*Hat Tipi: Stephen S.
Cori Thomas was in high school when she says Dustin Hoffman exposed himself to her in a hotel room. Melissa Kester was a recent college graduate when Hoffman sexually assaulted her while recording audio for the film “Ishtar.” A third woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Hoffman assaulted her in the back of a station wagon and manipulated her into a subsequent sexual encounter that left her traumatized.
Speaking to Variety, the women described predatory incidents involving Hoffman that fit into a pattern of behavior that has emerged in the wake of previous sexual-misconduct claims against the now 80-year-old actor.
Representatives for Hoffman did not make him available to provide comment for this story. In a letter to Variety’s owner Penske Media Corp., Hoffman’s attorney Mark A. Neubauer of Carlton Fields Jordan Burt called the accusations against the actor “defamatory falsehoods.”
Thomas was 16 years old and a high-school classmate of Hoffman’s daughter Karina at the United Nations International School in New York when she met the actor in 1980. An aspiring actor, she had spent a Sunday afternoon with Karina and Hoffman walking in Manhattan — visiting the Drama Bookshop, where, she said, Hoffman bought her a copy of Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” and eating dinner at Jim McMullin’s on the Upper East Side, where she had veal piccata for the first time. They also visited the San Remo on Central Park West, where Hoffman, in the midst of a divorce from his first wife, Anne Byrne, was buying an apartment. Hoffman showed Thomas and Karina the apartment, which was being renovated while Hoffman stayed at a hotel near the house that he and Byrne had shared.
“This was at first one of the greatest days of my life,” she said. “One of my idols was spending time with me and talking with me respectfully.”
Thomas’ parents — her father was the U.N. ambassador from Liberia — were supposed to pick her up at the restaurant. But, according to Thomas, Hoffman suggested that the three of them wait at the hotel where he was staying and leave a note for Thomas’ parents with the maitre d’ saying they had gone to the hotel. After the three arrived at Hoffman’s hotel room, “Either Karina or Dustin suggested that [Karina] should go home” to Hoffman and Byrne’s house nearby, Thomas said, “because it was a school night and she had homework. So she left, and I was left in the hotel room with him alone.”
Shortly after Karina departed, according to Thomas, Hoffman went to the restroom. She heard the shower turn on. “I was just sitting there waiting for my parents,” Thomas said.
After several minutes, “He came out of the bathroom with a towel at first wrapped around him, which he dropped,” Thomas said. “He was standing there naked. I think I almost collapsed, actually. It was the first time I had ever seen a naked man. I was mortified. I didn’t know what to do. And he milked it. He milked the fact that he was naked. He stood there. He took his time.”
Hoffman eventually put on a robe and sat on the bed, according to Thomas, who said that he then asked her to massage his feet. She complied.
“I didn’t know what to do in the circumstance,” she said. “I didn’t know that I could say no, so I did it. And he kept telling me, ‘I’m naked. Do you want to see?’” Thomas said that she pretended not to hear Hoffman as he made suggestive comments to her.
“What saved me was that the phone rang, and it was my mother downstairs to pick me up,” Thomas said. “So I left.” She did not tell her mother about the story until decades later. “I was humiliated. My mother always had some instinct that something untoward had happened. She kept asking me, and I was so mortified, I never said anything.” Speaking to Variety, Thomas’ mother recalled arriving at the restaurant, receiving the note, then picking her daughter up at the hotel. She recalled being concerned that her daughter had been alone in the room with Hoffman.
Cori Thomas did not tell her mother about what happened in the room until recently. She also never told Karina, who years later was a bridesmaid in Thomas’ wedding. “I didn’t want to embarrass her,” she said.
Thomas didn’t share the story of her encounter with Hoffman until seven years after it occurred, when her daughter was born. She told a family member — who confirmed to Variety having heard the story some time in the 1980s — and several close friends. “One of them said, ‘If this was your daughter, what would you do?’ And I said, ‘I would call the police,’” said Thomas, who is now a playwright.
Kester met Hoffman while he was making “Ishtar.” Living in Los Angeles, Kester was dating a man who worked on the music for the film and who invited her to visit the Malibu studio where Hoffman was recording vocal tracks for the movie’s songs. On her first visit, according to Kester, Hoffman’s second and current wife, Lisa, was present as were more than one of Hoffman’s younger children. On another visit, Kester said, she watched part of Hoffman’s performance in “Death of a Salesman” on VHS with the actor and others at the studio.
“We got into this conversation about Arthur Miller, and I told him that I wanted to write,” Kester, now a producer of corporate instructional videos, said. “I told him about some projects I was interested in, and he seemed really interested. I’m embarrassed, thinking back, because why would he be interested? It’s stupid.” Hoffman, according to Kester, suggested that he may want to work with her and asked for her phone number, which she gave him.
On a third visit, Kester said, she was in the control room with her boyfriend and a male engineer while Hoffman recorded the vocal track for one of the film’s songs in an isolation booth. A window between the control room and the booth, Kester said, made Hoffman visible to those in the control room from only chest level up.
Hoffman, Kester said, was struggling with his vocals, and the two men in the control room were making technical adjustments to compensate.
“He was in the recording booth, and he was like, ‘Send Melissa in here. I’m bored. Send Melissa in here,’” said Kester, who characterized the atmosphere as joking. She went into the booth with Hoffman.
“He may have been being flirtatious, but it wasn’t to the point of being obscene, because my boyfriend’s there,” Kester said. “Then they get ready to do another take. I’m standing there, and it’s kind of a small room, and he grabs me, so we’re both facing out so we’re both facing the people in the studio. I’m thinking that it’s kind of flirtatious and funny, like he’s holding onto me, because I’m going to help him sing better. I felt awkward. It’s a little weird. He’s hugging me while he’s singing. But ha ha ha, it’s all a joke. My boyfriend is right there.”
Hoffman continued with the take.
“And as he’s doing that, he literally just stuck his fingers down my pants,” Kester said. “He put his fingers inside me. And the thing I feel most bad about is I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there. I just froze in the situation like ‘Oh my god, what is happening?’ It’s shocking when that happens to you.”
Kester said that she made an effort not to react for fear that her boyfriend or the other man in the control room would know what was happening. She estimated that Hoffman kept his fingers inside her for 15-20 seconds, until he finished the take. Then she moved away from him.
“He kind of laughed,” she said. “Then I just ran out of there, and I sat in the bathroom crying. I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ I felt like I’d been raped. There was no warning. I didn’t know he would do that.”
Kester left the studio and never told her boyfriend, with whom she shared a long-term relationship for several years, about the incident. Shortly after it occurred, she told a friend that Hoffman had groped her and made a pass at her, but not the details of the unwanted sexual contact. That person confirmed that account to Variety.
Hoffman, Kester said, called her repeatedly after the incident. The first time, he asked if they could get together, to which she responded no, she was busy. “The third time he called, that’s when I felt a rush of fear,” said Kester, who worried that Hoffman might begin stalking her. “That’s when I said, ‘You have to stop calling me. Please don’t call me.’” She did not hear from him again. Kester later attended the 1987 premiere of “Ishtar” with her boyfriend, but did not speak to Hoffman.
A third woman who asked to remain anonymous told Variety that Hoffman also assaulted her while working on “Ishtar” and that she had a subsequent sexual encounter with him that she characterized as consensual. She was 22 years old and had a non-speaking role in one of the film’s nightclub scenes shot in New York at Kaufman Astoria Studios. Hoffman, she said, approached her on set and told her “You’re a real actress, aren’t you?” Hoffman invited her to eat lunch in his dressing room, which she did.
A week later, the woman was at her job at an answering service when a friend on the film called her and said that Hoffman wanted to see if she would come to set and had offered to send a car for her. She turned down the ride, but agreed to go to the set. “I got off work. I got one [subway] token and I went out there to Kaufman Astoria Studios. He was escorting me around. He put me in a director’s chair. It was the last day of the shoot.”
She said that she observed the end of shooting, but then, as a wrap party began on the set, told Hoffman that she was going to leave. “He was like ‘No, no, stay,’” she said. “He gave me a drink. Everybody was dancing. And he just kept keeping an eye on me.”
After 1 a.m., the woman said, Hoffman offered to give her a ride home. Hoffman had a driver operating a station wagon that quickly filled with other people from the set. “I said ‘Okay, I’ll just get home another way.’ He goes, ‘No, we’ll get in the way back.’”
The woman said that she and Hoffman lay next to each other in the back of the station wagon, which started moving shortly thereafter. She was wearing a skirt. “There are people inches from us,” she said. “And he just took his hand and stuck his fingers right up inside of me. I didn’t know what to do. He’s smiling at me. I was frozen. I was outside of my body.”
The woman said that she does not recall how long the unwanted contact lasted, and that she felt unable to do anything to stop it. “There were people there,” she said. “What are they going to think of me, that I’m a whore, if a say something? What would I say? He’s Dustin Hoffman.”
According to the woman, the car dropped her near her apartment, but Hoffman put $20 in her hand and instructed her to go to the San Remo, where he lived. “I didn’t know what to do,” the woman said, describing herself as being in “a kind of fugue state” triggered by her encounter with Hoffman and related to abuse that she suffered as a child. She hailed a cab and asked the driver to “drive around” for a few minutes, then asked him to take her to the San Remo. There she said, Hoffman was waiting outside the building. She accompanied him upstairs, where, she claimed, he performed oral sex on her and they had intercourse.
Asked if she would describe the encounter in the station wagon as non-consensual, she said “yes.” Asked if she would describe the encounter at the San Remo as such, she said, “I don’t know.”
Earlier this year, three women came forward with allegations against Hoffman detailing sexual harassment that they said occurred decades ago. In an October letter in the Hollywood Reporter, Anna Graham Hunter, a production assistant on “Death of a Salesman” in 1985, wrote that Hoffman harassed and assaulted her on set when she was 17 years old. The following month, Wendy Riss Gatsiounis, now a producer on the National Geographic series “Genius,” told Variety that Hoffman propositioned her during a pitch meeting. Last week, actress Kathryn Rossetter wrote in the Hollywood Reporter that Hoffman groped and assaulted her while the two worked together on the Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman.”