Tootsie was a brilliant comedy about sexual identity, as well as a sharply observed satire on various aspects of show business – from unemployment to the “catastrophe of success” (a phrase coined by Tennessee Williams).
It starred Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, an out-of-work actor with an attitude problem who – in a moment of desperation – dresses in drag in order to audition for the role of a mature woman in a daytime soap opera called Southwest General.
Pretending to be Dorothy Michaels he reads for the part and gets it.
The complications inherent in maintaining his female identity were resourcefully (and hilariously) exploited with every potential laugh-situation mined for maximum mirth.
He’s up at 4:30 AM, shaving his legs, applying the pancake, plucking his eyebrows, curling his lashes, combing out his wigs and strapping on his falsies.
Suddenly, he’s also noticing the height of mirrors, trying on his girlfriend’s clothes when she’s not looking, and getting a pretty good idea of what women go through as he gets pinched and used as a sex object, called “Honey” and “Tootsie” by the crew, and treated with disrespect.
This double life wrecks everything. His roommate (Bill Murray) can’t answer the phone because Dorothy doesn’t want anyone to think she lives with a man, and his hysterical girlfriend (Teri Garr) sees him entering his apartment in drag and thinks he’s having an affair with another woman.
His sexy co-star on the show (Jessica Lange) treats him as the perfect gal to confide in and to make things worse, her father (Charles Durning) falls for Dorothy.
Dorothy changes the dialogue on the soap, building a whole earth-grain woman viewers identify with, and becomes a national star. “It’s the woman in me coming out,” quips Dustin. “Slut,” sneers his mortified roommate.
Michael’s girlfriend decides he’s a gay man; the girl he really loves thinks Dorothy is a lesbian; Durning is trying to slip an engagement ring on his finger; an actor on the show tries to rape him, and as confusion piles on chaos, he discovers he’s a better man as a woman than he ever was as a man.
Director Sydney Pollack played Hoffman’s agent.
Michael Dorsey/’Dorothy Michaels’
John Van Horn
Ronald L. Schwary