Finding Dorothy: BTS of Tootsie

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"But I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man.”

In 1982, Tootsie swept audiences away with the story of a desperate, hard-to-work-with actor who finally lands a job by pretending to be someone else – a woman named “Dorothy.” The film grossed more than $170 million and received ten Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture.

1. It took years to make.

Filming only took 98 days, but the development took over four years. Originally, it was titled Would I Lie to You? and George Hamilton was expected to star. After a rewrite, the producers wanted Chevy Chase, Elliot Gould, or George Segal for the role. Dustin Hoffman liked the script and got involved. He actually already had a gender-swap comedy in the works with playwright Murray Schisgal about a tennis player who passes as a female named “Shirley.”

2. Creating Dorothy cost thousands.

Reality was integral to the movie. In fact, Hoffman stipulated in his contract that filming would not begin until Dorothy’s look was achieved. He didn’t want his character to look ugly or campy because, as he said, “If I were a woman, I’d want to look as attractive as possible.” Hoffman worked with several stylists, including Dick Smith, who had “aged” the actor 120 years for his role in Little Big Man. One of the most crucial aspects of the character was the teeth, as they noticed women’s teeth tend to be more even and curved than men’s.

3. Her voice was important.

Just looking like a woman wasn’t enough, of course. Dustin also had to talk. A speech therapist helped the actor experiment and find the right range. Director Sydney Pollack said, “[With] the Southern accent, it was easier to pitch his voice higher.” A French accent also helped hit the high notes, but it relied too heavily on falsetto.

4. Hoffman named the film.

And he has his mother to thank. As a child, she would toss him into the air and ask, “How’s my tootsie-wootsie?” Hoffman’s mother was a big supporter of his work, especially Tootsie, which he based on her. "I told her I was going to do her, and I did," he said. Unfortunately, she passed before its release.

5. Coleman's role changed.

Dabney Coleman was originally supposed to play the agent, but Dustin wanted the film's director to play the part. “He said I intimidated him," Pollack recalled. To convince him, Hoffman even sent pleading flowers to him signed “Dorothy.” Interestingly, Buddy Hackett wanted to play the role in its early days of development.

6. The glasses helped.

Just like Clark Kent (aka Superman), Dustin Hoffman’s character donned glasses to distinguish himself from his alter ego. In fact, viewers will notice Hoffman gets billed twice in the closing credits, as "Dorothy" and "Michael." However, the glasses proved to be an issue because they caused reflections when filming. So the crew sprayed the glasses with a special coating so that the glare went away. “We put a little bit of oil on the glasses to make them shine just enough so you know they’re there, but otherwise, no reflection,” Pollack said. 

7. Cher was up for a role.

She was considered for the role of Julie, which eventually went to Jessica Lange. Pollack thought Lange could easily portray the character, but Lange actually turned down the part, unsure if she was ready to do it after her dramatic turn in Frances. Thankfully, the director was able to convince her, and she went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In her speech, she thanked the cast, director, and “her leading lady” Dustin Hoffman.