“Although the storyline of Tootsie was simple and straightforward enough, the script history of the film was anything but.”
“Tootsie is the kind of Movie with a capital M that they used to make in the 1940s, when they weren’t afraid to mix up absurdity with seriousness, social comment with farce, and a little heartfelt tenderness right in there with the laughs.”
Thirty years ago this month Tootise was released into the world and finished number one in the box office Christmas weekend of December 17-19, 1982. It went on to be nominated for nine Oscars including Dustin Hoffman as lead actor, Sydney Pollack’s directing, and best picture. Jessica Lange won the Oscar for her supporting role.
And if you would have asked me before I read Making Tootsie written by Susan Dworkin who wrote the Tootsie screenplay I would have answered Larry Gelbart. But like most films there were a few hands in the pie. In fact, Toostie is another great example of the collaborative process of filmmaking really working well. The Tootise screenplay was also nominated for its screenplay, but along with Gelbart on the nomination were Murray Schisgal and Don McGuire. (But there were at least three more writers who had a hand in rewrites.)
Dworkin does an excellent job in her book of showing how the script and movie can together. The original seed for Tootsie was a screenplay titled Would I Lie to You? written by McGuire. McGuire was born in Chicago in 1919 and according to IMDB had come to Hollywood in the 40s and had a background a in journalism and worked as a press agent and an actor. In the 50s he started writing film scripts and his credits include Bad Day at Black Rock starring Spencer Tracy and Meet Danny Wilson starring Frank Sinatra. Many changes were made in his script Would I Lie to You? and he ended up with a story credit on Toostie—and it would be his last film credit. He died in 1999.
McGuire’s script attracted the attention of Buddy Hackett in 1978 who took it to his friend Charles Evans. The rights to the script were owned by Henry Plitt and two other and Evans had to buy the property from them and even negotiate a different deal with McGuire. In 1979 Evans hire dBob Kaufman to do a rewrite of Would I Lie to You?
“I put Kaufman is a hotel room and harassed him into writing and we cracked each other up.”
Tootsie producer Dick Richards
According to Dworkin, “Finally they had a new script. It was an out-of-work actor who gets a job playing a nurse on a soap opera.” Kaufman then departed the picture and the script landed in the hands of Dustin Hoffman, who was interested in playing a gender-switch role, and brought on playwright Murray Schisgal to rewrite the script. With Hoffman on board Evans was able to get a deal with Columbia and Hal Ashby was brought on to direct. Ashby would be replaced by director Sydney Pollack. And finally Larry Gilbart was brought on to do another rewrite of the script.
There will be a test on this later. According to IMDB Robert Garland, Barry Levinson, and Elaine May did uncredited work on the screenplay. And both Pollack and Hoffman also spent much time at Pollack’s beach house crafting the story. And that doesn’t even touch on what the other supporting actors (Terri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Bill Murray, Charles Durning, Lange and others) brought to their roles. I bet more than a dozon people could lay claim to at least some part of the script.
And the results? A film that made $177 million, is listed on the National Film Registry, and in 2000 was named by AFI as #2 funniest American film in the last 100 years. (Some Like it Hot was #1. Also, a gender-switch film.)
A fitting end to looking back at Toostie is to remember a key scene between Hoffman (as Dorothy) and Charles Durning (who just passed away a few days ago).
P.S. Speaking of Christmas 1982, I recently came across a picture of my studio apartment in Burbank when I was a film school student in 1982. Man, I was living large. (I don’t have that TV or the box it sits on, but I do still have that director’s chair.) Toostie still looks great after 30 years, but my that apartment at 1200 Riverside Dr. really got a major facelift in recent years. Probably more than a couple film & TV people living there. I always loved the location—just down the road from Disney Studios.