Fifty years and Academy nominations and awards ago, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Duvall were friends that got each others’ backs. These three men were enjoying life without thinking about the future too much.
None of them ever thought they’ll all prosper and reach what they have reached now.
It all started in 1958 when Hoffman came to New York with only $50 in his pocket. Hackman invited him to crash on his kitchen floor for even just a few days.
“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”
Not knowing what to do, he clung to Hackman’s apartment for three weeks. During that time, Hackman was already married, and we all know that crashing with a married couple can be a little cramped.
Having had enough, Hackman talked to another friend, Duvall to take in Hoffman. Duvall owned what people would call a youth hostel who catered singers and opera actors, some would stay for days, some for weeks, sleeping on the couch and wherever they can crash.
Hoffman was constantly trying out to land any role but to no avail, he almost got used to rejections that time, but then there were his friends who fuel him with hope and freedom.
Hackman says, “There was a kind of feeling of Jack Kerouac at that time—On the Road—kids just wanting to have a good time and kind of experience things. It didn’t have anything to do with being successful—just wanting to try this thing and see if it worked.”
Duvall, on the other hand, reminisces, “those were good years, not knowing what the future was about. All these friends. Very important. Dreaming. That was fun.”
New York during the 1950’s to 1960 was simpler and cheaper, you will be able to rent a decent apartment for $10 a month then. These three friends got by accepting odd jobs like being a typist for the Yellow Pages, checking coats at a theater, a doorman in a building in Time Square, a relief man in a drugstore, and other survival-level jobs.
Hackman recalls, “I’d do any job anywhere,” he says. “I had no shame.”
The three friends survived by helping each other out, Hackman says, “in those days it was a question of which of us was the most broke right then, and the other two would help him out.”
In 1962, Hackman got his break. he was cast for George Morrison’s Any Wednesday because he was the only one who made everybody laugh. The following year, he got a small role in the movie Lilith with Warren Beatty. He was then cast as Mrs. Robinson’s husband in The Graduate but was fired just after a few days of rehearsals. Which as all in all a good thing as he was free when Beatty wanted him to be Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, a role that got his name up there and won him an Academy Award nomination.
Duvall has been acting in plays since 1955 but his real break came in 1962 when the playwright Horton Foote saw his performance and was impressed. Foote suggested Duvall for Boo Radley’s film To Kill A Mockingbird. That began his career and even paved for a second portrayal of Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge.
Hoffman got his break last. In 1964 when he and Duvall were cast for Waiting for Godot. He was seen there by Ulu Grosbard. His next break was in Morrison’s 1965 Harry, Noon and Night, which led that year to Grosbard’s The Subject Was Roses. During the rehearsals, he got into an accident and almost died, resulting in his removal. Fortunately, that meant he was free in 1966 to play a 40-year-old Russian clerk Off Broadway in The Journey of the Fifth Horse, which won him an Obie for best actor.
Summing up the whole journey, Hoffman says, “If we had been at a party with a bunch of unemployed actors and somebody had said, ‘See those three? They’re going to be Hollywood stars,’ the whole place would have erupted, and we would have been part of the laughter. Those years were all during the Beat Generation. Our affectation was anti-Establishment. ‘Making it’ meant staying pure, not selling out. ‘Making it’ meant doing the work. We’re not different today. If something happened and it was over, and suddenly we had to work in a community theater, we’re there. And I’m telling you, we would love every minute of it.”
Don’t worry though, it is rumored that Universal Picture is developing a script to star all three of these old friends in the near future. That would be the ultimate party!
Image via Vanity Fair.