Robert Duvall, left, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman. (Columbia Pictures/Getty Images; 20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty Images; Bettmann archive)

The three musketeers, of a sort: Duvall, Hackman, and Hoffman

Fun fact: Before they were famous, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall were roommates in New York City in the 1960s, and they palled around with an acting school reject named Gene Hackman.

Few would have guessed, least of all the men themselves, that they would each become giants of Hollywood.

Hackman and Hoffman, both born in Southern California, became friends as students at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1957. But Hackman didn’t stay long. Deemed talentless, he earned a grade of 1.4 on a scale of 1 to 10 in his first semester and was kicked out.

Both men made their way to New York, where they hooked up with Duvall, another Southern California native. The trio was instantly inseparable.

Scrounging for acting roles and scraping by on menial jobs, their futures were uncertain. But in interviews with Vanity Fair decades later they recalled a time of creativity, adventure, and parties late into the night at the West 109th Street apartment shared by Hoffman and Duvall.

Hackman: “There was a kind of feeling of Jack Kerouac at that time — ‘On the Road’ — kids just wanting to have a good time and kind of experience things. It didn’t have anything to do with being successful — just wanting to try this thing and see if it worked.”

Duvall: “Those were good years, not knowing what the future was about. All these friends. Very important. Dreaming. That was fun.”

Before long, bit parts gave way to bigger ones and ultimately breakout roles on the big screen. For Hackman it was “Bonnie and Clyde,” for Duvall “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and for Hoffman “The Graduate.” Between the three of them, they have 19 Oscar nominations and five wins.

In a 2003 N.Y. Times interview, Hoffman and Hackman confessed to feeling like imposters — “Like, ‘When are they going to find out about us?’” Hackman said. Hoffman suggested their careers could have easily gone another way: “I know there are certain actors … who have had really good lives. Regional actors. At the Seattle Rep, say. And you know, that would have been us — and it would have been great.”

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