Hoffman calls himself “a character actor,” but the term doesn’t allow for his impish charm or sexual magnetism. At 45, he still has the loopy grin and boyish appeal of his starring debut in The Graduate in 1967. He was 30 at the time, and had already won four awards for his off-Broadway work. On Manhattan streets, women now pursue Hoffman to pounce as well as praise, and Dustin is frankly delighted. “I’m a flirt,” he says. “I also have a lot of chauvinism, a lot of womanizing in my past. It’s hard for me to find a woman unattractive, unless she’s angry or down on herself.”
Indeed, for Hoffman, who grew up skinny, with acne, a big nose and fears of not being smart, social or athletic enough (“I was never looked at”), acting opened up a whole world of women. “I felt attractive for the first time,” he recalls. “Before that I was never able to be aggressive with a woman.”
His 1980 marriage to Lisa Gottsegen, now 28, limited the extent of his activities, but not the fun of playing the game. With women, Hoffman is an inveterate tease. He’ll tell a total stranger that he imagines she looks like “Goya’s Naked Maja without her clothes,” or another that the secret of a good marriage is “leaving the bathroom door open.” On the phone with Blanche Salter, Lisa’s 75-year-old grandmother, he asks: “Do you still have the fourth best body in your jogging class?” Later, addressing a luncheon for New York Women in Film, he scans the room and deadpans, “This is a perfect place to get laid.”Like I said--he was kind of an asshole. But back in those days, such behavior wasn't viewed through the same lens, the one that came into use mere weeks ago with the disclosure of Harvey Weinstein's swinish behavior. And it's through the same lens that chat show host John Oliver is viewing Hoffman's long-ago assholery--and, acting like a latter-day Savonarola, excoriating it to the cheers of the outraged throng:
[Oliver] was moderating a panel discussion after an anniversary screening of Dustin Hoffman’s 1997 comedy Wag the Dog in New York City last week—but the discussion quickly turned to the allegations of Hoffman’s sexual misconduct.
Hoffman is one of an increasing number of Hollywood stars who has been accused of sexual harassment following the Harvey Weinstein exposé. In an essay published by The Hollywood Reporter, writer Anna Graham Hunter alleges that Hoffman groped her and made inappropriate sexual comments when she was a 17-year-old intern on the set of Death of a Salesman in 1985.
The video of the panel discussion, published by The Washington Post, begins with Hoffman explaining that he was instructed not to “get into a dispute” and “lengthen the argument” following Graham Hunter’s story. Instead he says he was advised to simply apologize. Hoffman responded to Graham Hunter’s essay saying, “I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.” At the panel, Hoffman tried to reiterate this statement, particularly the portion where he says anything I might have done, which isn’t really an admission of guilt. He also highlighted the portion of the statement that says It is not reflective of who I am as a defence against the allegations—but Oliver was not having it.
“It’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off because it is reflective of who you were if it happened—and you’ve given no evidence to show that it didn’t happen—then there was a period in time for a while when you were creeping around women,” says Oliver. “So it feels like a cop-out to say, ‘Oh this isn’t me.'”
Later in the video Hoffman starts to describe the vibe on the Salesman set in a way that is eerily similar to the idea of “locker room talk.”
“Everyone was saying it to each other, it’s a family,” says Hoffman, explaining that the cast and crew would come to work and make sexual jokes. “But that’s 40 years ago”
“I’ve got to say, I don’t love that response either,” says Oliver. And get ready, because this is where it really gets good. Hoffman, visibly frustrated, fires back saying, “What response do you want?”
That’s when Oliver explains that while it’s not really for him to dictate how people should respond to these allegations, Hoffman’s response is dismissive and “doesn’t feel self-reflective in a way that it seems like the incident demands.”
And instead of taking that as a cue to pause and reflect, Hoffman then goes on to say that “there is a point in [Graham Hunter] not bringing this up for 40 years.” Cue audible groans from both Oliver and the audience. (It is well-documented that victims of sexual harassment and assault can take years to come forward, and some never do at all.)
Hoffman went on to explain from his perspective what happened on that night, arguing that at the time, it was “nothing” but now it is being reframed to make it seem like he is a predator. He also notes that he does not recall meeting Graham Hunter.
“I don’t even hear the same thing in the story you just told as I think you do,” says Oliver, outlining how Hoffman’s account sounded more like a woman who was upset about how Hoffman touched her and then later apologized for being upset.
“I guess the thing that you said that is interesting to me is: the things that we do between takes,” says Oliver, as multiple audience members can be heard saying “Yes!” in the background. “I think it is the things that we do between takes that is a cultural shift that needs to happen. What can seem completely fine or normal to a certain group of people can have victims on the other end of it.”
The audience broke out into applause at Oliver’s statement...That is not to excuse Hoffman's rudeness/vulgarity/bad behavior (although I don't think it's as big a deal as it's being made out to be). It is to merely point out that, in the context of those times, such antics were unpacked in an entirely different way. And while those in attendance may have cheered on Oliver's hysterical virtue signaling and over-the-top holier-than-thou-iness, others, including me, see it as being another kind of bullying and abuse.