How Failure Leads to Opportunities—A Dustin Hoffman Anecdote

Dustin Lee Hoffman. The man. The myth. The legend.

I’m sure you’ve heard of this guy, right? If you haven’t, then you need to step out of that rock you’ve been living under. Because his career in film is something to be respected.

Just consider the accolades: two time Academy Award winner (nominated for seven), six time Golden Globe winner (nominated for 13), four BAFTAS, three Drama Desk Awards, and an Emmy… Plus an AFI Life Achievement Award.

The list goes on, really. Heck, my fingers were actually starting to get a little fatigued just typing all of that.

Now you’re thinking, Yeah. I get it. He’s great. So what’s the point of this article?

To lavish this guy with praise. OBVIOUSLY…Or you know, to make a point.

The point being that everyone has to go through adversity—including a remarkable talent like Mr. Hoffman.

For instance, back in his young whipper-snapper days, the L.A. born actor went to hone his acting chops at the (in)famous Pasadena Playhouse where he would eventually befriend a fellow acting legend—Gene Hackman.

Their stint with the school was difficult, to say the least. Hoffman and Hackman’s naturalistic approach to the craft greatly diverged from what was at the time being taught in the Playhouse. So much so, that this perceived rebellion of the status-quo earned this duo the “Least Likely to Succeed” vote by their peers and teachers. That’s right. Their own people pegged them as failures.

…So what did Hoffman and Hackman do? They got the heck out of dodge, that’s what. Way out. The duo flew from west to east coast all the way to the Big Apple to start fresh and tackle the theater world.

A decision—wrought from a failure—that would impact Hoffman’s career forever.

But that wasn’t the end of Hoffman’s embarrassing career misfires. And it wasn’t the last time that from that failure a new opportunity would come.

You see back in the day, the late Mike Nichols was casting for a Broadway musical titled “The Apple Tree”. Hoffman—not a musically gifted fellow—was eventually persuaded by legendary casting director Michael Shurtleff to audition for the role. Reluctantly—and after many frightened no-shows—Hoffman finally showed up…and he was right. He couldn’t sing. But he gave an incredibly memory reading which Mr. Nichols never forgot.

…Fast-forward to a year or two later. Well, I’ll let Michael Shurtleff tell you this bit from his book titled “Audition”:

When I worked on the film of The Graduate, director Mike Nichols told me to find a new young James Stewart, tall, basketball player, Eastern Ivy League college-type fellow. I was sent to Princeton and Yale and Harvard to find an unknown.

College jocks and college actors came into New York from all over the country to be interviewed. The search went on for months. Who got the role? Short, non-Ivy League, non-basketball-playing Dustin Hoffman.

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And so a legend was born. From a series of doubters, failures, and set-backs.

That’s my message to you. Don’t be afraid to try new things or to fail. Because it’s always a chance to grow, and you never know how far the stones of adversity will ripple the waters of success.

Have a fantastic day. And happy holidays.


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