Tootsie At 40 – Where Are The Actors Now?

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Sydney Pollack's "Tootsie" turns 40 in December 2022. The comedy classic was ranked as the No. 2 funniest American movie of all-time by the American Film Institute. The film's cast, headed by Dustin Hoffman, includes such diverse talents as Jessica Lange, who won her first Oscar for her role, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, Geena Davis (her film debut), and the movie's co-producer and director Sydney Pollack as Hoffman's beleaguered agent.

The story concerns an arrogant New York actor named Michael Dorsey (Hoffman), whose difficult reputation has left him waiting tables. His agent (director Pollack) has all but given up on him, insisting no one will hire him. When his neurotic friend Sandy (Teri Garr) is turned down for a part on a popular soap opera, Michael decides to don a wig and dress and try out for the role himself, using the moniker Dorothy Michaels. He actually gets the part, leaving his agent and roommate (Murray) stunned, all while hiding his new job from Sandy. Opinionated, tough, and prone to wild improvisations during taping, Dorothy quickly becomes the hottest thing in daytime television, a feminist icon to millions of lonely American women.

"Tootsie" had one of the best ensembles of any picture of the last 50 years. We take a look at where the actors are now and remember those who sadly are no longer with us.

Dustin Hoffman

After his breakthrough performance as Benjamin Braddock in 1967's "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman became one of America's most respected actors, appearing in such classic movies as "Midnight Cowboy," "Kramer vs. Kramer," and "Rain Man."

As the brash actor Michael Dorsey in "Tootsie," Hoffman once again immersed himself in character. While Dorsey may be similar to Hoffman in many ways, the transformation into Dorothy Michaels required Hoffman to venture into unknown territory, and he insisted on portraying Dorothy with dignity. "I was shocked that I wasn't more attractive," he admitted in a 2012 AFI interview, later concluding, "['Tootsie'] was never a comedy for me." The role earned him his fourth best actor Oscar nomination as well as a Golden Globe win. After a five-year break from movies, Hoffman co-starred with good friend Warren Beatty in the notorious flop "Ishtar" in 1987, but he redeemed himself the following year with the critically acclaimed box office hit "Rain Man" opposite Tom Cruise. The film won Hoffman his second best actor Oscar (his first was for "Kramer vs. Kramer"). 

In 2017, multiple women accused Hoffman of sexual misconduct or assault (via The Hollywood Reporter). "Tootsie" co-star Bill Murray came to Hoffman's defense. "Dustin Hoffman is a great man," Murray said during a talk at New York City's 92nd Street Y (via USA Today). "He's crazy, a 'Borscht Belt' flirt, has been his whole life. (But) he's a really sweet man." This came months after a heated discussion (at the same location) between Hoffman and John Oliver over the allegations (via The Washington Post).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Teri Garr

Teri Garr has the distinction of being in not one but two of the funniest films of all time, having played the sexy Swedish lab assistant Inga in Mel Brooks' 1974 classic "Young Frankenstein." Garr would go on to amass an impressive number of credits, including Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Carl Reiner's "Oh, God!," and Carroll Ballard's "The Black Stallion" before landing her Oscar-nominated role in "Tootsie."

Film critic Pauline Kael distinguished Garr as "the funniest neurotic dizzy dame on the screen," The Washington Post noted in the 1980s. Her offbeat demeanor made her the ideal choice to play Sandy Lester, Michael Dorsey's actor friend whose insecurities revealed much about a lot of actors' personalities. It is in many ways the quintessential Teri Garr performance.

In 2002, Garr revealed on CNN's "Larry King Live" that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Garr uses a wheelchair due to the debilitating disease. She has not acted since 2007, but has been an outspoken advocate for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. In 2005, she published her memoir "Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood," in which she wittily discusses her career, relationships, and health troubles.

Dabney Coleman

Dabney Coleman was one of the busiest character actors of the early 1980s, co-starring in such iconic films as "9 to 5," "On Golden Pond," "Tootsie," and "WarGames." He often played the heavy, as he did to comic perfection as the womanizing, sexist soap opera director Ron Carlisle in "Tootsie." (Coleman was actually first considered for the role of Michael Dorsey's agent, which director Sydney Pollack played.)

From the moment Coleman's character meets Hoffman's Dorothy Michaels, it's hate at first sight. Coleman takes one look at Dorothy and turns her away from even auditioning for the role on the show. "You're a little bit too soft and genteel. You're not threatening enough," he explains, to which Dorothy responds by almost giving him a knee in a rather delicate part of the human anatomy. This lands her both the audition and the part, after which Coleman and Hoffman continue to verbally spar through the rest of the picture.

Coleman, who is 90, went on to star in the NBC sitcom "Buffalo Bill," which was a critical success and earned 11 Emmy nominations, but was canceled after just one season. He later starred in the NBC sitcom "The Slap Maxwell Story," which also lasted one season. The actor received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014 and appeared in Warren Beatty's 2016 comedy-drama "Rules Don't Apply" about the later years of Howard Hughes.

Estelle Getty

Wait — Estelle Getty was in "Tootsie?" Yes, but in a walk-on (or actually dance-on) role three years before gaining fame as Sophia Petrillo on "The Golden Girls." Getty was a working stage actor when she was cast in "Tootsie." She earned rave reviews for her turn as Harvey Fierstein's mother in the smash off-Broadway and Broadway productions of Fierstein's play "Torch Song Trilogy." The New York Times wrote, "...the tiny Miss Getty is perfect as a mastodon of a mother." She received a Drama Desk award nomination for her performance.

Getty can be spotted in the scene where Les (Charles Durning) takes Dorothy to dinner at a fancy restaurant with music and dancing. As they are whirling, an older couple trots by and Getty's character says to Dorothy, "You're fabulous! We just love you!" "You're even prettier in person!" adds the husband. Ah, the price of fame.

Getty, of course, got her big break with "The Golden Girls," which aired for seven seasons on NBC and won her an Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series. Getty appeared in the show's spinoff "The Golden Palace," which lasted only one season, as well as over 50 episodes of the show's other spinoff, "Empty Nest." In her final years, she fought the progressive brain disease Lewy body dementia and died on July 22, 2008 at age 84, per The New York Times.

Charles Durning

Like Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning was a character actor who was constantly working in the early 1980s. Durning received back-to-back Oscar nominations for best supporting actor for 1982's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and the 1983 remake of "To Be or Not to Be" with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.

Durning brought a lot of heart to "Tootsie" as the rugged Les, the widowed father of soap star Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange). Les takes an instant liking to Dorothy Michaels, and he likes her even better when Julie invites Dorothy to join them for a weekend in the country. Les has no idea Dorothy is really Michael, and goes so far as to propose to Dorothy, engagement ring and all. When the gig is finally up at the end of the film, Les and Michael have a moving scene at a bar where they make peace over a few beers and a game of pool.

Durning was a World War II vet who was awarded the Silver and Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He had an extensive theater background and won a Tony in 1990 for the revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." A close friend of Burt Reynolds, he was a regular on Reynolds' CBS sitcom "Evening Shade" for four seasons in the 1990s. He died in Manhattan of natural causes on December 24, 2012 at age 89, and he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Geena Davis

Geena Davis made her film debut in "Tootsie" as April Page, Dorothy Michaels' attractive young dressing room mate. Her first appearance in the picture is memorable as she is scantily clad in a bra and panties, flustering Dorothy's inner Michael. While Davis' role is small, she does have her important moments, such as when she informs Dorothy that fellow actor John Van Horn (George Gaynes) kisses all the women on the show. "We call him 'The Tongue,'" she says. Her reaction shot when Dorothy finally reveals she is a man is very funny.

Davis has, of course, gone on to be a very successful actor in her own right, earning a supporting actress Oscar for 1988's "The Accidental Tourist" and starring in "Thelma & Louise" and "A League of Their Own." She has worked steadily in television, as well. Davis was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony in 2020 for founding the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. At the 2022 Emmy Awards, Davis and President and CEO Madeline Di Nonno accepted the Governors Award for the institute. Davis said, "Television can often directly impact how people see themselves and judge their value in the world. In the time since I launched the institute, we've made a great deal of progress, but still there's more work to do, of course."

Bill Murray

Two years after leaving "Saturday Night Live," where he was one of the standout performers, Bill Murray was cast in "Tootsie" as Dustin Hoffman's wacky (to say the least) roommate Jeff Slater, a struggling playwright who waits tables. Murray had already done "Caddyshack" and "Stripes" prior to "Tootsie," where his snarky humor was just the right fit for the role.

The film's screenplay was worked on by at least seven different writers, although only three (Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, and Don McGuire) were credited. Murray shared on "The View," "My character didn't really exist in the screenplay. It was just a character that was suggested by Elaine May as something that would help the audience's point of view." Murray improvised his scenes with Dustin Hoffman, so some of his best lines were not even in the script.

Murray has been taken very seriously as an actor thanks to impressive turns in "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," and especially "Lost in Translation," which earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor. He was accused in 2022 of on-set misconduct while filming Aziz Ansari's directorial debut "Being Mortal." "I had a difference of opinion with a woman I'm working with. I did something I thought was funny, and it wasn't taken that way," Murray told CNBC. Searchlight Pictures suspended production on the movie in April 2022 as they investigated the incident and it is still unclear if or when production will resume, per Deadline.

Jessica Lange

Jessica Lange is one of Hollywood's most revered actors. She had already co-starred in several well-known films by the time she did "Tootsie," including her 1976 debut in the remake of "King Kong," Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz" in 1979, and the 1981 remake of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" opposite Jack Nicholson. But "Tootsie" is the film that first gained her attention as a serious performer. Vincent Canby wrote in his New York Times review, "Miss Lange is a total delight in a comedy role to which she brings the same sort of intelligent gravity that distinguishes her work in 'Frances.'"

Lange plays Julie Nichols, a vulnerable soap opera actor and single mother who drinks too much and has no luck with men (her boyfriend is the soap's philandering director, played by Dabney Coleman). She quickly befriends Dorothy Michaels, asking her to help with her lines, cooking her dinner, even asking her to babysit for her toddler (which is responsible for some very funny and very messy scenes). Lange's gentle, at times understated performance is in vivid contrast to the movie's other supporting actor, Teri Garr, who is unapologetically manic and off the wall. Both Lange and Garr received supporting Oscar nominations, with Lange taking home the award (she would also win a leading actress Oscar for 1995's "Blue Sky"). In her acceptance speech, Lange thanked her "leading lady" Dustin Hoffman.

For over a decade, Lange has had success on television, including FX's "American Horror Story" series, HBO's "Grey Gardens," and as Joan Crawford in the FX limited series "Feud: Bette and Joan," which she also co-produced.

Doris Belack

Doris Belack was not a familiar face to moviegoers when she first appeared in "Tootsie" as Rita Marshall, the no-nonsense producer of the fictional soap opera "Southwest General." Rita is the first person to see the potential in Dorothy Michaels as an actor, and she strikes a delicate balance once Dorothy becomes an instant sensation. She has to deal with Dorothy's constant improvisations and dialogue changes, yet also knows to handle her just right because she is too big an asset for the soap, er, daytime drama. Rita insists everyone refer to the medium as daytime drama — she will fine anyone who uses the word soap opera a quarter. "I think that's how she got her Mercedes," quips Jessica Lange's character.

Belack had small roles in such films as the first Gene Wilder-Gilda Radner pairing "Hanky Panky," "She-Devil" with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr, and the Bill Murray-Richard Dreyfuss comedy "What About Bob?" Aside from "Tootsie," she is perhaps best remembered for playing Bea Arthur's sister Gloria on a 1985 episode of "The Golden Girls." She also had a recurring role as a judge on "Law & Order," among dozens of other television appearances. Belack was also an experienced stage actor, Variety noted, appearing on Broadway for "The Cemetery Club" in 1990 and starring in the titular role of "Surviving Grace" off-Broadway in 2002. Per The New York Times, Belack died following a brief illness on October 4, 2011 in New York City at age 85.

George Gaynes

As the pompous D-list actor John Van Horn, George Gaynes elevated egomania to an artform in "Tootsie." Van Horn is an actor so bad that he can't get through a scene without reading each line from a cue card. He seems taken with Dorothy immediately and finds her unpredictability a turn-on (and he does manage to sneak a kiss in). His infatuation with Dorothy comes to a head when he serenades her outside her apartment, after which she invites him up. Van Horn starts getting fresh when they are walked in on by Michael Dorsey's roommate Jeff (Bill Murray). Thinking that Dorothy and Jeff are a couple, Van Horn apologizes and leaves. (Jeff sarcastically calls Michael a "slut.")

Gaynes got his start on television in the 1950s and was briefly on the real-life soap "General Hospital." Though he had some motion picture credits, including "The Way We Were" (also directed by Sydney Pollack), "Tootsie" was his biggest role. Gaynes was most familiar to TV audiences as the crotchety Henry Warnimont on the 1980s sitcom "Punky Brewster," which ran for four seasons. Gaynes died on February 15, 2016 at age 98. His "Punky Brewster" co-star Soleil Moon Frye tweeted, "The universe just gained a gigantic star. You will be in my heart and soul always & forever."

Lynne Thigpen

An accomplished stage actor, Lynne Thigpen's role in "Tootsie" was small, but she nonetheless added to the film as Jo, part of the production team of the fictional soap opera "Southwest General." When Dorothy Michaels auditions for the show, Jo reads the lines of the other actor. After "Tootsie," Thigpen had a recurring role on the real-life daytime drama "All My Children."

Thigpen went on to co-star in Alan Alda's 1986 comedy "Sweet Liberty," Sidney Lumet's 1988 drama "Running on Empty," and "Lean on Me" with Morgan Freeman in 1989. On television, Thigpen endeared herself to a generation of children as The Chief on the PBS series "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" and "Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?" She received five Daytime Emmy nominations for her work and a sixth posthumously for the Disney children's series "Bear in the Big Blue House." She won a Tony Award in 1997 for best featured actress in a play for Wendy Wasserstein's "An American Daughter," playing a half-Black, half-Jewish feminist.

Thigpen was a regular on the CBS crime drama "The District" when she died at age 54 from a cerebral hemorrhage on March 12, 2003 (via Argus Observer). An elementary school in her hometown of Joliet, Illinois was named after her following her passing. 

Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack was one of America's great television and film directors, having helmed such classics as "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," "The Way We Were," "Absence of Malice," and later "Out of Africa." But he was also a distinguished character actor who started his career instructing classes and assisting acting teacher Sanford Meisner, with whom Pollack had studied (per The New York Times). 

Pollack had originally planned to only co-produce and direct "Tootsie," but Dustin Hoffman insisted Pollack play his frustrated agent George Fields. It got to the point where Hoffman was sending Pollack dozens of roses with a note signed, "Please be my agent. Love, Dorothy" (per "Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers"). Pollack eventually relented, and his work in "Tootsie" is arguably the film's best supporting performance. As George Fields, Pollack's tense onscreen relationship with Hoffman seemingly mirrored their off-camera one. Pollack is known for being able to handle larger-than-life personalities like Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford. Hoffman's reputation for being difficult and a perfectionist is well-known, and The New York Times reported that he and Pollack had "productive" arguments while making "Tootsie."

Pollack worked steadily as an actor in the '90s, appearing in the films of Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, and Robert Altman. In 2007, Pollack resigned as director of "Recount," an HBO film about the contested 2000 U.S. presidential election, due to health issues (via USA Today). He died on May 26, 2008 from cancer at age 73 at his home in Pacific Palisades, California.