A look back at this day in film history
December 17
Dec. 17, 1946
Eugene Levy born

Whether it's as Jim's dad in the American Pie movies, Max Yasgur in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock or the dastardly Walter Kornbluth, one of the scientists out to nab Daryl Hannah in Splash, Eugene Levy - who was born in Hamilton, Ontario, on this day in 1946 - has become instantly recognizable to movie audiences. Levy is one of those comic actors whose name may not instantly click with film lovers, but who over the years has created a very distinctive on screen look (greying curly hair, black glasses, thick eyebrows) and comic persona. Levy cut his teeth as a comedian working as part of the Canadian Second City Toronto troupe and on the TV show SCTV, and throughout the 80s and 90s worked as an often marginalized second string comedy actor. But in the latter part of the 90s, his career got an unexpected shot in the arm with the success of American Pie, in which Levy was a standout as the hapless, sexually inexperienced hero's well-meaning father.  And around the same time, he got a boost by becoming part of Christopher Guest's creative collective, writing for and appearing in Guest's films Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006). It seems fitting that, after many years of building his career slowly, Levy - who often plays unusually upbeat characters - is having his time in the spotlight finally. Maybe his positivity is the thing that made the difference: "I can't do comedy that is cutting and vicious," Levy once said. "If I knew I'd said something that was going to make someone feel bad, well, that supersedes everything."

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December 17, 1982
Tootsie Not a Drag for Hoffman

26 years ago today, when Tootsie was released in the U.S., Dustin Hoffman went from being one of the most respected dramatic actors working in film to, well, something very different. Hoffman, who had his breakthrough role in Mike Nichols' wry charmer The Graduate in 1967, had never truly shown his comic side on screen, despite the fact that he played Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse's biopic of the controversial comedian, Lenny. Instead he had carefully picked roles, in films like Little Big Man, Midnight Cowboy and All the President's Men, which played to his incredible skill as a committed method actor. As a result, he was incredibly nervous about his idea to make a movie about a struggling actor who drags up as he pretends to be an actress in order to get a role in a soap opera. The film had a troubled and prolonged history, taking four years to reach the screen, during which time directors Dick Richards and Hal Ashby dropped out of the project, to be replaced by Sydney Pollack. The film, however, was a huge success: Hoffman's female foils, Jessica Lange and Teri Garr, excelled in their roles while Charles Durning (ala Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot) gave a killer supporting turn as the man who falls for Hoffman's “Dorothy.” And Hoffman himself was a revelation, displaying impeccable comic instincts and brilliant timing in a role that could easily have been his undoing and the source of infinite mockery from his peers. Tootsie was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay, while Lange beat out Garr for the Best Supporting Actress award. Most importantly for Hoffman and Columbia, the studio that bankrolled the movie, Tootsie was a box office titan, rapidly passing the $100 million mark and ultimately racking up nearly $180 million.

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