Daily Dialogue — January 29, 2013

January 29th, 2013 by


George Grey is around 50, impeccably dressed, talking on the phone. As Michael enters:

GEORGE (into phone): Hold on a second. (pushes hold) Michael, can you wait outside, please? I’m talking to the Coast.
MICHAEL: This is a coast, too, George. New York is a coast!
GEORGE: Wait a minute. (releases “hold;” then, into phone) Sy, listen — (beat) Sy? (into intercom) Margaret, get him back, will you? I cut myself off.
MICHAEL: Terry Bishop is doing “The Iceman Cometh.” Why didn’t you send me up for that, George? You’re my agent, too.
GEORGE: Stuart Pressman wanted a name.
MICHAEL: Terry Bishop is a name?
GEORGE: No. Michael Dorsey is a name. When you want to send a steak back, Michael Dorsey is a name. Excuse me. I didn’t mean that. That was a rotten thing to say. Let me start again. People know Terry Bishop. He was on a top rated “soap.” Millions of people watch him.
MICHAEL: And that qualifies him to ruin “Iceman Cometh?”
GEORGE: Look, I can’t have this conversation. You want to do socially significant theater in Syracuse for $35 a week? That’s your affair… Stuart Pressman wants a name, that’s his affair. I know this will disgust you, but a lot of people are in this business to make money.
MICHAEL: Don’t make me sound like some flake, George, I’d like to make money, too.
GEORGE: Oh, really? The Harlem Theater for The Blind? Strindberg in the park? The People’s Workshop in Syracuse?
MICHAEL: Don’t knock Syracuse. It was a revolutionary idea. For one dollar you could see great plays. “Woizeck,” “The Lower Depths,” Gerhart Hauptman’s “The Weavers.”
GEORGE: Oh, I didn’t know about Gerhart Hauptman’s “The Weavers.” Very shrewd career move.
MICHAEL: I got great reviews from the New York critics in Syracuse. Not that that’s why I did it.
GEORGE: — No, of course not. God forbid you should lose your standing as a cult failure.
MICHAEL (gently): Do you think I’m a failure, George?
GEORGE:I will not get sucked into this discussion! Hand me the little bottle that says Bufferin.
MICHAEL (handing it): I sent you a play to read, a play that’s got a great part for me in it. Did you read it?
GEORGE (flinging bottle): Where do you come off sending me an unproduced play that you want to
star in? Hand me that Bufferin again. I’m your agent, not your mother. I’m not supposed to produce your roommate’s play so you can star in it. I’m supposed to field offers.
MICHAEL: Who told you that? The agent fairy? I’m talking about a significant piece of work that has something to say that’s significant!
GEORGE: Nobody wants to do that play! No one is going to produce a play about a couple who move back to Love Canal!
MICHAEL: But that actually happened!
GEORGE: Who gives a damn! No one wants to pay $20 to watch people living next to chemical wastes! They can see that in New Jersey.
MICHAEL: I give a damn! No one will do the play? I’ll do the play! I’ll raise the money! Forget about “Iceman Cometh,” I’ll do anything! Send me up for a pilot, a TV movie–
GEORGE: I can’t.
GEORGE: Because no one wants to work with you. There!
MICHAEL (slowly): I don’t understand. Why shouldn’t they want me. I kill myself to get a part right.
GEORGE: Yes, but you kill everyone else, too. A guy’s got four weeks to put on a play — he doesn’t want to argue about whether Tolstoy can walk if he’s dying.
MICHAEL: That was two years ago. The guy was an idiot.
GEORGE: They can’t all be idiots. You argue with everyone. You’re a brilliant actor, Michael, but you’ve got one of the worst reputations in town. No one will touch you. I’ve told you to get some therapy.
MICHAEL: Are you saying… what are you saying? That no one in New York will work with me?
GEORGE: No. That’s too limiting. No one in Hollywood will work with you either. I can’t even send you up for a commercial. You played a tomato for 30 seconds and they went a half day over because you didn’t agree with the blocking.
MICHAEL: It wasn’t logical.
GEORGE (screaming): You were a tomato! A tomato doesn’t have logical blocking! A tomato can’t move!
MICHAEL (eagerly): That’s what I said.
GEORGE (closing his eyes): Michael… Michael… frankly, it’s nice for me to have an artist who says “screw you” to everyone. It gives me credibility as an agent. But for you —
MICHAEL (quietly determined): — George, I’m going to raise $8,000 and I’m going to do Jeff’s play.
GEORGE (shaking his head): Michael, you haven’t been listening. You’re not going to raise 25 cents. (slowly) No one will hire you.
MICHAEL: Oh yeah?


Teaming with people, coming an going. The focus gradually forces us to notice one woman moving toward us unsteadily on high heels. She is Michael.

Tootsie (1982), screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is agents, suggested by Teddy Pasternak who also is responsible for the scene from Tootise.

Trivia: Dustin Hoffman first got the idea to do this film while working on Kramer vs. Kramer. He felt his character in that film had to be both a mother and a father, so he started thinking about how to play a man and a woman. Several scripts, several writers and a few directors later, this was the result.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary from Teddy: “Well, what can I say about this scene, it’s so well-written and performed. We get all this background on Michael in a rapid-fire, hilarious conversation with setups and comebacks on a par with an Abbott & Costello routine, plus a great ending line with “Oh yeah?” throwing it over to Dorothy in the next shot.

The conflict and drama in this scene comes not from one character being right and the other wrong, but from the fact that they tackle the same problem from different places. They have the same goal: get Michael work. We empathize with Michael because of his dedication to his craft, and also with George who has to deal with his difficult client. It would have been easier to write one character as the good guy and the other as the bad guy, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting and engaging.”

Comment Archive

One thought on “Daily Dialogue — January 29, 2013

  1. pgronk says:

    Great piece of dialogue for so many reasons. One is that is skillfully embeds Michael’s objective goal for the rest of the movie, a clothesline on which to hang the rest of the movie.

    Michael’s short-term goal is to prove his agent is wrong, to show George that he can get hired. Mission accomplished by the end of Act 1 by going undercover and getting hired for the the female role his friend Sandy originally auditioned for.

    So what objective goal does Michael have for the rest of the movie? “I’m going to raise $8,000 and I’m going to do Jeff’s play.” Which is exactly what he accomplishes by the end of the movie.

    But only after complications ensue…

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