Everyone has a seminal moment in their life. Mine just happened to come a bit earlier than most. I was twelve. I was in West Berlin, Germany. And I was in a movie theatre. And somewhere between the three-minute playing of the National Anthem (in the military movie theatres overseas, we saw a beautiful video of the Anthem before every movie—probably where my passion for it stems now as an adult) and the rolling of the credits, something inside me clicked. A light turned on. Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say a fire was lit. And that flame has been burning ever since.
Yes, a movie changed my life. Cliché, I know. But it’s true. That may not surprise you. You may be surprised, however, at which movie it was. Not Casablanca or Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even Gandhi. Nothing so inspirational, groundbreaking or visionary, I’m sorry to say.
This is the story of how Tootsie changed my life and is the reason for everything that my life is today.
I wish I could be so bold to say that, as a twelve-year-old, I had this philosophically cathartic moment, where I said “look at that direction,” or “notice the nuance in that characterization” and that’s what inspired me, but, alas, I was just a kid who walked out of the theatre with a smile on her face a mile wide. And all I knew was that was the happiest I had been in a very long time. And I thought that was amazing. I had enjoyed movies before, of course, but never before had I experienced such an adult pleasure as this. It dawns on me now that maybe this was the first adult movie my parents let me go see, so maybe that’s why it affected me so much, but no matter what, it affected me deeply. That euphoric feeling I had coming out of that theatre, I never wanted it to go away. I wanted to bottle it, to keep it on my nightstand and to breathe it in every night before I went to sleep and every morning when I woke up. I was ten feet off the ground and I just couldn’t stop smiling. THIS is what I wanted to do. Forget wanting to make people feel this way, I would never claim to be that generous, but to be that brilliant, to be ABLE to do that….that’s what I wanted to do. To write like that, to act like that, to direct like that. That was for me. I knew it, then and there. I wanted to make movies. My career was decided.
Besides the practicality of the emotions I walked away with—deciding on a career is a pretty good way to spend a couple hours—Tootsie gave me the vehicle which I used to drive the passion for film that was ignited that day. That vehicle came in the form of Jessica Lange. Her performance in Tootsie was so charming, subtle, alluring, funny, warm and wonderful that I was instantly hooked. I have been a Jessica Lange junkie ever since.
But here’s the thing. I’m not just a Jessica Lange junkie. I’m a movie junkie. Movies are my passion. People who know me seem to think that I know more about sports than I do about movies, but that’s because it’s easier to absorb sports knowledge than it is movie knowledge. Sports may be my hobby, but movies are my passion. The movie theatre is where I go when I need to escape, I put in a movie when I need to laugh, to cry, to think, to feel. Nothing moves me like a movie, nothing can inspire me like a movie. I have said so often that I can talk about movies 24 hours a day, and anyone who knows me knows that’s true. I may be happiest on a boat or in the ocean and that’s where my soul lives, but in a movie theatre is where my mind meets my heart, and when the two come together, it can be magic.
Being a fan of Jessica Lange only perpetuated my love of movies. Her career careened off the mainstream path right after Tootsie, and, as it turned out, it was the only box office hit of her career (not counting Cape Fear, a modest success). To follow Lange’s career meant being a serious movie fan, and that meant taking movies seriously. If her career had been all fluff, I really wonder if I would take movies as seriously as I do and respect them as I do. I can’t imagine they don’t go hand-in-hand.
So my life-long passion, love and respect for movies, which live to this day, and this blog you are reading, in fact, all stem from that first experience with Tootsie.
But that’s not all.
What of my career plans that I laid out on that day, you ask? Well….I was twelve. We all have big dreams when we’re twelve. My visions of double Oscars for writing and directing haven’t exactly come to fruition quite yet. However, it is not an overstatement to say that Tootsie is the reason my life is what it is. And, if you are in my life, unless you are my parents, it’s because of Tootsie.
That monumental day when I decided I was to be in film affected everything from that day forward, not just the fact that I had to see every Jessica Lange film on the day it came out (it’s true). I took writing more seriously. I took my oral presentations more seriously. I made a serious attempt to overcome my stuttering problem, thinking acting was still a real possibility (although writing and directing were the real focus). I auditioned for plays. I entered reading contests. I excelled at Creative Writing at every level of school, and, whenever possible, took every elective writing class I could. I never got involved with the drama department in high school, however, because that was stage. I was interested only in film. I was going to go to Hollywood. I was going to make Tootsie.
However, when it came time to start looking at colleges, there was no way I was going to even think about going for a film education. My parents and I always had an agreement that I would get a basic, liberal arts education first and then I could do what I wanted after. So it pretty much was assumed I would go to a small, liberal arts college in New England, get my English degree and then live my life.
Then it happened. During my endless searches through college catalogs, I stumbled upon a small, liberal arts college set in the heart of Los Angeles. It was everything those New England colleges were but it was in……Hollywood. My decision was made. I would apply early admission to Occidental College in Los Angeles. There was nowhere else I wanted to be.
And the rest, they say, is history.
I got in to Occidental, and have been in Los Angeles ever since. While I have not made my career in film, my career has been in the arts and my passion and desire to be close to the film industry here has never once waned. The life I have built here in Los Angeles, every single friend I have, everything is because I decided to come to school here. And I decided to come to school here because I wanted to be close to Hollywood and I had the chance to do a minor in film here, which I wouldn’t have been able to do at any of the other schools. And I wanted to be close to Hollywood because I had decided, that day in 1982, that I wanted to be in film.
My life today is because of Tootsie.
That may sound sad to you, but, to me, it is glorious.
The great Sydney Pollack, who directed Tootsie, recently passed away. His legacy boasts many amazing cinematic achievements, Tootsie being just one. But, for me, Tootsie will always be his masterpiece. With it, he delivered a touching, funny, layered, brilliantly-paced comic opus with some of the greatest performances of our time. The writing stands up to this day and his direction (and acting) is flawless and effortless. I had the great fortune to have been able to have met him briefly and I had the moment to tell him how much Tootsie meant to me. I’m sure he laughed me off and had no idea how sincere I was, but I was happy to have had the chance, and his kindness in that moment to me, a total nobody, only serves to enhance the legacy of an artist and a man who will be missed.
Thank you, Sydney. Who knows who I’d be or where I’d be without you.