Just before this meeting, Michael took his acting colleague and needy sometime lover Sandy (underrated comic genius Teri Garr) to an audition for a soap opera. The part required someone “different”. In what must be a stroke of genius or pure insanity, Michael dons a wig and women’s clothing to another audition for the same, and is nearly turned away by the soap’s lecherous director (Dabney Coleman) until Michael, as “Dorothy Michaels”, hits him and jumps into a tirade on gender parity and unfair casting practice. A casting director, who happens to be a woman, steps in and gives “Dorothy” the part. Before the success of Mrs. Doubtfire, the cross-dressing comedy that everyone remembers and loves is Tootsie.
|Michael Dorsey (Hoffman)|
|Julie with "Dorothy"|
|Oscar winner Lange|
There’s a saying that there are no small parts, just small actors. That is true, because Tootsie is a treasure trove for actors, each of whom gets to deliver some whip-smart throwaway lines even in featured roles. Let me read you that list of actors again: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Dabney Coleman, Sydney Pollack, George Gaynes, Charles Durning. There’s even a small part for future Emmy winner and Golden Girl Estelle Getty, who gets a screen credit even though her character doesn’t even have a name. In her biography Bossypants, Tina Fey recalls Rob Marshall telling everyone on the 30 Rock set to treasure their jobs, because they were rare opportunities in the entertainment field. Truer words have never been spoken, and this could easily have applied to the set of Tootsie.
|"Dorothy" during a taping|
Everyone, and in particular actors and those in love with the city of New York, must watch Tootsie. It’s the perfect bad day movie. A friend told me it was one of the reasons why he moved to New York City once upon a time. For the unemployed, this is an ode to the virtues and pitfalls of work, and if you can’t get a job at this critical time in our economic lives, then this will remind you of just how unattractive office politics can be. I have seen this film with three generations of my family, friends, colleagues, paramours, acquaintances and perfect strangers, and everyone loves it. When I was in Hong Kong on holiday in 1993, it was the only English-language programming one evening we could find because none of us spoke Cantonese and we all just wanted to relax from a long day of sightseeing (i.e. hitting up the sales) with this comic gem. This is a movie for everyone.
Should the year really end in 2012, and you want to put together a time capsule, include a copy of Tootsie in it. Future civilizations can take away lessons on how to understand gender identity, how to relate to human beings, and how to laugh. Maybe they’ll learn how to become better people, just as Michael Dorsey says at the end: “I was a better man with you, as a woman, than I ever was with a woman, as a man.”