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Local Lore: Tootsie’s La Jolla; Why Dustin Hoffman was once a man about our town

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Actor Dustin Hoffman, shown in a 1968 file photo, spent the summer of 1980 in La Jolla.
(File)
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(DANIEL K. LEW)

In either July or August 1980, La Jolla native David Gray can’t remember, he comprised the entire audience for a comedic performance starring Dustin Hoffman. At the time, Gray worked as a salesperson for Lion Clothing, 7848 Girard Ave. (now Taba Rug Gallery) when in walked Harry Hoffman and his famous son.

Harry — described in a Nov. 24, 1991 Los Angeles Times article as “stern and emotionally remote” — was a retired prop worker who lived in La Costa with Dustin’s mother, Lillian. He and his son — who pulled up to the clothing store together in Harry’s Cadillac Coupe de Ville — browsed through the shirts in the men’s casual sportswear department as Gray looked on.

“His father called over to him, saying ‘Dusty’ a couple times,” Gray recalled.

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At the time, Hoffman had yet to win his best-actor Oscars for 1982’s “Tootsie,” 1988’s “Rain Man” and 1997’s “Wag the Dog.” However, he did have four by then — for 1967’s “The Graduate,” 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy,” 1974’s “Lenny” and 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer.” So it is safe to assume that he didn’t love being called a childhood nickname by his old man in public anymore.

Gray recalled what happened next: “Hoffman turned to his father and said, with a smile, ‘You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?!!” And I realized that I had just gotten a private performance of Dustin Hoffman doing an impression of Robert DeNiro.”

Harry purchased a blue velour long-sleeve shirt for his son, according to Gray.

“I can’t remember your name 20 minutes later, but I can remember what Dustin Hoffman bought 40 years ago!” he joked.

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There were other Hoffman sightings around La Jolla that summer. According to Gray (and legend), Hoffman and director Sydney Pollack inked the deal for Hoffman to star in “Tootsie” in a local Italian restaurant. (If true, it could have been Martino’s, where gossip columnist Frank Rhoades placed Dustin’s parents in his April 29, 1980 San Diego Union column.)

What Gray didn’t realize — until the Light looked into it — was the decidedly grim reason Dustin and Harry were around so much that summer. In May 1980, Lillian Hoffman suffered a heart attack. She lingered for several months at Scripps Memorial Hospital but never recovered.

Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times that his cross-dressing “Tootsie” character was his tribute to his mother, “and I was disappointed that no amount of Hollywood makeup could make Dorothy beautiful.”

— If you live or work in La Jolla and have a truly bizarre or otherwise remarkable story you would like considered for “Local Lore,” e-mail clevitan@lajollalight.com


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