Richard Dreyfuss made a dual film debut in two of 1967’s most iconic films: the classic comedy, The Graduate, and the equally hilarious camp classic, Valley of the Dolls.
Just 19 when these movies were made, Dreyfuss had already been acting on television, in popular fare like Bewitched, Peyton Place, and The Big Valley.
|Richard Dreyfuss as the poor sap of an assistant who has to knock on the door of that "doll" of a star, Neely O'Hara.|
In Dolls, Dreyfuss plays the assistant stage manager who nervously knocks on the dressing room door of falling star Neely O’ Hara, played by over-the-top Patty Duke. Dreyfuss is his hyper self, calling out, “Curtain, Miss O’ Hara!” Of course, it’s curtains for Neely, who is about to find out the hard way that “Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope!”
The Graduate finds Dreyfuss at another door, this time as one of the frat boys behind Norman Fell—Mr. Roper!—who plays another grouchy landlord. It’s the scene where Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) reunites with Elaine (Katherine Ross), but not before she initially screams to scare our graduate off.
In an interview with the A.V. Club, Dreyfuss says The Graduate walk-on was “due to Mike Nichols’ unique generosity: Actors who had auditioned for the role that Dustin Hoffman got were rewarded with lines in the film. I knew that I was too young, but I wanted to at least get to Nichols.”
Dreyfuss symbolized what a casting challenge the role of Benjamin Braddock presented to director Nichols. Dreyfuss was the right age to play Benjamin, who is on the eve of his 21st birthday. However, Dreyfuss at 19 did not have the chops for such a complex role, so 30-year-old Dustin Hoffman, who didn’t look boyish, got the plum part.
|Come knock on his door! Dreyfuss backs up Norman Fell, who plays another grumpy landlord.|
In the same interview, Dreyfuss recalls: “But some weeks later I’m told to go and have a meeting with Mike Nichols, because he wanted me to play such and such a part. So I went in to see him, and he looked up at me and he said, [Very seriously.] ‘Are you prepared?’ I said, ‘I’ve been studying with Stella [Adler] for this.’ He said, ‘Okay. Go ahead. Whenever you’re ready.’ And I closed my eyes, and then I looked up and said, ‘Shall I call the police? I’ll call the police.’ And he said, ‘You’ve got the part.’ And I said, ‘Thank you.’ [Laughs.] And that was that! So I got to not only say the lines in the scene, but I got to watch him direct, which was really something.”
“I’ve always said that I was in the best film of 1967 and the worst film of 1967, because I had a part in Valley Of The Dolls, which I never admitted to for probably 15 years,” Dreyfuss confessed to the A.V. Club. “I actually knew Patty at the time, and I told her, ‘I’ve never seen the film.’ And she said, ‘Neither have I!’”
Patty Duke, who once clammed up about career-shamer Valley of the Dolls much the way Faye Dunaway has been mum on Mommie Dearest, later learned to laugh about the trashy film treasure. Apparently, so has Dreyfuss.