Tootsie (1982)

Tootsie is a 1982 American comedy film directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Dustin Hoffman, with a supporting cast that includes Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Bill Murray, Charles Durning, George Gaynes, Geena Davis, Doris Belack and Pollack. The film tells the story of a talented but volatile actor whose reputation for being difficult forces him to adopt a new identity as a woman in order to land a job. The film was adapted by Larry Gelbart, Barry Levinson (uncredited), Elaine May (uncredited), and Murray Schisgal from a story by Gelbart and Don McGuire.

The film was a major critical and financial success, the second most profitable film of 1982, and was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture. Lange was the only winner, for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1998, the Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The theme song, “It Might Be You”, was performed by Stephen Bishop, with music by Dave Grusin and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It was a Top 40 hit in the United States and hit No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Michael Dorsey is a respected actor, but nobody in New York wants to hire him because he is a perfectionist and difficult to work with. After many months without a job, Michael hears of an opening on the popular daytime soap opera Southwest General from his friend and acting student Sandy Lester, who tries out for the role of hospital administrator Emily Kimberly. In desperation, he impersonates a woman, auditioning as “Dorothy Michaels”, and gets the part. Michael takes the job as a way to raise $8,000 to produce a play, written by his roommate Jeff Slater, which will star himself and Sandy. Michael plays his character as a feisty feminist, which surprises the other actors and the crew, who expected Emily to be (as written) another swooning female. His character quickly becomes a national sensation.

When Sandy catches Michael in her bedroom half undressed because he wants to try on her clothes in order to get more ideas for Dorothy’s wardrobe, he covers up by claiming he wants to have sex with her. Exacerbating matters further, he is attracted to one of his co-stars, Julie Nichols, a single mother in an unhealthy relationship with the show’s amoral, sexist director, Ron Carlisle. At a party, when Michael (as himself) approaches Julie with a pick-up line that she had previously told Dorothy she would be receptive to, she throws a drink in his face. Later, as Dorothy, when he makes tentative advances, Julie—having just ended her relationship with Ron per Dorothy’s advice—makes it known that she is not a lesbian.

Meanwhile, Dorothy has her own admirers to contend with: older cast member John Van Horn and Julie’s widowed father Les. Les proposes marriage, insisting that Dorothy think about it before answering. When Michael returns home, he finds John, who almost forces himself on Dorothy until Jeff walks in on them. Later, Sandy visits Michael, asking why he hasn’t answered her calls. Michael admits he’s in love with another woman, and Sandy screams and breaks up with him.

The tipping point comes when, due to Dorothy’s popularity, the show’s producers want to extend her contract for another year. Michael finds a clever way to extricate himself: when the cast is forced by a technical problem to perform an episode live, he improvises a grand speech on camera, pulls off his wig and reveals that he is actually Edward, the character’s twin brother who took her place to avenge her. The revelation allows everybody a more-or-less graceful way out. Julie, however, is so outraged that she punches him in the stomach once the cameras have stopped rolling, before storming off.

Some weeks later, Michael is moving forward with producing Jeff’s play. He also gives Les back his ring, and Les tells Michael: “The only reason you’re still living is because I never kissed you.”

Michael later waits for Julie outside the studio. She is reluctant to talk to him, but finally admits she misses Dorothy. Michael tells her, “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man.” She forgives him and they walk down the street.

Cast

  • Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, an out of work actor
  • Jessica Lange as Julie Nichols, an actress
  • Teri Garr as Sandy Lester, an actress
  • Dabney Coleman as Ron Carlisle, the director
  • Doris Belack as Rita Marshall, the producer
  • Charles Durning as Leslie “Les” Nichols, Julie’s father
  • Bill Murray as Jeff Slater, a playwright and Michael’s roommate
  • Sydney Pollack as George Fields, Michael’s agent
  • George Gaynes as John Van Horn, a soap opera actor
  • Geena Davis as April Page, a soap opera actress
  • Lynne Thigpen as Jo, a production aide
  • Ellen Foley as Jacqui, a production aide
  • Anne Shropshire as Mrs. Crawley, Julie’s babysitter
  • Amy Lawrence as Amy, Julie’s daughter
  • Susan Egbert as Diane, Jeff’s girlfriend
  • Christine Ebersole as Linda, an actress at Michael’s birthday party

In the 1970s, fashion company executive Charles Evans decided to get into movie-making. It was an industry which his brother, Robert Evans, was successful in as an actor, producer, and studio executive. Evans told the Los Angeles Times in 1995 that he got into producing “because I enjoy movies very much. I have the time to do it. And I believe if done wisely, it can be a profitable business.” His first foray into film production was a massive success. Playwright Don McGuire had written a play in the early 1970s about an unemployed male actor who cross-dresses in order to get jobs.

Titled Would I Lie to You?, the play was shopped around Hollywood for several years until it came to the attention of comedian and actor Buddy Hackett in 1978. Hackett, interested in playing the role of the talent agent, showed the script to Evans. Evans purchased an option on the play. (Delays in the film’s production forced Evans to renew the option once or twice.) During 1979, Evans co-wrote a screenplay based on the play with director Dick Richards and screenwriter Bob Kaufman. A few months into the writing process, Richards showed it to actor Dustin Hoffman, his partner in a company which bought and developed properties for development into films, but Hoffman wanted complete creative control, and Evans agreed to remove himself from screenwriting tasks. Instead, Evans became a producer on the film, which was renamed Tootsie. Before Hoffman officially got involved, his role was previously offered to Peter Sellers and Michael Caine.

Tootsie opened in 943 theaters in the United States and Canada and grossed $5,540,470 in its opening weekend. After 115 days, it surpassed Close Encounters of the Third Kind as Columbia’s biggest domestic hit of all time. Its final gross in the United States and Canada was $177,200,000, making it the second-highest-grossing movie of 1982 after E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 56.9 million tickets in the US.

A stage musical of the movie premiered at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago from September 11 to October 14, 2018 before opening on Broadway in the spring of 2019. The musical has music and lyrics by David Yazbek; Robert Horn wrote the book; Denis Jones choreographed and Scott Ellis directed. Santino Fontana starred as Michael Dorsey. He is joined by Lilli Cooper as Julie Nichols, Sarah Stiles as Sandy Lester, John Behlmann as Max Van Horn, Andy Grotelueschen as Jeff Slater, Julie Halston as Rita Mallory, Tony winner Michael McGrath as Stan Fields and Tony nominee Reg Rogers as Ron Carlisle.

The film was first released on CED Videodisc in 1983, on VHS and Betamax videocassettes by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in 1985, and on DVD in 2001. These releases were distributed by Columbia Tristar Home Video. The film was also released by The Criterion Collection in a LaserDisc edition in 1992. A special 25th Anniversary edition DVD, released by Sony Pictures, arrived in 2008. In the high-definition era, the film was released on the visually superior Blu-ray Disc format in 2013, albeit at this point in time it was only distributed in selected international territories such as Germany and Japan. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Criterion Collection on December 16, 2014.

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