Admiring Dustin

HoffmanMy 17-year-old daughter Sean and I have many things in common, but perhaps the most surprising is our mutual deep affection for Dustin Hoffman. Sean has more age appropriate movie-star crushes too, leading with Scottish heartthrob James McAvoy. But like her mother, there's a special corner in her heart for the 69-year-old Hoffman. We both had encounters with him in our teen years.

When I was fourteen and my parents were divorcing, my dad took me to see The Graduate. He was a huge fan of director Mike Nichols. I had no idea who Mike Nichols was, let alone Dustin Hoffman or Anne Bancroft. All I know is that I walked out of the theater totally in love. That day I realized that sexy and charming didn't necessarily mean "pretty." A guy who wasn’t good looking in the conventional way could be desirable, might even be a hero. I must have seen the film eight more times, dragging along anyone who would come with me.

I also did something I had never done, even in my Beatlemaniac days. I wrote Hoffman a fan letter. My mom had an actress friend who knew him from New York and had his home address. My approach, best as I remember, was simple and direct:

"Dear Dustin, I think you are funny, charming, sexy, etc., etc…and I love you."

A few weeks later, I came home to find a blue envelope addressed to me. In the upper left-hand corner, hand-written in black ink, was Hoffman. I almost fainted.

His response mirrored my letter.

"Dear Judy,

I think you are funny, original, unique, witty, maybe sexy, original, maybe beautiful, enticing, clever, maybe very sexy, biting, brash, flip, original, and maybe very, very cute, and maybe I love you too."

He included his parents' phone number. They lived in L.A. and he said to call and say hello. I never did, but since then I’ve spotted my crush about once a decade - in Manhattan in the 70's, in a Century City toy store in the 80's, coming out of an elevator in Beverly Hills more recently. Each time, I thought about going up and mentioning the letter, but in the end kept my distance.

Flash forward to Sean’s teen years. I’d told her my Dustin Hoffman story, more than once. She'd seen his movies and rated Tootsie as her favorite, but she had never seen The Graduate. One weekend we rented it. She totally got what I adored about Dustin. His quirky charm affected her the way it influenced me. From then on, she looked forward to seeing him on screen.

Last summer, Sean snagged a job working part-time at Dutton's Bookstore in Brentwood. During her first week, I picked her up and she got in the car with a huge smile bursting across her face. "DUSTIN HOFFMAN IS IN THERE RIGHT NOW!!!!!," she almost shouted. He's a Dutton’s regular, and through the months Sean has watched him browse the stacks and chat about books with owner Doug Dutton or the other clerks. Sean is too professional to invade his privacy, or even to reveal her excitement. But last Christmas, when she spotted Dustin in a crowd listening to her choir sing carols at the 3rd Street Promenade, she pointed him out to her friends.

I don't really know the importance of any of this, but I like to think it's a glimpse into our mother-daughter connection. Sean has begun to realize, as I did at her age, that it's what's on the inside that counts. When all of that is appealing, whatever's on the outside can be appealing too. I’m happy to let Sean take over the Dustin Hoffman sightings now. She likes to look at the letter from 1968 every now and then. She has made me promise to leave it to her when I'm gone, and says she will treasure it always.

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