Dustin Hoffman, "one of America's extraordinary actors," in the words of writer/ director Robert Benton, was born in Los Angeles on August 8, 1937, the second son of

Lillian and Harry Hoffman. His mother, a film fan who at one time had show-business aspirations, named him after Dustin Farnum, an actor in silent Westerns.

Since the Hoffmans often picked up and moved from one working-class neighborhood to another, Dustin frequently found himself facing the perils of being the new kid in class. "The one way I could be sure of getting attention was to make people laugh," he told the Chicago Tribune in 1979. The mimicing of his teachers would produce, according to Hoffman, the "roots" of his acting career.

Taking to acting wasn't immediate for Hoffman, however. He originally planned to become a classical pianist, studying music for a while at both the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Santa Monica City College. An unexpected success in a drama class, though, impelled him to take acting seriously. He dropped out of SMCC in his freshman year to enroll at the Pasadena Playhouse,

In his early theater days.
and after two years decided to head for the Broadway stage, arriving in New York in 1958.

Success came slowly, and in the meantime he "had all the jobs that actors have"--waiting tables in a French restaurant, demonstrating toys at Macy's, teaching acting at an East Harlem boys' club, even a six-month stint as an attendant in a mental hospital. ("I used to have to hold the patients for electric shock treatment. Then later on they would beat me at Scrabble.") He was accepted to Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio and began sharpening his skills in summer stock and with small television roles. He was unable to crash even off-Broadway, however, until 1964, when he landed the role of a homosexual Nazi in Ronald Ribman's "Harry Noon and Night." This led to his first major success, in Ribman's "Journey of the Fifth Horse," for which he won an Obie Award as the best off-Broadway actor of 1965-66.

In 1966, he attracted more critical praise for his performance in the British farce "Eh?". The play was seen by director Mike Nichols, who offered the still-largely-unknown Hoffman the lead in his upcoming film THE GRADUATE. "As soon as I read the part," Hoffman recalled, "I knew it was wrong for me. What Nichols needed was an all-American boy." The director insisted, however, and his faith was justified; to the surprise of nearly everyone, THE GRADUATE was an enormous commercial success and catapulted Hoffman into instant stardom.

After appearing on Broadway in "Jimmy Shine," Hoffman returned to the screen in John Schlesinger's MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), giving a remarkable performance as the pathetic Ratso Rizzo--a role as different from THE GRADUATE's Benjamin Braddock as night from day. These first two major roles are indicative of his amazing versatility, demonstrated since in his daring choice of roles in an over 25-film 30-year career. Exemplifying the character actor as superstar, Hoffman has won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1979 for KRAMER VS. KRAMER and in 1989 for RAIN MAN, and has been nominated for his roles in THE GRADUATE, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, LENNY, TOOTSIE, and WAG THE DOG. He is also the producer on two upcoming releases, A WALK ON THE MOON (Miramax) and THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC (Showtime).

For his commitment to his craft, dedication to movies, and unique talent, Dustin Hoffman, the twenty-seventh recipient of the Life Achievement Award, officially joins the ranks of the most important and accomplished filmmakers in movie history.

                    —Howard Prouty

Hoffman with his
1989 Academy Award® for RAIN MAN.
FILMOGRAPHY   |   From the pages of AMERICAN FILM