In the early 1980s, transforming himself from serious actor to comedic on-screen actress became a major box office hit with the film Tootsie.
Directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie was a simple concept: an out of work actor decides to transform himself into an actress and becomes a major A list sensation.
Based on the play Would I Lie To You?, the screenplay was co-written by Charles Evans, brother to Robert Evans and Dick Richards, who once they showed it to Hoffman, wanted to take on the project.
Costarring Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman and Bill Murray, Hoffman stars as Michael Dorsey, an actor trying to get a job. He transforms himself into Dorothy Michaels and wins a part on a soap opera, Southwest General.
Trying to keep Dorothy’s existence a secret, Dorsey juggles his relationship with acting student Sandy (Garr), roommate Jeff (Murray) and his growing attraction to Julie (Lange) who is in a dysfunctional relationship with their director Ron (Coleman).
Pollack was also included in an acting role with Hoffman’s insistence, playing Michael Dorsey’s agent, a role initially given to Coleman.
As Dorothy’s fame grows, as does Michael’s adoration for Julie and the comedic turns to keep Dorothy creation a secret becomes a unique slapstick combination as Dorothy has two older male admirers too.
Released in December 1982, this film was a massive hit, with everyone loving the comedic turns of the ensemble as well as the charming characters of Michael and Dorothy created by Hoffman.
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Song, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, Lange won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Julie.
The film was positively critically reviewed, for its unique combination of humour, silliness, social commentary and relationships, as Roger Ebert wrote at the time ” a throwback to the 1940s”.
Made for a budget of US$21 million, the film made big at the box office with a take home of US $177 million. And a cross-dressing lead character – well in 1982, it didn’t seem odd at all.