Nationality: American. Born: Richard Stephan Dreyfuss in Brooklyn, New York, 29 October 1947. Education: Beverly Hills High School; enrolled briefly at San Fernando State College, California. Military Service: 1967–69—conscientious objector: alternative service as file clerk at Los Angeles County General Hospital. Family: Married Jeramie Rain (Susan Davis) (divorced), two sons, one daughter. Career: First stage appearance at age 10 playing Theodor Herzl at West Side Jewish Center; mid-1960s—while high school student acted at Gallery Theatre, Los Angeles; 1964–65—in TV series Karen; 1966—joined The Session, an improvisational comedy group working in San Francisco; late 1960s—acted occasionally on TV; 1969—first Broadway appearance in But Seriously; 1969–70—with stage company New Theater for Now, Los Angeles; 1971—in several off-Broadway shows, New York; 1972—with Center Theater Group, Los Angeles; toured in national company of The Time of Your Life with Henry Fonda; 1973—appearance in American Graffiti launched screen career; 1984—in Mark Medoff's play The Hands of Its Enemy in Los Angeles; 1992—on Broadway in Death and the Maiden. Awards: Best Actor Academy Award and Best Actor, British Academy, for The Goodbye Girl, 1977. Address: c/o Richard Grant and Associates, 8500 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 520, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
The Graduate (Nichols) (bit role as Berkeley student); Valley of the Dolls (Robson) (bit role)
The Young Runaways (Dreifuss) (as Terry); Hello Down There (Sub-A-Dub-Dub) (Arnold) (as Harold Webster)
Two for the Money (Kowalski—for TV)
Dillinger (Milius) (as Baby Face Nelson); American Graffiti (Lucas) (as Curt Henderson)
The Second Coming of Suzanne (Barry) (as Clavius); The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Kotcheff) (title role)
Jaws (Spielberg) (as Matt Hooper); Inserts (Byrum) (as Boy Wonder, + assoc pr)
Victory at Entebbe (Chomsky—for TV) (as Col. Netanyahu)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg) (as Roy Neary); The Goodbye Girl (Ross) (as Elliott Garfield)
The Big Fix (Kagan) (as Moses Wine, + co-pr)
The Competition (Oliansky) (as Paul Dietrich)
Whose Life Is It Anyway? (Badham) (as Ken Harrison); Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (Valley of the Dolls) (Grauman—for TV)
SPFX 1140 (Balaban)
The Buddy System (Glenn Jordan) (as Joe)
Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Mazursky) (as Dave Whiteman); Stand by Me (Rob Reiner) (as The Writer)
Stakeout (Badham) (as Chris Leece); Tin Men (Levinson) (as Bill "BB" Babowsky); Nuts (Ritt) (as Aaron Levinsky); Funny, You Don't Look 200 (Michener) (presenter, + sc, pr)
Moon over Parador (Mazursky) (as Jack Noah)
Let It Ride (Pytka) (as Jay Trotter); Always (Spielberg) (as Pete Sandich)
Postcards from the Edge (Nichols) (as Dr. Frankenthal)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Stoppard) (as The Player); Once Around (Hallstrom) (as Sam Sharpe); What about Bob? (Oz) (as Dr. Leo Marvin); Prisoner of Honor (Russell—for TV) (as George Piquart, + exec pr)
Lincoln (Kunhardt—TV doc) (as voice of William T. Sherman)
Lost in Yonkers (Coolidge) (as Louie); Another Stakeout (Badham) (as Chris Leece)
Silent Fall (Beresford) (as Jake Reiner)
The Last Word (Spiridakis—for TV) (as Larry); The American President (Rob Reiner) (as Sen. Bob Rumson)
Mr. Holland's Opus (Herek) (as Glenn Holland); Night Falls on Manhattan; James and the Giant Peach (Selick) (as voice of the Centipede)
Krippendorf's Tribe (Holland) (as James Krippendorf)
Lansky (McNaughton—for TV) (as Meyer Lansky)
The Crew (Dinner) (as Bobby Bartellemeo); Fail Safe (Frears—for TV) (as President); The Old Man who Read Love Stories (de Heer)
Cletis Tout (Ver Weil)
Quiz Show (Redford) (exec pr)
By DREYFUSS: book—
The Two Georges (science fiction), with Harry Turtledove, New York, 1996.
By DREYFUSS: articles—
"Richard Dreyfuss . . . So Much More Than Duddy," interview with L. Hartt, in Cinema Canada (Montreal), June-July 1974.
Interview with Judy Klemesrud, in New York Times, 27 October 1974.
Hunter, Allan, "Rich Time," in Films and Filming (London), March 1988.
"Richard Dreyfuss," interview with Claudia Dreifus, in Progressive (Madison, Wisconsin), May 1993.
"Magical History Tour," interview with Tom Charity in Time Out (London), 1 May 1996.
On DREYFUSS: articles—
Rogers, Michael, in Rolling Stone (Boulder, Colorado), 31 July 1975.
Current Biography 1976, New York, 1976.
Gottlieb, Carl, "Richard Dreyfuss: Forceful Intellect," in Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book, edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
Photoplay (London), April 1982.
Diehl, Digby, "Richard Dreyfuss: Fast, Funny, . . . and Finally, Fearless," in Cosmopolitan, November 1990.
Elia, M., "Richard Dreyfuss," in Sequences, June 1991.
Stars (BE), Autumn 1993.
* * *
Richard Dreyfuss's great success as a film actor can be attributed to a basic and archetypal need he fulfills in society. He is the representative of the little guy, who lives out the fantasies of the everyman for adventure, love, and heroic action. Dreyfuss does not have movie-star good looks—he is short, chunky, and appealing rather than handsome—yet he makes it possible to believe that the dreams of the ordinary person are accessible and even possible.
Dreyfuss began his career in films, apart from bit or insignificant parts, as Baby Face Nelson in John Milius's low-budget version of Dillinger (1973), in which he impressively erupted with psychotic energy and rage. But it was his next part, as the thoughtful, nerdy Curt in the surprise hit American Graffiti, filmed the same year and directed by George Lucas, that boosted Dreyfuss to international prominence. His affiliation with Lucas also initiated Dreyfuss's association with the "New Hollywood," or "The Movie Brats," most especially with Steven Spielberg, with whom Dreyfuss achieved his most memorable and enduring fame. The year following Graffiti, Dreyfuss starred in the Canadian/U.S. co-production of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, in which he gives an exuberant and desperate portrait of Mordecai Richler's eponymous Montreal hustler. The following year, Dreyfuss consolidated his international success, starring as ichthyologist Matt Hooper in Spielberg's instant classic, Jaws. Much of the fun in Jaws is generated by witnessing smart-ass, university-trained, small-statured Dreyfuss more than holds his own against the manly "life-is-my-teacher" Robert Shaw. 1977 is perhaps the apogee of what might roughly be called the first part of Dreyfuss's professional life. In that year he portrayed Roy Neary, the ordinary guy, consumed with trying to articulate his otherworldly experiences in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This film perfectly captures the qualities Dreyfuss embodied at this stage of his career. When Neary builds and rebuilds the site of his alien encounter first with mashed potatoes, then with dirt and foliage from his landscaped garden—to the astonishment and then distress of his family—Dreyfuss is the personification of obsession, intensity, and concentration. The same year, Dreyfuss won an Academy Award for his role as Elliott, the determined actor in the Neil Simon-scripted The Goodbye Girl. Again he gets to play a character who seeks to fulfill his aspirations against all obstacles and naysayers. The Big Fix saw Dreyfuss not only starring, but also co-producing the film, his first foray into producing a major industry film. The roles Dreyfuss played in the 1970s—and into the early 1980s, with such films as The Competition and Whose Life Is it Anyway?—are remarkable for the actor's almost manic energy, a driven quality leavened by copious quantities of charisma and talent.
The early to mid-1980s saw Dreyfuss sidelined by personal crises, some of which may have accounted for his surplus of energy. After resolving these difficulties, Dreyfuss starred in 1986 in what was considered his comeback role, as coat hanger manufacturer Dave Whiteman in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, a lighthearted, by far less interesting remake of Jean Renoir's classic Boudu sauvé des eaux. During this period, in such films as Stakeout, Nuts, and Tin Men, one witnesses a more mature, contemplative actor. Although still vigorous, Dreyfuss had by now lost some of his trademark intensity. While a strong sense of commitment and truth was present in earlier works, it was sometimes masked by a frenetic level of intensity. Dreyfuss is still capable of immense passion, as in his characterization of Pete, the doomed aviator, in Spielberg's unjustly maligned 1989 film Always. It is not coincidental that this film was a remake of A Guy Named Joe, which starred Dreyfuss's idol, Spencer Tracy. Like Tracy, Dreyfuss displays breezy charm as well as no-nonsense, no frills honesty. In one of the film's key scenes, the dead Pete, returned temporarily to earth as a ghost, watches his beloved and bereaved, Holly Hunter, as she begins to let go of Pete's memory and fall in love again. The emotion Dreyfuss conveys in this scene as he must watch the lovers, but do and say nothing, is deeply touching and sorrowful, in a way perhaps unavailable to Dreyfuss before.
1991 was another exceptional year for Dreyfuss, allowing him to display a full range of talents in such diverse items as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, where he plays the declaiming Player King; Once Around, in his role as the incredibly boorish, but ultimately sympathetic Sam Sharpe (who once again woos Holly Hunter); the beleaguered psychiatrist pestered by patient Bill Murray in What about Bob?; and a lawyer in the infamous Dreyfus case, in Prisoner of Honor, yet another Ken Russell misfire, executive-produced by the actor. Lately, Dreyfuss has divided his abilities among producing projects (with his own company, Dreyfuss-James), acting in films such as Silent Fall and Mr. Holland's Opus, and engaging in a host of liberal political causes.