Born August 8, 1937, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Harvey (a set designer, prop supervisor, and furniture designer) and Lillian Hoffman; married Anne Byrne (a ballerina), May 4, 1969 (divorced, October 6, 1980); married Lisa Gottsegen (an attorney), October 21, 1980; children: Karina (stepchild; from first marriage), Jenny (from first marriage); Jacob, Rebecca, Max, Alexandra (from second marriage). Education: Attended Santa Monica City College; studied music at Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Arts; studied acting at Pasadena Playhouse, 1958, and with Barney Brown, Lee Strasberg, and Lonny Chapman.
Addresses: Contact—540 Madison Ave., Ste. 2700, New York, NY 10022; 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Actor in films, including: Tiger Makes Out, 1967; The Graduate, 1967; Midnight Cowboy, 1969; John and Mary, 1969; Little Big Man, 1970; Straw Dogs, 1971; Lenny, 1974; All the President's Men, 1976; Straight Times, 1978; Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Tootsie, 1982; Ishtar, 1987; Rain Man, 1988; Family Business, 1989; Dick Tracy, 1990; Billy Bathgate, 1991; Hook, 1991; Hero, 1992; Outbreak, 1995; American Buffalo, 1996; Sleepers, 1996; Wag the Dog, 1997; Sphere, 1998; Moonlight Mile, 2002; Confidence, 2003; Runaway Jury, 2003; I (Heart) Huckabees, 2004; Finding Neverland, 2004; Meet the Fockers, 2005; Racing Stripes, 2005. Producer of films, including: The Blouse Man, 1999. Stage appearances include: Yes Is For a Very Young Man, Sarah Lawrence College, 1960; A Cook for Mr.General, Broadway production, 1961; Endgame, Theatre Company of Boston, 1964; The Quare Fellow, Theatre Company of Boston, 1964; In the Jungle of Cities, Theatre Company of Boston, 1964; Harry, Noon and Night, American Place Theatre, New York City, 1965; The Exhaustion of Our Son's Love; Eh?; Jimmy Shine, 1968; Death of a Salesman, Chicago, IL, and Washington, D.C., then Broadhurst Theatre, New York City, 1984; Merchant of Venice, London and New York City, 1989. Stage work includes: assistant to the director, A View from the Bridge, Off-Broadway production, 1965; stage manager, The Subject Was Roses, Broadway production, 1965; director, Jimmy Shine, Broadway production, 1968; director, All Over Town, Broadway production, 1974. Television appearances include: Naked City, 1961; Marlo Thomas and Friends in Free to Be You and Me (special), 1974; Death of a Salesman (special), 1985; The Simpsons (voice), 1991. Executive producer of Death of a Salesman, 1985. Punch Productions, principal. Also worked as a psychiatric hospital attendant, waiter, dishwasher, typist, janitor, coatchecker, and toy salesperson at Macy's.
Awards: Obie Award for best actor, Village Voice, for The Exhaustion of Our Son's Love, 1966; Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award for performance for Eh?, 1967; Theatre World Award for Eh?, 1967; Golden Globe Award for most promising newcomer—male, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for The Graduate, 1967; BAFTA award for most promising newcomer, for The Graduate, 1968; BAFTA award for best actor, for both Midnight Cowboy and John and Mary, 1969; Drama Desk Award for outstanding performance, for Jimmy Shine, 1969; National Association of Theater Owners Star of the Year Award, 1976; New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actor, for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for best actor, for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Golden Globe Award for best actor in a motion picture (drama), Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Academy Award for best actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; National Society of Film Critics Award for best actor, for both Kramer vs. Kramer and Agatha; National Society of Film Critics Award for best actor, for Tootsie, 1982; Golden Globe Award, best actor in a motion picture (musical or comedy), Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Tootsie, 1982; BAFTA award for best actor, for Tootsie, 1983; Drama Desk Award for outstanding actor in a play, for Death of Salesman 1984; Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best actor in a play for Death of Salesman, 1984; Golden Globe Award for best actor in a television movie, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Death of a Salesman, 1985; Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or a special, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for Death of a Salesman, 1986; Academy Award for best actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for Rain Man, 1988; People's Choice Award for favorite dramatic movie actor, 1989; Breline Film Festival Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement, 1989; Honorary Associate of Arts degree, Santa Monica College, 1989; People's Choice Award for world's favorite movie actor, 1990; French Order of Arts and Letters, 1995; Venice Film Festival Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, 1996; Cecil B. DeMille Award, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, 1997; BAFTA Britannia Award, 1997; American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, 1999.
Though not a classically handsome leading man, Dustin Hoffman quickly became a major actor in Hollywood, appearing in many major films produced in the 1960s through early 2000s. Hoffman took roles in films both edgy and commercial, in all genres. He received numerous honors for his work, including several Academy Awards.
Born on August 8, 1937, in Los Angeles, California, Hoffman was the second son of Harvey and Lillian Hoffman. His father worked as a prop supervisor at the Columbia movie lot, and later moved into designing and selling furniture. Raised in Los Angeles with his elder brother Ron, Hoffman was attending Los Angeles High School when he became interested in acting. He told Leslie Bennetts of the New York Times, "A big reason I went into acting was social: it was to meet girls. I wasn't athletic, I was a very bad student, there wasn't anything I felt I could do. Acting was the first time in my life when I felt attractive, the first time I felt as though I knew what I was doing. I loved it."
After briefly attending Santa Monica City College and dropping out, Hoffman studied music at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Arts and acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He also studied acting with Lee Strasberg, Lonny Chapman, and Barney Brown. Hoffman moved from Los Angeles to New York City to further his career and become a stage character actor.
While auditioning for many stage roles, Hoffman held a number of other jobs to support himself. He worked as a janitor in a dance studio, coat checker, dishwasher, and sold toys at Macy's. Hoffman made his stage debut in 1960 in Yes Is for a Very Young Man at Sarah Lawrence College. The following year, he made his Broadway debut in A Cook for Mr. General. That same year, Hoffman had his television debut in an episode of Naked City.
For the first two-thirds of the 1960s, Hoffman concentrated on the stage, appearing in a number of productions in the Northeast. In 1964, he appeared in several productions as a member of the Theatre Company of Boston, including Endgame and In the Jungle of Cities. In New York City the following year, Hoffman had roles in Harry, Noon and Night at the American Place Theatre. Other prominent New York roles for Hoffman included The Exhaustion of Our Son's Love and Eh?.
Hoffman also ventured into stage work. He worked on two productions for director Ulu Grosbard, serving as his assistant on a 1965 production of A View from the Bridge and a stage manager for a production that same year of The Subject Was Roses. Hoffman went on to direct at least two Broadway productions, Jimmy Shine in 1968 and All Over Town in 1974.
While Hoffman found success on stage, film proved to be the medium that made him a star. After making his film debut in 1967's Tiger Makes Out, the actor shot to stardom with another film released that year, The Graduate. In the film, which became a classic, Hoffman played 21-year-old Benjamin Brad-dock, a confused young man who is unsure of his future. His performance garnered him an Academy Award nomination and made him a leading man in film despite his short stature and lack of marquee good looks.
Hoffman's next film role was very different, but also went on to become a classic in American cinema. In 1969, he played the physically challenged street hustler Ratso Rizzo in the controversial Midnight Cowboy, the first X-rated film to be released by a major studio. His supporting role also led to an Academy Award nomination for best actor, while the film itself won the best picture Oscar. The same year Midnight Cowboy was released, Hoffman married his first wife, ballerina Anne Byrne. The couple had two children, Karina, a daughter from Byrne's first marriage whom Hoffman adopted, and Jenny.
As a film actor, Hoffman repeatedly took on challenging, complex roles, though not all of his films were hits. The 1969 film John and Mary focused on contemporary courtship, while 1970's Little Big Man was a western. In 1971, Hoffman also appeared in Straw Dogs as a mathematician who embraces violent solutions to attacks on his home. Seven years later, he played a committed criminal in Straight Time.
Hoffman also appeared in more acclaimed films in the 1970s. He received his third Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of comedian Lenny Bruce in 1974's Lenny. Hoffman scored another hit with 1976's All the President's Men. He played Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein in the drama about the men who helped reveal the Watergate scandal earlier in the decade.
Hoffman continued his reign at the box office with the 1979 hit Kramer vs. Kramer. Hoffman played Ted Kramer, an advertising executive with no real connections with his son or wife, played by Meryl Streep, until she walks out on him and their son. Hoffman's character is forced to raise his son alone. Hoffman's portrayal of Kramer won the actor his first Academy Award.
While filming Kramer vs. Kramer, Hoffman's own marriage was falling apart, something he drew on emotionally for the role. He divorced his first wife in 1980, and re-married in October of that year. Hoffman's second wife was Lisa Gottsegen, an attorney, and the couple went on to have four children: Jacob, Rebecca, Max, and Alexandra.
After Kramer vs. Kramer, Hoffman did not appear in another film for three years. When he returned to acting, he took on another unusual role. In the comedy Tootsie, Hoffman played an underemployed actor named Michael Dorsey. Because Dorsey has problems finding roles, he decides to dress as a woman to try out for a soap opera. The woman he creates, a middle-aged Southern actress named Dorothy Michaels, gets the role in the soap and becomes an icon, but the actor playing her falls for a co-star on the soap, played by Jessica Lange.
While Tootsie was popular with both critics and audiences, filming had not gone smoothly. Hoffman had a hand in developing the script, but was reportedly difficult on the set. He and director Sydney Pollack often clashed. However, Hoffman was proud of the product and attached to the characters he played. He told Leslie Bennetts of New York Times, "I really liked her. I started to feel about her the way I had never felt about a character before. She made me very emotional, very emotional. I still haven't understood it completely."
Though Hoffman had a solid film career, he never forgot his love of the stage. Throughout his career, he continued to appear in stage roles. One role he had coveted for many years was that of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman which he got to play in 1984 in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City to many positive notices. The production was taped for a television special in 1985. In 1989, Hoffman played Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in London and New York City.
Hoffman occasionally picked some unsuccessful projects. In 1987, he had a co-starring role with Warren Beatty in Ishtar, one of the worst film failures of all time. Shot in Morocco and New York City, the film focused on Hoffman and Beatty's characters, two failing singer-songwriters who have to get to Morocco to get work. The film went over budget, and at the time, was the most expensive comedy ever made with a $50 million price tag. After filming, there were many delays before it was finally released. Ishtar had to gross $100 million just to break even, but did not come close. The film opened to horrible reviews, and completely failed with critics and film audiences.
Hoffman was able to able to bounce back with his next role, autistic savant Raymond Babbitt in 1988's Rain Man. In this challenging role, Hoffman's character is kidnapped from his institution by his younger adult brother Charlie, played by Tom Cruise, so that he can get his hands on their father's estate from his brother's caretakers. Unlike Ishtar, Rain Man had critical and box office acclaim. Hoffman won an Academy Award for his performance.
After Rain Man, Hoffman did not have much box office success in the early 1990s. While his films had varying degrees of merit, they just did not bring in audiences. For example, Hoffman played the title character in 1991's Billy Bathgate, which was a huge box office failure. While 1991's Hook, directed by Steven Spielberg, did not fail as badly, another film released the next year flopped completely. In Hero, Hoffman played criminal Bernie LaPlanta who saves a number of passengers from a burning plane, risking his life, but does not receive acclaim for what he did because he allowed an imposter to take the credit.
By the mid-1990s, Hoffman began appearing in hits again. He played the lead in the drama Outbreak in 1995. Hoffman played Colonel Sam Daniels, a doctor who helps save the world from an infectious disease. He also appeared in quality films like American Buffalo, playing the thief in this adaptation of the David Mamet play.
The late 1990s and early 2000s were a time of continued success for Hoffman. At the end of the 1990s, he had starred in three films directed by Barry Levinson. Hoffman played a lawyer with a drug problem in 1996's Sleepers. In 1997's Wag the Dog, Hoffman played a Hollywood producer who creates a fake war to help make Americans pay less attention to a sex scandal involving their president. Hoffman and the film received many great reviews, with Hoffman being considered one of the best parts of the film. He also nominated for another Academy Award. Hoffman's last film with Levinson was Sphere, playing a scientist working under water.
Hoffman's roles in the early 2000s continued to be varied and interesting. In 2002's Moonlight Mile, he played the father of an adult daughter who dies, and he and his wife find comfort in their relationship with her fiancé. The following year, Hoffman appeared in Runaway Jury, based on a novel by John Grisham. Hoffman played a Southern lawyer named Wendall Rohr. In 2004, Hoffman had one of the lead roles in I (Heart) Huckabees, as part of an existential detective duo with his film wife played by Lily Tomlin.
Some of Hoffman's later films were sizable hits. He had a supporting role in 2004's Finding Neverland, which starred Johnny Depp as playwright J.M. Barrie; Hoffman played the financier of his plays. Hoffman had a bigger hit in the 2005 comedy Meet the Fockers. In the sequel to 2000's Meet the Parents, Hoffman played the father of Greg (Gaylord) Focker, with Barbra Streisand as his film wife. That same year, Hoffman provided the voice of Tucker, a Shetland pony, in the family comedy Racing Stripes.
Of his drive as an actor and person, Hoffman told Bernard Weinraub of New York Times, "I've had to reinvent myself every day. I wasn't in a club in high school, I was never in the 'in' group, and in a way that's stuck with me . I've always felt like the underdog, right from the get-go, ever since even The Graduate. I really believed that was a fluke and I refused to believe I had arrived. And in a way I've been hanging on by my fingertips for the whole ride."
Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, Inc., 2005.
Boston Globe, December 11, 1988, p. B1.
Entertainment Weekly, February 4, 2005, pp. 62-68.
Independent (London, England), January 28, 2005, pp. 8-9.
Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2004, p. E14.
New York Times, December 19, 1982, sec. 2, p. 1; December 21, 1982, p. C11; March 18, 1984, sec. 6, p. 37; December 10, 1989, sec. 2, p. 1; September 27, 1992, sec. 2, p. 13; February 17, 1998, p. E1. People, May 25, 1987, p. 102.
St. Petersburg Times (Florida), December 16, 1988, p. 19.
Time, June 19, 1989, p. 56.
Vanity Fair, March 2005, p. 312.
Washington Post, December 19, 1979, p. C1.
Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 8 August 1937. Education: 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. Family: Married 1) Anne Byrne, 1969 (divorced), two daughters; 2) Lisa Gottsegen, 1980, two sons, two daughters. Career: 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 his film Tootsie; 1984—starring role in New York stage version of Death of a Salesman; 1989—as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, London. Awards: Most Promising Newcomer, British Academy, Golden Globe Award, for The Graduate, 1968; Best Actor, British Academy, for Midnight Cowboy and John and Mary, 1969; National Society of Film Critics Award, for Agatha, 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, for Tootsie, 1983; British Academy Award, for Tootsie, 1984; Emmy Award, for Outstanding Lead Actor in miniseries or special, for Death of a Salesman, and Golden Globe Award, 1986; Best Actor Academy Award, and Golden Bear, Berlin Festival, for Rain Man, 1988; Golden Globe Award, for Rain Man, 1989; Career Golden Lion Award, Venice Film Festival, 1996; Cecil B. DeMille Award, 1997; Lifetime Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1999. Address: 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
HOFFMAN, DUSTIN (1937– ), U.S. actor. Born in Los Angeles, California, his role in The Graduate (1967), his first motion picture performance, was considered the year's most significant screen debut. Hoffman was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for The Graduate, as well as for subsequent films Midnight Cowboy (1969), Lenny (as Lenny Bruce, 1974), Tootsie (1982), and Wag the Dog (1997). Hoffman won Best Actor Oscars, as well as Golden Globe Awards, for his performances in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Rain Man (1988). His other films include Little Big Man (1970), Straw Dogs (1971), Papillon (1973), All the President's Men (as Carl Bernstein, 1976), Marathon Man (1976), Straight Time (1978), Agatha (1979), Ishtar (1987), Family Business (1989), Billy Bathgate (as Dutch Schultz, 1991), Hook (1991), Hero (1992), Outbreak (1995), Sphere (1998), Moonlight Mile (2002), Finding Neverland (2004), I Heart Huckabees (2004), Meet the Fockers (2004), and The Lost City (as Meyer Lansky, 2005).
Among his many other awards and nominations, Hoffman won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actor for his portrayal of Willy Loman in the 1985 tv movie Death of a Salesman. In 1997 he won the Golden Globe's Cecil B. DeMille Award for his outstanding contribution to the entertainment field.
Hoffman was entered into The Guinness Book of World Records under the heading "Greatest Age Span Portrayed by a Movie Actor" for his role in Little Big Man, where he played the character Jack Crabb from age 17 to age 121.
Also successful on the Broadway stage, Hoffman performed in such plays as The Subject Was Roses (1964), Jimmy Shine (1969), Death of a Salesman (1984), and The Merchant of Venice (as Shylock, 1990), for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor.
[Jonathan Licht /
Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]