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“Before there was ‘Lola’ there was ‘Tootsie!’” Billy Porter tweeted last week as a birthday toast to actor Dustin Hoffman. Porter won a Tony Award this year for his work playing Lola in Kinky Boots, the hit musical co-written by Harvey Fierstein, who of course won one of his several Tonys for playing Edna Turnblad in 2002’s Hairspray.
But before Lola and Edna — and for that matter, before Nathan Lane’s Starina/Mrs. Coleman in 1996’s The Birdcage, and Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993 — there was Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie. The 1982 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman really was one of the first hit American films to feature a quote-unquote drag queen. Hoffman is said to have modeled his portrayal after that classic 1978 French film La Cage Aux Folles — which of course later begat The Birdcage, as well as the same-named Broadway musical for which Fierstein won another Tony, this time for his book, or script.
Tonight, Aug. 12, the 15th annual Screen on the Green, the film screening series on the National Mall presented by HBO and Comcast, ends its month-long run with Tootsie. In the film Hoffman’s out-of-work character assumes a woman’s identity in an effort to find new work as an actor. In the process he finds new love, not to mention a newfound appreciation for women in our sexist society.
And that appreciation rubbed off on Hoffman, too. Because of our culture’s serious gender discrimination, Hoffman said in a recent thoughtful interview, he’s always thought of the flick as a drama and not a comedy.
Nonetheless, the film is funny: In fact, the American Film Institute has ranked Tootsie as the “second funniest film of all time” (behind only 1959’s Some Like It Hot). No doubt there’ll be laughs all around at tonight’s free screening, which starts at sunset (around 8:30 p.m.) on the Mall between 7th and 12th Streets NW.