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16 Fun Facts About Tootsie

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In the Oscar-winning 1982 film Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman portrayed Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor so determined to prove his worth as an artist that he disguises himself as a woman named Dorothy Michaels in order to win a part on the soap opera Southwest General, where he quickly becomes a fan favorite character while falling for his co-star, Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange). Here are some facts about the critically acclaimed movie that will make you see that nutty hospital in a new light.

1. IT WAS A LONG, LONG, LONG DEVELOPMENT PROCESS.

Originally written as a play, Don McGuire wrote the screenplay Would I Lie to You?, about a male actor who dresses like a woman to find work. Actor-comedian Buddy Hackett found out about it in 1978 and wanted to play the agent. Hackett convinced super-producer Robert Evans’ brother, Charles, to purchase the rights to an 18-month option for $35,000.

Evans hired Bob Kaufman and director Dick Richards to do a rewrite in 1979, with George Hamilton in mind to star. At the same time, Dustin Hoffman and playwright Murray Schisgal were working on a script about a male tennis player who dresses as a woman to help him win, inspired by tennis pro Renée Richards, who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1975. Hoffman ended up hearing about Evans and Kaufman’s version and had Schisgal work on that script instead, with Evans still a producer, and Hamilton dropping out.

Director Sydney Pollack brought in Oscar-nominated writer Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H; Oh, God!) to rewrite it. Gelbart said he came up with the central theme of Tootsie, which is that Michael Dorsey becomes a better man for having been a woman. (Pollack claimed he led Gelbart to that theme, saying he told him, “If in 1982 a man puts on a dress, he'd better become a better man for it.”)

2. ELAINE MAY WAS ONE OF THE MANY WRITERS WHO DIDN’T RECEIVE ANY OFFICIAL CREDIT.

Gelbart and Schisgal were the credited screenwriters, based off of a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart. However, Barry Levinson, Valerie Curtin, Robert Garland, and Elaine May also worked on the script. May had chosen to remain anonymous, despite creating Bill Murray’s character, Dorsey’s roommate and playwright Jeff Slater, as well as much of Sandy Lester (Teri Garr)’s dialogue.

3. DICK RICHARDS AND HAL ASHBY WERE BOTH SET TO DIRECT.

After Dick Richards (Farewell, My Lovely) left over “creative differences,” Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) was forced to drop out because he was still working on his movie Lookin’ To Get Out (1982). Sydney Pollack agreed to direct the film, but only if he had final cut.

4. SYNDEY POLLACK INITIALLY TURNED THE GIG DOWN.

Pollack read the script for Tootsie and thought it was a “one-joke movie.” After liking a Gelbart version enough to take the job, he still cut a lot of the script’s anatomy and bathroom jokes. Around the time of the film's release, Pollack told The New York Times that, ''If Dustin had made the movie himself, he would have made a more outrageous movie. It might have been just as good, but it would have been very different. I suppose I just have more Victorian tastes than Dustin."

5. TOOTSIE WAS A NICKNAME GIVEN TO DUSTIN HOFFMAN BY HIS MOTHER.

Lillian Hoffman would throw little Dustin into the air and say, “How’s my tootsie wootsie?” Dustin called his mother “the heart” of the movie, and she looked forward to seeing it. Sadly, she suffered a fatal stroke while the film was still in pre-production.

6. ACCORDING TO HOFFMAN’S CONTRACT, HE WOULD NOT DO THE MOVIE IF DOROTHY’S MAKEUP WASN’T CONVINCING ENOUGH.

A blond wig was considered “cheap” and thus discarded. Costumes were made to hide his Adam’s apple. Face lifts—skin pullers fastened to the scalp—were applied. ''We shaved his legs, his arms and the backs of his fingers," Pollack told The New York Times, and he wore latex-base makeup, which he eventually became allergic to, resulting in welts and pimples.

7. MERYL STREEP WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PEOPLE TO HEAR DOROTHY'S SOUTHERN ACCENT.

When it came to Dorothy’s voice, after using an oscilloscope at Columbia University to get his voice to sync with a woman’s, Hoffman decided to use a Southern accent after failing to convince Pollack that he should use a French one. Jasper, Alabama-born actress Polly Holliday (most famous for playing the tough-talking waitress Flo on Alice) helped Hoffman with the accent. To help practice, Hoffman and Holliday performed A Streetcar Named Desire, with Meryl Streep as their sole audience member, at Hoffman's Manhattan duplex. Hoffman played Blanche, and Holliday played Stella.

8. HOFFMAN DECEIVED OTHER ACTORS DRESSED AS DOROTHY.

He fooled actor José Ferrer on an elevator, surprising him with what People magazine described as "an indecent proposal.” (Hoffman got into further detail about this on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2008.) He also tricked his daughter Jenna’s schoolteacher, and was ignored by his friend and fellow actor Jon Voight.

9. HOFFMAN SENT FLOWERS TO POLLACK SO HE WOULD PLAY HIS AGENT.

Pollack hadn’t acted in about 20 years, but Hoffman wanted his director to play the part of agent George Fields. So he sent Pollack flowers with a note signed, "Love, Dorothy."

10. POLLACK AND HOFFMAN HAD LOUD DISAGREEMENTS THROUGHOUT PRODUCTION.

The two would go to each other’s trailers, scream at one another, and then do it Pollack's way (according to the late director). They had their biggest arguments on Mondays, because they had each separately been working on the script over the weekend.

11. JESSICA LANGE NEEDED CONVINCING TO TAKE THE ROLE OF JULIE.

Pollack considered casting Lange as Julie after his daughter saw her in King Kong (1976). Lange hesitated before agreeing to the part; she had just portrayed Frances Farmer in Frances (1982) and wasn’t sure if she wanted to follow it by playing “some frothy, ditzy character.” Lange received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Frances in 1983—the same year she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Tootsie.

12. TERI GARR WAS ALSO HESITANT TO SIGN ON FOR TOOTSIE.

Teri Garr was hesitant to play Sandy after playing one of the leads in Frances Ford Coppola’s musical film One From the Heart (1982), until Pollack told her they were going to make Tootsie funny, and assured her they would use any ideas she had. Garr came up with Sandy asking why nobody came to check up on her in the bathroom after screaming for half an hour. "I thought that [Sandy] was caught between trying to have a career and trying to be a sexual woman, and it just doesn't work," Garr told The A.V. Club. "At least it didn't in that movie, because it was made by sexist men. I can say that now, because Sydney [Pollack] isn't with us anymore. [Laughs.] But he was a fine director."

13. IT WAS GEENA DAVIS’ FIRST MOVIE.

Davis landed the role of soap actress April Page despite never having auditioned for any other movie before. "But I didn't know you're only supposed to come on the days that you're working," Davis told The Frame. "And so I came every day for six weeks, because I thought that was just part of it. I'd get a chair and put it right next to Sydney Pollack and sit there all day."

14. BILL MURRAY INSISTED ON NOT BEING CREDITED.

Murray’s contract stipulated that he not be given any billing for the role, and Columbia agreed not to publicize his part in the film, because Murray thought it would be a “fun practical joke” to play. Hoffman insisted on casting Murray as his playwright roommate, even though Pollack was unfamiliar with his work. Murray improvised most of his lines.

15. IT WAS INITIALLY RATED R.

Pollack successfully appealed for a PG rating (the PG-13 rating didn’t come into existence until two years later).

16. ACCORDING TO DABNEY COLEMAN, POLLACK DIDN’T THINK VERY HIGHLY OF TOOTSIE.

When his star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014, Dabney Coleman recalled turning his friend Pollack down when approached about playing Michael/Dorothy’s agent, George Fields. Two weeks later, Pollack guilted him into playing Southwest General director Ron Carlisle by saying he would do the same for him. Coleman referred to the experience as “a pain in the a**,” and claimed that on his last day on set, Pollack said, “Thank God no one will see this piece of sh*t.” Coleman then conceded they were both wrong, calling Tootsie unquestionably one of the greatest comedies in the last 50 years.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
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Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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