In the Oscar-winning 1982 film Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman portrayed Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor so determined to prove his worth as an artist that he disguises himself as a woman named Dorothy Michaels in order to win a part on the soap opera Southwest General, where he quickly becomes a fan favorite character while falling for his co-star, Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange). Here are some facts about the critically acclaimed movie that will make you see that nutty hospital in a new light.
1. IT WAS A LONG, LONG, LONG DEVELOPMENT PROCESS.
Originally written as a play, Don McGuire wrote the screenplay Would I Lie to You?, about a male actor who dresses like a woman to find work. Actor-comedian Buddy Hackett found out about it in 1978 and wanted to play the agent. Hackett convinced super-producer Robert Evans’ brother, Charles, to purchase the rights to an 18-month option for $35,000.
Evans hired Bob Kaufman and director Dick Richards to do a rewrite in 1979, with George Hamilton in mind to star. At the same time, Dustin Hoffman and playwright Murray Schisgal were working on a script about a male tennis player who dresses as a woman to help him win, inspired by tennis pro Renée Richards, who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1975. Hoffman ended up hearing about Evans and Kaufman’s version and had Schisgal work on that script instead, with Evans still a producer, and Hamilton dropping out.
Director Sydney Pollack brought in Oscar-nominated writer Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H; Oh, God!) to rewrite it. Gelbart said he came up with the central theme of Tootsie, which is that Michael Dorsey becomes a better man for having been a woman. (Pollack claimed he led Gelbart to that theme, saying he told him, “If in 1982 a man puts on a dress, he'd better become a better man for it.”)
2. ELAINE MAY WAS ONE OF THE MANY WRITERS WHO DIDN’T RECEIVE ANY OFFICIAL CREDIT.
Gelbart and Schisgal were the credited screenwriters, based off of a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart. However, Barry Levinson, Valerie Curtin, Robert Garland, and Elaine May also worked on the script. May had chosen to remain anonymous, despite creating Bill Murray’s character, Dorsey’s roommate and playwright Jeff Slater, as well as much of Sandy Lester (Teri Garr)’s dialogue.
3. DICK RICHARDS AND HAL ASHBY WERE BOTH SET TO DIRECT.
After Dick Richards (Farewell, My Lovely) left over “creative differences,” Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) was forced to drop out because he was still working on his movie Lookin’ To Get Out (1982). Sydney Pollack agreed to direct the film, but only if he had final cut.
4. SYNDEY POLLACK INITIALLY TURNED THE GIG DOWN.
Pollack read the script for Tootsie and thought it was a “one-joke movie.” After liking a Gelbart version enough to take the job, he still cut a lot of the script’s anatomy and bathroom jokes. Around the time of the film's release, Pollack told The New York Times that, ''If Dustin had made the movie himself, he would have made a more outrageous movie. It might have been just as good, but it would have been very different. I suppose I just have more Victorian tastes than Dustin."
5. TOOTSIE WAS A NICKNAME GIVEN TO DUSTIN HOFFMAN BY HIS MOTHER.
Lillian Hoffman would throw little Dustin into the air and say, “How’s my tootsie wootsie?” Dustin called his mother “the heart” of the movie, and she looked forward to seeing it. Sadly, she suffered a fatal stroke while the film was still in pre-production.
6. ACCORDING TO HOFFMAN’S CONTRACT, HE WOULD NOT DO THE MOVIE IF DOROTHY’S MAKEUP WASN’T CONVINCING ENOUGH.
A blond wig was considered “cheap” and thus discarded. Costumes were made to hide his Adam’s apple. Face lifts—skin pullers fastened to the scalp—were applied. ''We shaved his legs, his arms and the backs of his fingers," Pollack told The New York Times, and he wore latex-base makeup, which he eventually became allergic to, resulting in welts and pimples.
7. MERYL STREEP WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PEOPLE TO HEAR DOROTHY'S SOUTHERN ACCENT.
When it came to Dorothy’s voice, after using an oscilloscope at Columbia University to get his voice to sync with a woman’s, Hoffman decided to use a Southern accent after failing to convince Pollack that he should use a French one. Jasper, Alabama-born actress Polly Holliday (most famous for playing the tough-talking waitress Flo on Alice) helped Hoffman with the accent. To help practice, Hoffman and Holliday performed A Streetcar Named Desire, with Meryl Streep as their sole audience member, at Hoffman's Manhattan duplex. Hoffman played Blanche, and Holliday played Stella.
8. HOFFMAN DECEIVED OTHER ACTORS DRESSED AS DOROTHY.
He fooled actor José Ferrer on an elevator, surprising him with what People magazine described as "an indecent proposal.” (Hoffman got into further detail about this on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2008.) He also tricked his daughter Jenna’s schoolteacher, and was ignored by his friend and fellow actor Jon Voight.
9. HOFFMAN SENT FLOWERS TO POLLACK SO HE WOULD PLAY HIS AGENT.
Pollack hadn’t acted in about 20 years, but Hoffman wanted his director to play the part of agent George Fields. So he sent Pollack flowers with a note signed, "Love, Dorothy."
10. POLLACK AND HOFFMAN HAD LOUD DISAGREEMENTS THROUGHOUT PRODUCTION.
The two would go to each other’s trailers, scream at one another, and then do it Pollack's way (according to the late director). They had their biggest arguments on Mondays, because they had each separately been working on the script over the weekend.
11. JESSICA LANGE NEEDED CONVINCING TO TAKE THE ROLE OF JULIE.
Pollack considered casting Lange as Julie after his daughter saw her in King Kong (1976). Lange hesitated before agreeing to the part; she had just portrayed Frances Farmer in Frances (1982) and wasn’t sure if she wanted to follow it by playing “some frothy, ditzy character.” Lange received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Frances in 1983—the same year she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Tootsie.
12. TERI GARR WAS ALSO HESITANT TO SIGN ON FOR TOOTSIE.
Teri Garr was hesitant to play Sandy after playing one of the leads in Frances Ford Coppola’s musical film One From the Heart (1982), until Pollack told her they were going to make Tootsie funny, and assured her they would use any ideas she had. Garr came up with Sandy asking why nobody came to check up on her in the bathroom after screaming for half an hour. "I thought that [Sandy] was caught between trying to have a career and trying to be a sexual woman, and it just doesn't work," Garr told The A.V. Club. "At least it didn't in that movie, because it was made by sexist men. I can say that now, because Sydney [Pollack] isn't with us anymore. [Laughs.] But he was a fine director."
13. IT WAS GEENA DAVIS’ FIRST MOVIE.
Davis landed the role of soap actress April Page despite never having auditioned for any other movie before. "But I didn't know you're only supposed to come on the days that you're working," Davis told The Frame. "And so I came every day for six weeks, because I thought that was just part of it. I'd get a chair and put it right next to Sydney Pollack and sit there all day."
14. BILL MURRAY INSISTED ON NOT BEING CREDITED.
Murray’s contract stipulated that he not be given any billing for the role, and Columbia agreed not to publicize his part in the film, because Murray thought it would be a “fun practical joke” to play. Hoffman insisted on casting Murray as his playwright roommate, even though Pollack was unfamiliar with his work. Murray improvised most of his lines.
15. IT WAS INITIALLY RATED R.
Pollack successfully appealed for a PG rating (the PG-13 rating didn’t come into existence until two years later).
When his star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014, Dabney Coleman recalled turning his friend Pollack down when approached about playing Michael/Dorothy’s agent, George Fields. Two weeks later, Pollack guilted him into playing Southwest General director Ron Carlisle by saying he would do the same for him. Coleman referred to the experience as “a pain in the a**,” and claimed that on his last day on set, Pollack said, “Thank God no one will see this piece of sh*t.” Coleman then conceded they were both wrong, calling Tootsie unquestionably one of the greatest comedies in the last 50 years.