
The director of Death of a Salesman is defending Dustin Hoffman against allegations that he sexually harassed a 17-year-old intern on the set of the 1985 TV-movie adaptation, saying claims that the two-time Oscar winner is a "predator is simply going too far."
Volker Schlondorff, 78, a German filmmaker best known for 1979's Palme d'Or-winning The Tin Drum, has come forward following The Hollywood Reporter's publication of Anna Graham Hunter's column about of her interactions with the actor, who's now 80 and starring in The Meyerowitz Stories.
In the piece, Hunter, now 49, says Hoffman repeatedly grabbed her buttocks, made crude sexual remarks to her (including ordering "a soft-boiled clitoris" for breakfast, a comment that made her cry) and ordered female staffers to massage his feet.
But Schlondorff says Hunter has mischaracterized Hoffman's behavior, whom he insists was "a kidder" on the set. "Standard Monday-morning question was, indeed, 'Did you have good sex over the weekend?,' " Schlondorff says. "A joke, a running gag, everybody laughed at."
The foot massages, he says, were given to Hoffman because he was on his feet for 16 hours at a time: "Everybody gave him a foot massage now and then, on the set, amidst the chaos, nothing ambiguous about it."
The groping that Hunter referred to Schlondorff says he never witnessed himself, but assured that if it did happen, there was "nothing lecherous about it. ... He was teasing the young, nervous interns, mostly to make them feel included on the set, treating them as equals to all the senior technicians."
And Schlondorff says he remembers Hunter, who kept a diary of her time on the set in the form of letters mailed to her sister. "She had a self-assured, playful way herself," Schlondorff recalls. "If [Dustin] knew that she would be upset when he was teasing her, he wouldn't have done it."
Hoffman issued a statement of his own to THR, 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."
Since the publication of Hunter's account, a second allegation of sexual harassment against Hoffman, from screenwriter Wendy Riss Gatsiounis, has surfaced on Variety. Gatsiounis says Hoffman asked her if she had "ever been intimate with a man over 40" in a pitch meeting in 1991, then repeatedly propositioned her after she tried to change the subject.
The full statement from Schlondorff can be read below.
I welcome the #metoo campaign and do not want to sound dismissive of what I consider a serious cause. However one should not smear, tar and feather indistinctively every male around. Calling Dustin Hoffman a predator is simply going too far. I hope this fades away.
It’s plain silly. Just watch Christian Blackwood’s wonderful documentary PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS on the making of DOAS to check what a kidder Dustin was on the set, at all time, with everybody. Standard Monday morning question was indeed. "Did you have good sex over the weekend?" A joke, a running gag, everybody laughed at.
Foot massage? Yes indeed, he was 16 hours standing on the set (as me he never sat down), so he was tired and besides there is a line in the play about it: "These arch supports are killing me." Dustin Hoffman, ever method acting, made it his own. Everybody gave him a foot massage now and then, on the set, amidst the chaos, nothing ambiguous about it.
As to the joke who was going to get Warren Beatty, only a teenager in her unlimited fantasy could take it seriously. Slapping her butt on the way to the car, with driver, stage manager and PAs around, may have happened, but again in a funny way, nothing lecherous about it. He was a clown, it was part of the way we portrayed Willy Loman as well — but he never played the power play. He was teasing the young, nervous interns, mostly to make them feel included on the set, treating them as equals to all the senior technicians. She may have got it wrong, confiding it to her diary then, but as a grown-up 30 years later she should know that his was no "sexual harassment," and not call him a "predator."
In her innermost she must know that this teasing was not to put her down, but to make her relax with all these celebrities around. She had a self-assured playful way herself. If he knew that she would be upset when he was teasing her, he wouldn't have done it. Not the sensitive man he was, and still is. I wish Arthur Miller was around, he would find the right words, but then he might get accused of sexually molesting Marilyn Monroe.