Los Angeles, California, 8 August 1937.
Attended Los Angeles High School; Santa Monica City College for one year;
acting classes at Pasadena Playhouse, 1956–58; also studied music
at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.
Married 1) Anne Byrne, 1969 (divorced), two daughters; 2) Lisa Gottsegen,
1980, two sons, two daughters.
1958—in New York as aspiring actor; 1961—Broadway debut in
A Cook for Mr. General
; 1967—film debut in
The Tiger Makes Out
; 1976—member of First Artists Productions; 1982—producer of
; 1984—starring role in New York stage version of
Death of a Salesman
; 1989—as Shylock in
The Merchant of Venice
Most Promising Newcomer, British Academy, Golden Globe Award, for
, 1968; Best Actor, British Academy, for
John and Mary
, 1969; National Society of Film Critics Award, for
, 1979; Best Actor Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Best Actor, New
York Film Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association
Award, National Society of Film Critics Award, for
Kramer vs. Kramer
, 1979; National Society of Film Critics Award, and Golden Globe Award,
, 1983; British Academy Award, for
, 1984; Emmy Award, for Outstanding Lead Actor in miniseries or special,
Death of a Salesman
, and Golden Globe Award, 1986; Best Actor Academy Award, and Golden Bear,
Berlin Festival, for
, 1988; Golden Globe Award, for
, 1989; Career Golden Lion Award, Venice Film Festival, 1996; Cecil B.
DeMille Award, 1997; Lifetime Achievement Award, American Film Institute,
c/o Punch Productions, 711 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10022, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
The Tiger Makes Out (Hiller) (as Hap); The Graduate (Mike Nichols) (as Benjamin Braddock)
Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger) (as Ratso Rizzo); John and Mary (Yates) (as John)
Un dollaro per 7 vigliacchi ( El millón de Madigan ; Madigan's Millions ) (Ash, Gentili, and Praeger—produced in 1967) (as Jason Fisher); Little Big Man (Arthur Penn) (as Jack Crabb); Arthur Penn Films "Little Big Man" (Erwitt—doc); Arthur Penn 1922—: Themes and Variants (Hughes—doc)
Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things about Me? (Grosbard) (as George Sacourey); Straw Dogs (Peckinpah) (as David Sumner)
Alfredo Alfredo (Germi) (title role)
Papillon (Schaffner) (as Louis Dega); Sunday Father (Leaf—short)
Lenny (Fosse) (as Lenny Bruce)
Lost in the Garden of the World (Williams) (as interviewee)
All the President's Men (Pakula) (as Carl Bernstein); Marathon Man (Schlesinger) (as Babe Levy)
Straight Time (Grosbard) (as Max Dembo, + initial d)
Agatha (Apted) (as Wally Stanton); Kramer vs. Kramer (Benton) (as Ted Kramer)
Tootsie (Pollack) (as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, + co-pr)
The Best of Everything (Johnson)
Death of a Salesman (Schlöndorff—for TV) (as Willie Loman); Private Conversations (Blackwood—doc)
Ishtar (Elaine May) (as Chuck Clarke)
Rain Man (Levinson) (as Raymond Babbitt)
Family Business (Lumet) (as Vito McMullen); Common Threads (Epstein and Friedman—doc) (as narrator)
Dick Tracy (Beatty) (as Mumbles)
Billy Bathgate (Benton) (as Dutch Schultz); Hook (Spielberg) (as Captain Hook)
Earth and the American Dream (Couturie—doc) (as voice)
Hero ( Accidental Hero ) (Frears) (as Bernie LaPlante)
Outbreak (Petersen) (as Colonel Sam Daniels M.D.)
American Buffalo (Corrente) (as Teach); Sleepers (Levinson) (Danny Snyder)
Mad City (as Max Brackett); Wag the Dog (Levinson) (as Stanley Motss)
Sphere (Levinson) (as Norman Johnson); Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (Besson) (as The Conscience)
Cosm (de Bont); A Salute to Dustin Hoffman (Honoree)
Films as Producer:
A Walk on the Moon ; The Furies ; The Devil's Arithmetic (for TV —ex pr)
By HOFFMAN: articles—
Interview, in Interview (New York), June 1976.
Interview with P. Maraval, in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1978.
"Dialogue on Film: Dustin Hoffman," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1983.
Interview with Mark Rowland, in American Film (Los Angeles), December 1988.
"Tales of Hoffman," interview with Peter Biskind, in Premiere (New York), February 1989.
"Master of the Roles," interview with Colette Maude, in Time Out (London), 14 April 1993.
On HOFFMAN: books—
Cornelsen, Peter, Dustin Hoffman , Bergisch Gladbach, 1980.
Dagneau, Gilles, Dustin Hoffman , Paris, 1981; rev. ed., 1985.
Sandre, Didier, Dustin Hoffman , Paris, 1981.
Brode, Douglas, The Films of Dustin Hoffman , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1983.
Lenburg, Jeff, Dustin Hoffman: Hollywood's Anti-Hero , New York, 1983.
Johnstone, Ian, Dustin Hoffman , Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 1984.
Agan, Patrick, Hoffman vs. Hoffman: The Actor and the Man , London, 1986.
Freedland, Michael, Dustin: A Biography of Dustin Hoffman , London, 1989.
Jelot-Blanc, Jean Jacques, Dustin Hoffman , Paris, 1990.
Bergan, Ronald, Dustin Hoffman , London, 1991.
On HOFFMAN: articles—
Current Biography 1969 , New York, 1969.
Amata, C., "Dustin Hoffman," in Focus on Film (London), April 1980.
Boyum, Joy Gould, "Dustin Hoffman," in The Movie Star Book , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Smith, Gary, in Rolling Stone (New York), 3 February 1983.
Clark, John, filmography in Premiere (New York), February 1989.
Alfven, I., "I Love You Dustin," in Chaplin , vol. 34, no. 5, 1992.
Weinraub, Bernard, "Ratso Rizzo Redux? Not If He Can Help It," in New York Times , 27 September 1992.
Norman, Barry, "Barry Norman On. . ." in Radio Times (London), 16 January 1993.
James, C., " Sphere of Influence," in Boxoffice (Chicago), February 1998.
* * *
Dustin Hoffman was the first American movie star to apply the intensity of Method acting to the kind of sex-struck nebbishes Robert Morse played in commercial comedies and Woody Allen played in his stand-up/slapstick comedies. Hoffman's best scenes as Benjamin in The Graduate , the movie that catapulted this diminutive, unglamorous actor to unlikely and major stardom, are the comic seductions with Anne Bancroft. Benjamin's adenoidal dimness is a great joke on innocence. We like him because he seems unworthy of this sophisticated catch. The basic deliberateness of Hoffman's craft is clearer in his next picture, Midnight Cowboy , in which he gets into the crawly skin of Ratso Rizzo, a seedy New York drifter who befriends Jon Voight's Joe Buck, a newcomer trying to make it as a hustler. Hoffman as Ratso practically plots the coordinates of corruption and unworldliness on graph paper—but expertly. Usually, catching the actor acting lessens the viewer's enjoyment; Hoffman makes it work. This is not to say that his most intently acted performances lack depth. One of his finest performances is as Max Dembo in Ulu Grosbard's too little seen Straight Time , a study of criminal psychology which eschews a co-star, instead displaying Hoffman in relation to a whole slate of superb supporting players, with every interaction revealing another layer of Dembo's locked-in mentality. Here Hoffman merges his focus as an actor with Dembo's bone-dry focus on burglary. The scene in which Dembo stays too long while robbing a jewelry store, and a consequent one in which he punishes the junkie getaway driver who panicked, are awesome in their daring.
In Tootsie , Sydney Pollack's deserved smash-hit comedy, Hoffman parodied his own reputation as a "difficult" actor. His Michael Dorsey cannot even get hired in commercials because, dressed up as a vegetable, he argued with a director about its motivation. He can only land a role in a soap opera by reading for it in drag as "Dorothy Michaels." Hoffman's vanity lies mainly in his reputation as a fine actor, and he does not hesitate to make Dorothy womanly in an appropriately ungainly way. His scrupulous self-satire combined with Pollack's satirical insider's view of an actor's lot, enabled the star to give the most entertaining as well as the most thoroughly thought-out male drag performance in movie history. Watching him try to reach the challenging blond beauty (Jessica Lange) who is his soap co-star while masquerading as the woman she has come to confide in like a mother, gives the wild transvestite comedy the added dimension of an unusually textured and poignant romantic comedy.
Hoffman's Dorothy yields more depth than the honed pyrotechnics of his autistic savant Raymond in Barry Levinson's Rain Man which, despite the plaudits and prizes, is in reality, a very wet commercial picture about redemption through sacrifice. You have to watch Hoffman because Raymond's affliction means he cannot integrate himself into the scenes—you cannot take him for granted. With the incentive of showing up his much younger, "hot" co-star, Tom Cruise, Hoffman's performance is at once meticulously crafted and totally shameless. He is better in 1989's Family Business , as Vito, a hard-working merchant caught between Sean Connery as his elementally attractive criminal father and Matthew Broderick as his own self-righteous son who is infatuated with Connery. Perhaps Hoffman's performance did not get the attention it deserved for the very reason that it is realistic and uncharacteristically unassuming in its demonstration of how Vito's rage and frustration are inextricable from his love for his son. We believe that he would do anything for him, and feel affronted by the son's contempt.
As the journalist on the trail of Agatha Christie in the ill-received Agatha , the mechanics of his technique allow Hoffman to rise to the challenge of Vanessa Redgrave's emotionally overwrought novelist, but he seemed less suited to his big action hits, Papillon , Marathon Man , Outbreak , and Sphere. Furthermore, when he is too openly ingratiating, as in Kramer vs. Kramer , his effort can all be waste, though we are happy to watch him go through ancient shtick—single father unable to cook a meal—that we would hesitate to endure in the hands of another actor. Then, too, Hoffman lacks the expansiveness of personality that can overcome fundamental miscasting, leaving him reliant on technique and hard work in a film such as Lenny. His attempt to portray Lenny Bruce, the foul-mouthed junkie who shone like the white underbelly of show biz, was something of a tour de force , rewarded with an Oscar nomination but ill-received by many who felt his impersonation a failure to get under Bruce's skin. The actor's delight in disguise has seduced him into frivolous, villainous grotesques such as Mumbles in Dick Tracy and the flamboyant Captain Hook, while his occasional latter-day tendency to style himself, unnecessarily, as an elder statesman, unbalanced the three-man character study of American Buffalo , and his over-the-top courtroom cameo for Barry Levinson in Sleepers. So much for the caveats. The less dynamic and obtrusive he wills himself to appear, the more concrete and absorbing is his performance. His expertly serio-comic, unexaggerated ne'er-do-well, Bernie LaPlante in Hero suggested an older, more robust and slightly cleaner Ratso Rizzo, while one of his least remarked but most authentic performances surfaced in Mad City. His has-been TV reporter, carelessly exploiting the desperation of John Travolta's hostage-taking loser, exemplifies that Hoffman is now at his best as shrewdly observed, ignoble and self-absorbed men under explicitly contemporary pressures, characters he nails with his dogged and dispassionate performances. Undertaken as an inexpensive, quickly-filmed wheeze with Levinson, back-to-back with their labors on the bloated sci-fi thriller Sphere , the actor's mischievous impersonation of an arrogant, self-glorifying Hollywood hack producer in Wag the Dog , staging a phony war for his own ends but blind to the bigger picture and his own ultimate expendability, offered the unique pleasure of a toe-to-toe with Robert de Niro, another giant whose indifference to appearing charming made their teaming irresistibly funny and interesting.
Dustin Hoffman has remained a star of substance and weight for 33 years in the face of changing trends and it is not difficult to see why. His command of himself is absolute, his presence comfortingly familiar (cf. Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, the advantage of whose glamour he never had), his skills and intelligence married to the right role make him an actor rather than a movie star. Whatever his identifiable shortcomings, he always works hard in the attempt to deliver a considered performance and, best of all, while he might sometimes be predictable, he is never boring.
—Alan Dale, updated by Robyn Karney