In the 1982 film Tootsie, the actor Dustin Hoffman portrayed a character who is also an actor, Michael Dorsey. Michael pretends to be a woman ("Dorothy") in order to land the role of a female character in a soap opera. The trick works, and the character becomes an accepted part of the soap opera.

But eventually Michael wants to tell everyone the truth and quit the soap opera. Various reasons are given for him to maintain the charade. His manager suggests that the disclosure would create problems for them in terms of business or in terms of legal liability. And Michael worries that his friend who auditioned for the same soap opera role unsuccessfully (despite being an actual woman) will be crushed to learn that he got the role, and a man who has proposed marriage to "Dorothy" will be humiliated.

One day the cast of the soap opera are informed that part of the recording of the next episode has been damaged, and they will have to play a scene on live television. During this live performance, Michael's female character on the soap opera goes off script and delivers a long, strange story about her past, which somehow comes to Michael's removing his wig and female makeup, revealing during a live television broadcast that he is a man.

It seems like the film thinks that something is clever about this choice, but I cannot figure out what it is. It seems to be no better for the soap opera, which might have wanted to hide the facts about Michael (and which is now by the way apparently forced to follow that live portion with the tape in which his character is still a woman). All of the problems identified earlier in the film -- bad business, legal liability and hurt feelings -- all seem as bad as ever.

I feel like it's acceptable within the film to see it as an unreasonable choice by Michael, who is under enormous pressure and just cannot maintain the lies any longer. But is there really no logical reason at all why he shouldn't have just stopped showing up at work, or told everyone the truth while off-camera?

  • 1
    I don’t think the portrayal is that it is a good idea for him to disclose during the live broadcast. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 18:52
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    It's been a long time since I saw this movie - but fundamentally this is a comedy, and the contrivance of the live performance is to make it funnier than the alternatives you suggest.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:27
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    But I appreciate that you are looking for an in-universe answer. But the comedic needs of the movie will somewhat impact sound decision making by the character.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:58
  • @Todd Wilcox Then why the long, strange story? Why does Michael offer that in-universe explanation of his soap opera character's reasons for pretending to be a woman? Why doesn't Michael abandon the soap opera character completely, and just walk onto the set of the live broadcast and say in his own voice "I'm really a man"?
    – Chaim
    Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 14:58
  • He doesn’t want to ruin his career or tank the show. If you’re asking why he choose to disclose at that time and not wait until after the episode is over or some other time, it’s because his personal crisis about pretending to be a woman has reached the breaking point and he has to end it for emotional reasons. It’s not a logical, reasonable action. It’s an emotional action. Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


All of the problems identified earlier in the film -- bad business, legal liability and hurt feelings -- all seem as bad as ever.

Yes, and they aren't going to go away unless he does something drastic.

He gets an opportunity to end all the lies and deception in an absolutely permanent way that cannot be stopped and cannot be taken back because it happens LIVE on air.

So he grabs that opportunity, which has a possible benefit in that, if he isn't fired, he can continue in his current job with all of the "lies" revealed and all the pressure is now off.

  • Yeah, I thought about that too. But he explains over and over that he doesn't WANT to stay on the soap opera. He wants to go do live theater, the play that Bill Murray wrote about Love Canal. And (of course) nobody could have contemplated at the time (or for most of human history) that people would tolerate a female impersonator in the role. If the logic was to retain his soap opera job, why didn't the film just make the character want this?
    – Chaim
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 18:55
  • I actually think that this is a very well-written movie, and lots of natural questions do have legitimate answers. When I thought about the film, I thought it was admirably thought-out. So, I feel like it deserves the benefit of the doubt that there's an answer here too.
    – Chaim
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 18:59

The producer of the soap has just told Dorothy that her contract, which has less than 2 weeks to go, is being renewed for a year.

Michael’s agent explains that by signing the standard contract, the decision to renew the contract is the soap’s alone.

Michael needs to find a way out of the show and the live episode provides it.

Michael’s ad-libbed “reveal” that Emily Kimberly is in fact her brother, Edward Kimberly, provides an acceptable exit for Michael from the soap. The audience will think that it was all scripted and this is the big reveal. So there is no Emily Kimberly.

Michael has caused a problem because there would presumably be 3 to 4 weeks of episodes in the can featuring Emily Kimberly. This problem is not addressed in the film.

But putting that aside, it is plausible that the soap would agree to release Michael from the 1 year contract extension as Emily Kimberly has effectively been killed off. The soap would not have chosen to do this as Emily was a very successful character for them.

  • I would think that that his actual gender reveal party would be actionable, while if Michael had instead told the producers privately that he was a man and wanted to leave the show, they would have wanted to get him off the show before audiences found out that he was a man.
    – Chaim
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 0:06
  • I think you’re right, but Michael acts impulsively. We are not given any information about Michael’s thoughts about leaving. He doesn’t even talk to Jeff, his roommate. I think we’re meant to believe that the idea to do the reveal live only comes to Michael at that very moment when he goes off-script. He suddenly realises that it’s a possibility to fix all of his problems and he impulsively, goes for it and ad-libs. Had the live episode not happened, he would have had to go a different way.
    – MovieBob
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 5:17

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