Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jessica Lange and TOOTSIE

"That is one nutty hospital."  ~Bill Murray as Jeff, Michael Dorsey's best friend & roommate, watching Michael as "Dorothy" improvise on live TV in TOOTSIE
This 1982 holds a special place in my heart.  I was a freshman in my professional TV career, new at the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee when it came out.  I flew to New York City to participate in the promotional junket for the film.  Junkets are usually a busy weekend of back-to-back press interviews with movie cast members.  If the movies are really big with stars to match, domestic and foreign press are sitting in hotel hallways, waiting to enter suites and chat with the stars for a certain number of minutes.  Junkets are a great boon to entertainment reporters not located in showbiz hotspots like NYC, LA and Chicago.  My interview of Jessica Lange was one of the first celebrity interviews I did to air nationally.  It played on a popular 1980s show called PM Magazine.  Jessica would make Oscar history with her performance as Julie, the actress who grows from basically being a lovely daytime TV sex object into strong, confident actress and an independent woman.

I love her journey as an actor.  It's inspirational to me.  I remember movie critics practically making a joke of Lange because of her film debut in the first remake of King Kong (1976).  That movie was a bomb but it certainly wasn't her fault.  Fay Wray had better material.  But critics like Gene Shalit and Michael Medved dismissed Jessica Lange as merely being another fashion model who thought she could act.  Ms. Lange won the 1982 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Tootsie.  Not only that.  She was the first woman since  1942's Teresa Wright, to be nominated in two acting categories in the same year.  Lange was also a 1982 Best Actress contender for her riveting work as the late, turbulent actress Frances Farmer in Frances.  She went on to win a second Academy Award.  The other was a Best Actress victory for playing the free-spirited, loving and emotionally unstable Army wife opposite Tommy Lee Jones in 1994's Blue Sky.
To these accomplishments, we say "Work it, Diva!!!"

Jessica Lange definitely got the last laugh.
In Tootsie, Julie has a bumpy encounter with Michael Dorsey at a party.  She's been putting up with lot of macho bullshit from her director boyfriend.  Dorsey makes an innocent but ill-timed pass at her.  She is so not in the mood for any male hormones.

Julie throws her drink in his face.

Jessica Lange did that in real-life to an actor who was making a not-so-innocent pass at her.  She threw a drink in the face of actor/director/choreographer Bob Fosse.  Fosse directed Lange in 1979's All That Jazz.  I got that item out of her during my interview that aired on national TV.  Here's another tidbit for you that wasn't in the interview.  You know who seriously wanted the role that Lange got in Tootsie?  Suzanne Somers.  She was fresh off years of Three's Company and felt that playing Julie in Sydney Pollack's comedy would distance her from that sitcom image.

When Tootsie was made, daytime dramas (soap operas) were really hot at the time.  Hot the way reality shows are now.  I worked for WISN and, being an ABC affiliate, the station benefitted greatly from airing that daytime ratings champion, General Hospital.  Also, sexual attitudes, roles and images were changing.  You saw this social evolution reflected in other films of that year -- Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews, The World According to Garp with John Lithgow's character and Michael Ontkean as the suburban husband coming out of the closet in Making Love.  Pollack's comedy had its finger on the pulse of the moment.  Another Tootsie cast member would go on to accept a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.  Geena Davis has a bit part as one of the soap opera regulars.
She'd win Best Supporting Actress for 1988's The Accidental Tourist.  Ten years after being a bit player opposite Hoffman in Tootsie, Geena was his leading lady in Hero.
Tootsie has a handful of good actors handling the supporting role and bit parts.  There's Teri Garr, Charles Durning,  Lynne Thigpen before kids knew her as The Chief on PBS' Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, future Broadway star Christine Ebersole is in the opening birthday party scene and Estelle Getty is a dancing extra in a nightclub scene.  George Gaynes, as the clueless older soap star, thinks he's fallen in love with "Dorothy."  He serenades her outside her apartment building one night.  If you've heard the original Broadway cast album of Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell in the hit musical version of her 1942 hit comedy movie, My Sister Eileen, you've heard him sing before Tootsie.  George Gaynes was Rosalind Russell's leading man in Wonderful Town.  He sang Comden & Green's "What A Waste," "A Quiet Girl" and "It's Love."

If you're a 20 or early 30s-something actress and seeking a good monologue to do in class or maybe auditions, here's a suggestion:  Julie and "Dorothy" are having girl talk as they share a room at her dad's country house for the weekend.  Julie talks about her late mother and about flowers on the wallpaper she picked out when she was a little girl.  It's about disappointments in life -- and about trying to have hope even though it often seems as though none of your innermost dreams will ever come true.

It's a very poignant, revealing monologue.  Beautifully written and delivered.

There's a touch of the Marilyn Monroe in Jessica Lange's Blue Sky turn.  The Monroe at the stage when she gave the then-unappreciated, solid dramatic performance in The Misfits.  During her lifetime, Marilyn Monroe was a superstar but Hollywood and critics never really gave her respect for her acting skills.  She was one of the screen's best comic actresses.  Brilliant timing.  She mostly made headlines for being a sex symbol.  The raves for Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot went to the men -- director Billy Wilder, actors Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.  Lemmon got a Best Actor Oscar nomination for it.  Watch Some Like It Hot and try to imagine it without Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane.
If Jessica Lange won Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie, Marilyn should've gotten a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Some Like It Hot.  That's my opinion.

I wonder if any of those male movie critics who considered Jessica Lange a no-talent in their reviews of 1976's King Kong ever wrote or said "I was wrong" after she won her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of 1982?  Six Oscar nominations and two Oscar wins to her credit.  Today she's the Emmy-winning star of TV's anthology series, American Horror Story.  The new season of that weekly fright night will have a coven theme.  Fellow Oscar-winner and longtime friend Kathy Bates will play an absolute witch of a character.  Jessica Lange will be a "glamour cat" in Season 3.  Said Lange at a Paley Center media event last night saluting the show, "I don't know what a 'glamour cat' is, but I'm excited."

The fashion model is now a show biz role model for women and men. Enjoy Tootsie.


  1. I watched TOOTSIE again last night on TCM. I had not seen it since my days as a young boy growing up. It was my aunt's favorite movie and she introduced it to me. Robert Osbourne was right at the beginning of THE ESSENTIALS last night - if you haven't seen a movie in over 10 years, you are basically watching it again for the first time. It is a terrific comedy, isn't it? As good as it gets. Jessica Lange is one of my favorite actresses ever. She blew my socks off with her harrowing performance in the tragic, true-life story of young Hollywood starlet Frances Farmer. It's a performance that I would probably rank as one of the 10 greatest female film performances of all time. I think it's that good. Another one of my favorite Lange films is SWEET DREAMS, for which she received one of her 6 Oscar nominations. I guess I am a little biased, too, towards SWEET DREAMS since she portrays my favorite female singer of all time, Patsy Cline. I was also saddened and shocked when I heard of the news of director Sydney Pollack passing away. He was one of the top film directors working, don't you agree? I miss him a lot.

  2. SWEET DREAMS -- in my Top 5 Jessica Lange performances. I attended a preview screening of the film so I could review it. After she performed the song "Crazy" as Patsy Cline, the whole audience broke into applause. Did you ever see Frances Farmer in the movie COME AND GET IT co-starring Joel McCrea? Lange's resemblance to Farmer was uncanny. As for Pollack, news of his death came as a shock to me. I had no idea he was ailing. He was constantly interesting -- as a director and a supporting actor. By the way, what Robert Osborne said about The Russian Tea Room was so accurate. TOOTSIE so much reflects the New York I knew and loved when I moved there in 1985.

  3. I have not seen COME AND GET IT yet. I hope TCM devotes an evening of her films so more people, like myself, can become more familiar with her work. Farmer was featured on a television show called HOLLYWOOD BABYLON that was hosted by actor Tony Curtis. The show was essentially a gossip show which focused on some of the scandals and tragic stories involving Hollywood stars from the silent era to the 1950's. That show, plus the movie with Jessica Lange, was when I first heard of Farmer.


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