Yes, Dustin Hoffman Assaulted Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross. But the Rules Were Different Then.

Yes, Dustin Hoffman Assaulted Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross. But the Rules Were Different Then.
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<p><em>Hoffman "sexually assaults" Anne Bancroft while shooting "The Graduate." </em></p>

Hoffman "sexually assaults" Anne Bancroft while shooting "The Graduate."

Paul Iorio

Dustin Hoffman was on the set of "The Graduate" when he took the liberty of pinching Katharine Ross on the left buttocks in order to "loosen" her up.

Ross immediately whirled around, livid.

"Don't you ever do that to me again!," she said loud enough that the crew and every one else on the set took notice.

"How dare you?!," she said.

"Sorry, sorry," said Hoffman. "I was just trying to get us relaxed."

Hoffman and Ross, co-stars of that Mike Nichols film, soon made up and even did a joint commentary for the 40th anniversary DVD edition of that film, in which the two talk about the pinching incident. The video also includes a '92 interview with Hoffman, in which he reveals the details in my opening paragraphs.

Of course, Hoffman is currently in the headlines for allegedly doing similar things to other women over the decades.

But it's easy to see that much of his behavior was typical of many during the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies.

Exhibit A: the film "The Graduate" itself, which turns fifty this December. It's a landmark of both contemporary cinema and of the sexual revolution, a groundbreaking masterpiece that hilariously flipped the traditional power relationships of promiscuous sex.

By now, almost everyone knows the story (based on the 1962 novel by Charles Webb): an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), seduces a younger man, Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman), who then proceeds to romantically pursue her daughter, Elaine (Ross).

The movie's two main plots both involve the seduction of someone who initially says "no" to someone else's sexual advances. Hoffman's character repeatedly rebuffs Mrs. Robinson's sexual offers. And Ross's character emphatically and repeatedly rejects Braddock.

So, in today's language, the story was about the sexual harassment of Benjamin Braddock and the stalking of Elaine Robinson.

But fifty years ago, seduction was seen as "the art of seduction," the persuading of someone who was temporarily un persuaded. One didn't know whether a pass would be caught until one threw it, went the thinking.

"No" back then was seen as tentative. Minds change, after all.

Today, that sort of "persuasion" is called "attempted rape" or "sexual harassment," depending on the degree of "persuasion" involved. Touching someone's sex organs is classified as sexual assault.

In addition, booze was a sexual lubricant as universal as Vaseline in the old days. In the sixties and seventies, it seemed like just about everyone who engaged in recreational sex had a couple drinks before hitting the sack.

Today, having sex with someone who is drunk is considered rape under certain circumstances.

The twist in "The Graduate," of course, is that the woman was the one trying to get the reluctant man drunk in order to get laid. The fact that a female was committing what would now be called "sexual harassment" was considered liberating and progressive in 1967.

Also, in the 21st century, consent has been replaced with "affirmative consent," which mandates that there must be an explicit and verbal "yes" before a sex act can take place. To those who prefer to give the green light with a grunt or body language and want to keep words out of the equation during such a primal act, this arguably feels like government intervention into a person's style of consent.

And "The Graduate" clearly displayed a 1960s sense of "consent" -- on screen and off.

On the set of "The Graduate," there were instances of sexual assault of the sort that were as "illegal" as, say, marijuana smoking was at the time. In other words, it was technically unlawful, but not considered as deadly serious as it is today.

Another moment of real-life sexual assault is actually seen onscreen in "The Graduate." In a scene in which Braddock ineptly tries to seduce Mrs. Robinson, Hoffman puts his hand on her right breast -- an action that was not in the script and that Bancroft did not know was going to happen. In a prankish way, Nichols asked Hoffman to feel her up during that sequence -- and they both kept the plot twist secret from Bancroft.

However, Bancroft got her digs in during another part of the film, when she was lying in bed with Hoffman and angrily clawed at him in a way that was also not in the script.

Clearly, the rules about sex changed at some point during the past fifty years -- and it seems we're condemning incidents of that era based on the new standards of 2017. In the 21st century, it's sometimes hard to tell whether we're indicting an era or a person. And it's also hard to tell whether some of these recent rules amount to a new progressivism or a new Puritanism.

Here are three video excerpts from the 40th anniversary DVD re-release of “The Graduate.” The first is a 1992 interview with Hoffman in which he talks openly about pinching Katharine Ross’ ass. The second is a joint commentary in which Hoffman and Ross reminisce about that incident. And the third is Hoffman’s narration of the scene in which he touched Bancroft’s right breast while filming “The Graduate.”

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