Stars in Rewind is a feature that looks at what our favorite movie stars were doing before they were our favorite movie stars. You can find it here every other Monday.Veteran actor Dustin Hoffman has been a distinctive and perennially welcome persona in movies for the past 40-something years, most recently appearing as Ben Stiller's dad in big-budget comedy 'Little Fockers' and as Paul Giamatti's father in the deeper dramedy 'Barney's Version.'
But once upon a time (the '60s), Mr. Hoffman was struggling like most young actors, and so he supplemented his undoubtedly meager income by appearing in a TV commercial. What's interesting about this 1966 ad for Volkswagen is that it was made right before Hoffman shot to stardom in 'The Graduate.' His Volkwagen pitchman isn't that far removed from the movie's Benjamin Braddock character, which is to say, it's classic Hoffman.
Though he's known for a variety of roles in a wide range of movies, Hoffman's most marked characteristic is "the blend of intense seriousness and wry self-mockery" (to quote the New York Times' A.O. Scott) he often brings to the screen. This distinctive quality is what made him a star when 'The Graduate' was released in 1967. At the time, Hoffman's witty self-deprecation and unconventional looks signaled a refreshing change from typical mainstream leading men.
Hoffman was mainly working in Off-Broadway productions when Volkswagen cast him in a commercial for the new Fastback, a roomier VW model. You don't have to be a fan of 'Mad Men' to appreciate the aesthetic of the era, or realize that this was a pretty cutting-edge TV ad for the mid-'60s, capitalizing on the actor's neo-beat, cool-cat vibe (and his, um, small stature):
Volkswagen was clearly flaunting its hipness by featuring the hyper Hoffman talking about the car's "jazzy" features and, yep, being kind of wry and self-deprecating. He makes a good case for the Fastback: More room for elbows and legs! An electric clock and wall-to-wall carpeting! Speeds up to 84 mph and 27 miles per gallon! And for those who are wondering: the motor -- a new, compact "pancake" engine -- was located under the rear trunk. Progress!