Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Tootsie. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

At first Michael is an uncooperative, opinionated, self-involved actor who has alienated producers on both coasts.  Through his experiences as Dorothy Michaels, he changes into an understanding person who can see the “other side” of issues.

Main Character Growth

Michael must start to think about other people’s needs and feelings, instead of pushing his values and opinions on everyone.

Main Character Approach

When Michael is faced with a problem, he immediately takes action:  He disagrees with a director’s orders and walks off the production.  When Sandy needs to be angry to get her part right, Michael accompanies her to the audition and enrages her with insults.  After he learns that another actor got a part he was promised, Michael bursts into his agent’s office and demands an explanation.  When his agent declares that no one will hire him, Michael dresses in drag and lands a role on the soap opera.  When he can’t break his contract, Michael reveals himself as a man on live television to get out of it.

Main Character Mental Sex

Michael tends to solve his problems using linear thinking:  He needs money to produce Jeff’s play and tells his agent he’ll do anything to get it, even appear in commercials.  When he’s told he’s unemployable as a actor, he poses as an actress to get an audition for “Southwest General.”  After he lands the job, Michael devises a step-by-step morning routine to transform himself into Dorothy, and creates an allergy story to avoid the studio makeup person.  When informed that his soap opera character is a wimp, Michael solves the problem by improvising Dorothy’s lines on the spot—without consulting the show’s producer or writers.

Story Driver

When George informs Michael that no one will hire him, Michael decides to prove him wrong, and dresses in drag to get the soap opera job.  When Dorothy threatens Ron on the set, Rita decides to give her an audition.  Michael stands up Sandy for a dinner date and she decides to stand sentry at his apartment.  Julie invites Dorothy to her father’s farm for the weekend, and Michael decides to go despite Jeff’s warnings.  After Dorothy tries to kiss her, Julie decides to end their relationship.  When Julie rejects Dorothy, Michael decides to shed his disguise and reveal himself on live television.

Story Limit

Michael, an actor who hasn’t worked in two years, needs $8,000 to produce a play that he can star in.  At first he’s willing to take any lowly acting job to get the money, then he’s told his bad reputation is keeping him from working with New York producers.  He would do commercials in Hollywood, but those producers don’t want him either.  Michael pretends to be Dorothy Michaels, auditions for a soap opera, and gets the role.  He can’t tell his neurotic girlfriend that he got the part she failed to obtain.  He lies to her and leads a secret life.  As Dorothy he falls in love with Julie, but can’t tell her he is really a man.  He’s forced to continue his masquerade because Dorothy’s contract is renewed.  If he tells the truth, he’ll risk prosecution for fraud, and most certainly Julie.  When he slips in his role as Dorothy and tries to kiss Julie, she thinks Dorothy’s a lesbian and breaks off their relationship.  Julie’s father proposes to Dorothy, and an actor on the soap tries to seduce Dorothy.  Michael can’t handle the complications of his pretense, and is forced to make the shocking revelation on live television that he is really a man.  Once he does this, he can court Julie as a man, and a better one at that for his experience of acting as a woman.
An example of how optionlock is illustrated by a minor objective character is illustrated in Les:  He courts Dorothy and proposes.  Then he’s put off, and has to wait for his answer.  But when he learns Dorothy is really a man, there is no other option for him but to find a “real” woman.

Story Outcome

Michael learns how to be himself without robbing others of the right to be themselves as he raises the money to finance Jeff’s play; Julie learns to be honest with herself concerning her relationships with men; Jeff gets his play produced with the possibility of being “the” new hot playwright; Sandy learns to be more assertive and professional as she accepts Michael’s rejection with her own style of grace, and decides to act in Jeff’s play with him.

Story Judgment

Michael learns to be a better person.
MICHAEL:  I was a better man with you. . . as a woman. . . than I ever was as a man.  [. . .] I learned a few things about myself being Dorothy.  I just have to learn to do it without the dress.  (Gelbart, p. 144)

Overall Story Throughline

""One of the Greatest Acting Challenges Any Actor Can Have""

Overall Story Throughline

The objective characters have different ways of thinking, which often causes them problems:  Michael thinks that holding to his exacting standards and never compromising is the key to being a successful actor; Jeff thinks that writing issue oriented, quirky plays are the only type worth writing, but his plays are commercial flops; Sandy thinks once she has sex with her men friends they’ll leave her; John Van Horn thinks as the leading man on “Southwest General” he should kiss all of the actresses, and makes sure to manipulate every situation to accomplish this; Julie thinks by not demanding more from her relationships she won’t risk being lonely; Ron thinks he can charm any woman he meets.

Overall Story Concern

The objective characters are concerned with who Michael really is; Sandy wants to be a full-time actress, and Michael’s only girlfriend; Jeff wants to be a successful playwright with a drama starring Michael; George wants to quit acting like a referee between Michael and the producers who hire him; Julie wants to be herself and be able to demand more from men, but is afraid she’ll be alone if she does; John Van Horn would be delighted to be Dorothy’s one-night-stand.

Overall Story Issue

Michael, determined to get a job after two years without work in his true calling, poses as Dorothy to audition for a soap; Sandy’s desperate to change her status as a loser (her date leaves Michael’s party with another woman) to that of a winner by landing a role on a soap opera; Jeff wants to quit working as a waiter and receive critical acclaim and financial backing for his liberal plays; Julie wants to boost her self-esteem by breaking up with her patronizing and womanizing boyfriend; Les wants to stop living the life a lonely widower and marry Dorothy; John covets the invigorating Dorothy, perceiving her as even sexier than the young girls on the soap; Rita wants to make her show more popular by picking up Dorothy’s option for another year.

Overall Story Counterpoint

Michael is a gifted actor, but his talent is overshadowed by his arrogance; Julie’s a beautiful, talented actress who demonstrates her acting abilities on the show, drawing fans to seek her autograph; Ron is a top soap opera director for a highly-rated show; Rita is a successful woman producer in a male-dominated business.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Desire vs.Ability

While ability is explored in the objective story, desire makes the greater impact.  Although Michael is a talented actor, it isn’t until he wants to end his two-year acting drought and finance Jeff’s play that he overcomes his bad attitude and becomes a successful actor.  John Van Horn doesn’t make much of an effort to remember his lines, but he does take the time to follow Dorothy home, serenade her outside her apartment, and pressure her to make love to him, something that would change their relationship from one that is professional to very personal.  After eighteen years of marriage, Les should be able to tell a woman from a man, but his desire to end his widowerhood clouds his ability to see past Dorothy’s makeup, wig, and genteel manner.

Overall Story Problem

The objective characters use of “trust” causes them problems:  Rita trusts that Dorothy is a middle-aged actress, hires her, and unknowingly creates the situation that leads to problems for everyone who interacts with Dorothy.  Sandy trusts that Michael will treat her fairly after they become lovers, but he lies to her, stands her up for dinner, and doesn’t return her calls.  Julie trusts that Dorothy is a kind and gentle older woman.  She forms a deep personal attachment to her, and is hurt when she realizes she’s been deceived.  Les accepts that Dorothy is a woman, falls in love in one weekend, gives her an engagement ring, then is embarrassed to discover that he proposed to a man.  John Van Horn trusts that Dorothy will welcome his sexual advances because of the sparks he feels during their scenes together, but his clumsy seduction is interrupted by Jeff.

Overall Story Solution

Examples of how “test” will solve the objective story’s problems: When Michael stands her up for dinner, Sandy hangs out in front of his building to see if he’s cheating on her, then accuses him of having an affair with the woman she saw going into his apartment.  When Michael denies having an affair with that woman, Sandy’s problem with trusting him is solved for the moment.  After having unwittingly proposed to a man, Les “checks out” his new girlfriend to make sure she’s a woman.  Testing his dates solves Les’ problem of trusting people on face value and being misled.

Overall Story Symptom

The objective characters deal with the effects of the story’s problems which occur when “determination” is used.  George determines that Michael hasn’t had an acting job in two years because he’s too much trouble to work with.  This reason for his not working causes Michael to challenge George.  “Oh, yeah,” he says and walks out of the office.  Sandy determines that after she has sex with Michael, her friend for six years, he’ll start treating her badly, because it’s happened to her before.  Ron tries to figure out why Dorothy doesn’t like him when he usually can charm any woman.  After Les’ wonderful moments with Dorothy at his farm, he reasons that she’ll make him a perfect second wife.

Overall Story Response

George expects Michael to fail to get the $8,000 to produce Jeff’s play.  No one expects Michael to dress in drag and get a role on a popular soap opera.  Although Sandy expects Michael to give her the run-around after their sexual encounter, she cheerfully prepares dinner for him and anticipates his arrival.  Les expects Dorothy to accept his hasty marriage proposal after their brief weekend encounter.  John expects Dorothy to succumb to his seduction.

Overall Story Catalyst

The objective characters use of “thought” accelerates the story:  George muses that Michael can’t get an acting job; Michael accepts the challenge, dresses in drag, and lands the part on “Southwest General.” Sandy thinks Dorothy is a wimp on the show, compelling Michael to immediately start improvising Dorothy’s lines—she becomes so popular that the producer renews Dorothy’s contract for a year.  This causes a major dilemma for Michael and he’s forced to take drastic action to get rid of Dorothy.

Overall Story Inhibitor

The objective characters faulty attempts at applying knowledge inhibits the story’s progress.  Sandy knows Michael’s been acting weird lately; she catches him undressed in her bedroom, he has sudden illnesses that keep them apart, he stands her up for dinner, and she sees a strange woman entering his apartment.  But Sandy doesn’t understand how these events fit together.  Julie fails to put together clues that Dorothy is a man; the heavy makeup, her little mustache problem, high-neck dresses and scarves to hide his Adam’s apple.  Even when Michael, sans wig at the cocktail party, delivers word for word the pickup line she told to Dorothy in confidence, Julie fails to comprehend the situation.  When Sandy and Julie attempt to use their knowledge of Michael and/or Dorothy, they both figure wrong.  Sandy thinks Michael’s gay and Julie thinks Dorothy’s a lesbian.

Overall Story Benchmark

As the story advances, the characters measure their progress by the ideas they come up with to achieve their goals:  Jeff comes up with the idea to write a controversial play, “Return to Love Canal”; Michael comes up with the idea to enrage Sandy so she’ll be in the right mood for her audition; Michael invents Dorothy Michaels to get a job; Julie devises a plan to rehearse the next day’s lines together; Sandy has the wrong idea that Michael is having an affair with the “cow” she saw go into his apartment; Julie comes up with the idea to invite Dorothy to her father’s farm for the weekend where Les falls in love with Dorothy; Les advances the idea that Dorothy marry him.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

Michael Dorsey, a brilliant, “uncompromising” New York actor whom no one wants to hire because he makes things hell for everybody. When Michael’s girlfriend goes up for an audition for a role in a soap and is rejected, he makes himself up as a woman, presents himself as “Dorothy Michaels,” and lands the job. (Pauline Kael, Cinemania CD-ROM.  Microsoft. 1995)

Overall Story Backstory

Michael Dorsey is a talented, but obnoxious New York actor whose auditions have ended in failure—he was either too young, too old, too short, too tall, or just not right.  He has taught acting and is respected by other actors, but has alienated New York theater producers as well as Hollywood producers with his inflexible attitude.  It’s been two years since his last acting job.  Now his roommate, Jeff, has written a great play for Michael to star in, but it’ll cost $8,000 to produce.  Michael needs this play and must get the money.  He needs an acting job, but his bad reputation has caused him to be blacklisted on both coasts.

Main Character Throughline

Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels — Struggling New York Actor

Main Character Throughline

Michael finds himself in a frustrating situation.  He’s a gifted actor who hasn’t worked in two years.  His friend has written a play that’s perfect for him to star in, but there’s no money to produce it.  His agent tells him that he’s unemployable because of his unwillingness to compromise when working with producers. 
GEORGE:  . . . I can’t even send you up for a commercial.  You played a tomato for 30 seconds they went a half day over because you wouldn’t sit down!
MICHAEL: Yes.  It wasn’t logical.
GEORGE:  You were a tomato!  A tomato doesn’t have logic!  A tomato can’t move!
MICHAEL:  That’s what I said!  So if a tomato can’t move, how can it sit down, George?!
Michael insists he’ll get the $8,000 to finance Jeff’s play.
GEORGE:  . . . You’re not going to raise twenty-five cents.  No one will hire you.
MICHAEL:  Oh, yeah?

Main Character Concern

Michael’s concerned with the current two-year lull in his acting career.  He’s just turned a year older with no immediate prospects for an acting job.  In fact, Michael finds out that a soap actor has been cast in a role he was supposed to audition for, but wasn’t given the chance.  Michael is told he can’t get an acting job in New York or in Hollywood because he’s too difficult to work with.  Challenged, Michael is so determined to turn his life around, he pretends to be an actress and gets a role on “Southwest General.”

Main Character Issue

Once Michael latches onto his fantasy woman, Dorothy Michaels, he does everything possible to perpetuate the illusion.  He’s so seduced by his own creation that he almost destroys his friendship with Sandy; alienates his roommate when he doesn’t want Jeff to answer his own phone; risks his agent’s reputation, and prosecution for fraud.  When Jeff questions his motives for his “dress up” role, Michael defends his deception.
MICHAEL:  It happens to be one of the great acting challenges any actor can have!
Michael’s faith in his fantasy is so all-consuming that he can’t listen to reason about spending the weekend with Julie as Dorothy.
JEFF:  You can’t do this.  Stop packing and listen to me.
MICHAEL:  In two weeks I’ll never see her again.  And if I do see her I’ll be Michael Dorsey and she’ll throw a drink in my face.

Main Character Counterpoint

Michael realizes that he can’t have Julie as Dorothy.  He must win her as himself or not at all.  His real love for Julie allows him to drop his fantasy and live his life honestly without the arrogant mask he’s been hiding behind.  He realizes he must stop acting.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Fantasy vs.Fact

The fact that Julie loves Dorothy, the better part of Michael, enables him to discard his disguise.  Michael risks his success, and possible prosecution for fraud by letting his love for Julie lead him to shed his fantasy girl, Dorothy.  Later, when he faces a hostile Les he admits:
MICHAEL:  I think. . . I love Julie.

Main Character Problem

Michael is driven by his blind trust in his acting abilities.  He doesn’t trust anyone’s opinion except his own when it comes to acting.  Even when faced with another birthday, he trusts his acting to buffer him from depression and the threat of growing old.
MICHAEL:  I’m a character actor.  Age has no effect on me.
When Michael needs $8,000 to finance Jeff’s play, he relies on his acting to earn the money.  He’s shocked when his agent tells him that by forcing his exacting acting standards on producers he’s been blacklisted on both coasts.
MICHAEL:  . . . You mean nobody in New York will work with me?
GEORGE:  That’s too limiting.  No one in Hollywood will work with you either.

Main Character Solution

Michael tests his trust in his acting by going to the soap opera audition as a woman.  After he fools the producer and director and lands the part, Michael tests his acting on his agent.  Michael approaches George as Dorothy in front of the Russian Tea Room.  When George doesn’t recognize him, Michael follows him inside.
DOROTHY:  It’s Michael.  Michael Dorsey, your favorite client.  Last time you got me a job it was a tomato!
GEORGE:  [. . .] I begged you to get some therapy.
DOROTHY:  You also told me nobody would hire me again.  [. . .]  I’ve got a soap, George.  I’m the new Woman Administrator on “Southwest General.”  They almost didn’t hire me because they thought I looked too feminine.
GEORGE:  You’re not going to get away with this.
DOROTHY:  I got away with it.  Look around.

Main Character Symptom

Flushed with the success and popularity of Dorothy after gracing the covers of national magazines, Michael focuses his efforts on keeping up his charade as Dorothy.  He suggests future projects for her to his agent.
MICHAEL:  Why can’t you get me a special where I could do Dorothy singing—
Michael’s so caught up in his role as a woman he believes he can help “other women like me—”
GEORGE:  . . . There are no other women like you.  You’re a man!
MICHAEL:  Yes, but you don’t understand.  I’m also an actress.  [. . .] I could do Medea, I could do Lady Macbeth. . . . the Eleanor Roosevelt Story!  (Gelbart, p. 78-78A)

Main Character Response

When his double life becomes too much of a mess for him to handle, Michael believes the solution to his problem is to end his charade as Dorothy.  Michael becomes so desperate he suggests killing Dorothy off.
MICHAEL:  What if I died?  What if Dorothy had an accident?  What if Dorothy died?
GEORGE:  . . . You go kill somebody and bring me the stiff, but she better look like you.  That network doesn’t miss a trick.  (Gelbart, p. 129)

Main Character Unique Ability

Michael is an actor.  He has dedicated his life to the craft of creating believable fantasies.  His ability to maintain fantasy allows him to successfully create Dorothy, a soap opera role, and earn money to finance Jeff’s play.  Michael becomes a sort of kindly fairy godmother as Dorothy, developing into the role day by day.  Through his fantasy woman, Michael shows Julie how not to compromise her needs in her relationships, and gradually discovers how he can be himself without degrading others.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Michael is an obsessive, difficult New York actor, who in demanding as much from producers as he does from himself, has alienated anyone who can hire him.  But he’s still shocked to discover his efforts aren’t valued.
GEORGE:  A guy’s got four weeks to put on a play—you think he wants to sit and argue about whether or not Tolstoy can walk if he’s dying. . .
MICHAEL:  That was two years ago.  That guy is an idiot.
GEORGE:  They can’t all be idiots, Michael.  You argue with everybody.  You’ve got one of the worst reputations in this town.

Main Character Benchmark

As the story moves forward Michael measures his progress by his current situation:  Michael hasn’t had an acting job in two years, and is told no one will hire him because he’s too difficult.  His masquerade as Dorothy lands him a job on a soap opera, but he’s forced to lead a double life.  He falls in love with Julie, but can’t reveal his true sex and desires.  He becomes trapped in the role of Dorothy when the soap picks up her option for a year.  After Les proposes, and he’s sexually attacked by John Van Horn, Michael begs his agent for help.
MICHAEL:  Sandy thinks I’m gay, Julie thinks I’m a lesbian.  [. . .] And then Les, the sweetest, nicest guy in the world, asked me to marry him tonight!  [. . .]  I’m in trouble, man!

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

Michael is a short, craggy-faced, middle-aged actor.  He’s dedicated to his craft and stubborn as hell.
MICHAEL:  I bust my ass to get a part right!
GEORGE:  Yes, but you bust everyone else’s ass too.

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Michael Dorsey, a stage actor trying to make ends meet, dresses in drag and auditions for a part as a mature woman on a New York soap opera.  Ron, the show’s director, along with everyone else is fooled, and Michael gets the part.  His rise to fame as “Dorothy Michaels” is almost instant.  His girlfriend, Sandy, who doesn’t know he’s working, wonders if he has another girl or if he’s gay.  The leading male actor on the soap, John Van Horn, attempts to seduce “Dorothy.” [. . .]  Meanwhile, Michael finds himself falling in love with the female star of the show, Julie, a single mother who has been dating Ron.  Completely unaware of Michael’s charade, Julie grows close to her costar, inviting “Dorothy” to visit the farm where she grew up.  There, Michael falls deeply in love with Julie.  Les, Julie’s father, falls for his “Dorothy.”  Back in New York, “Dorothy’s” subtle come-on prompts Julie to suspect that her friend is a lesbian.  Michael’s in torment because he can’t just tell her “Dorothy” is a man.  That same evening Les proposes, and John tries to seduce “Dorothy.”  Eventually, Michael decides that he can no longer live a lie, and on a live broadcast, he removes his wig, letting the whole world in on his secret.  Julie is less than happy when she learns of Michael’s deception, but by the finale, she forgives him, and they end up together.  (Cinemania CD-ROM)

Main Character Backstory

Michael is a New York actor: bright, aggressive, talented—and unemployable. “You mean nobody in New York wants to hire me?” he asks his agent, incredulously. “I’d go farther than that, Michael,” his agent says. “Nobody in Hollywood wants to hire you, either.” Michael has a bad reputation for taking stands, throwing tantrums, and interpreting roles differently than the director.  (Ebert, p. 690-691)

Influence Character Throughline

Julie Nichols — Soap Opera Actress

Influence Character Throughline

Julie’s fixed attitude is illustrated by her belief that she doesn’t deserve better men than ones like Ron, whom she allows to ignore her needs, patronize her, and paw her in front of the cast and crew of the show.
JULIE:  There’re a lot of men in this world, but I’m selective.  I look around very carefully and when I find the guy I’m sure can give me the worst time, then I make my move.  (Gelbart, p. 67)

Influence Character Concern

Julie’s use of the preconscious attracts Michael to her so profoundly that he unwisely pursues her as Dorothy.  Julie’s immediately friendly to Dorothy at her audition; Julie impulsively supports Dorothy’s on-camera improvisation; offers Dorothy an impromptu dinner invitation in trade for help with the next day’s script; when talking with Dorothy, Julie impulsively invents an “honest” pick-up line.  Michael uses it on Julie later, and is disappointed when her reflex reaction is to throw a drink in his face.

Influence Character Issue

At the start of the story Julie feels she has little worth:  She frankly admits she picks men who treat her badly; she lets Ron treat her like a boy toy, and allows him to stand her up for dinner.  Under Dorothy’s influence Julie begins to feel more and more dissatisfied with her life and finally decides to dump Ron.
JULIE:  I deserve something better.  But I’ve been too scared or too lazy or too something!
DOROTHY:  Don’t be so hard on yourself!
JULIE:  . . . I’ll live, maybe not happily, but honestly. . .

Influence Character Counterpoint

Although Julie may lack self-esteem initially, she’s valued by her father, Les, who loves her dearly.  When Julie and Dorothy visits his farm, Les remarks to Dorothy:
LES:  I’ve got my stars. . . you and Julie.

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Worth vs.Value

Both value and worth are explored through Julie Nichols.  In the end worth wins out as she’s honest to herself and Dorothy about their relationship and firmly ends it.  Although it’s painful, Julie will no longer compromise her feelings and beliefs, even if she has to lose a friend.

Influence Character Problem

Julie’s focus on ending her relationships cause problems for Michael.  When Julie ends her affair with Ron, she feels unhappy which causes Dorothy to act inappropriately toward Julie with the kiss.  This compels Julie to end her association with Dorothy which devastates Michael to the point of revealing his true identity in front of millions of television viewers.

Influence Character Solution

After Michael reveals his deception, Julie decides to continue a sort of relationship with Dorothy through him.  Julie now believes Michael’s experience as Dorothy has made him the type of man she could have a good relationship with.  She even teases him about Dorothy’s now useless wardrobe:
JULIE:  Will you loan me that little yellow outfit?
MICHAEL:  Which one?
JULIE:  The Halston.
MICHAEL:  The Halston!  No way!  You’ll ruin it. . .
JULIE:  I will not!
MICHAEL:  Well, okay, but I want it back.
JULIE:  What’ll you do with it?

Influence Character Symptom

Julie focuses on “determination” instead of the real causes for her problems:  She figures she’s with Ron and lets him treat her badly because she has always picked men who mistreat her; she thinks Dorothy is the perfect woman for Les, because after years as a widower and not dating, he’s attracted to her; Julie thinks she has lesbian tendencies because for a split second she almost let Dorothy kiss her.  But her conclusions are all wrong and compound her problems.

Influence Character Response

Julie’s use of “expectation” impacts Michael:  Julie expects that Dorothy wants to have a lesbian relationship with her, but knows she can’t let that happen.  When she tells Dorothy she can’t see her anymore, Michael decides he can’t lose being part of Julie’s personal life.  He risks a romantic relationship with her, his success as Dorothy, and possible prosecution by discarding his disguise on live television to prove to Julie that she’s not in love with a woman.

Influence Character Unique Ability

As Julie’s self-esteem increases under Dorothy’s influence, her new independence causes problems for Michael.  Julie, annoyed at Michael’s pick-up line, throws a drink in his face.  She breaks up with Ron.  Having found greater worth in herself, Julie acts on her true feelings and ends her friendship with Dorothy.  As Michael is completely cut out of her life; he panics and risks everything to shed his disguise in hopes that she might come to love him as himself.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

Julie’s tendency not to face facts undermines her efforts to be happy:  She knows that Ron doesn’t value her and treats her badly, but she stays with him anyway, and is hurt when he doesn’t show up for their dinner date; when Dorothy points out that she drinks too much, Julie makes light of the fact, tells Dorothy not to worry about it, and keeps on drinking.

Influence Character Benchmark

The more Julie considers her relationships with men the closer she gets to finding a relationship that’s good for her.  She considers her choice of men, saying she selects those who’ll give her the worst time.  She contemplates the role-playing between men and women, and gives Dorothy the ideal line she’d want from a man.  As Julie consciously pursues a friendship with Dorothy and invites her for the country weekend, she realizes what’s missing in her male relationships.  She considers boosting her self-esteem and decides to dump Ron.  After Michael reveals his deception, Julie considers the emptiness she feels from losing Dorothy’s friendship and contemplates an honest relationship with him.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

“JULIE, pretty, blonde, the show’s leading lady passes as Dorothy drops the “sides.”  (Gelbart, p. 29)  Beautiful and smart, yet insecure.

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Julie Nichols, the leading lady of “Southwest General,” befriends Dorothy who’s really a man.  Julie, attracted by Dorothy’s assertiveness, understanding nature, and professionalism, asks the older woman to help her rehearse the next day’s scenes one evening at her apartment.  From then on their friendship grows, and Julie invites Dorothy to spend a weekend at her father’s farm with her and her daughter.  But later, back in New York, Julie’s appalled when Dorothy makes a pass at her.  Her feelings for Dorothy scare her and she breaks off the relationship.  Julie learns along with everyone else that Dorothy is Michael Dorsey.  Angry at being deceived, Julie punches Michael and stalks off the set.  Only weeks later is she able to admit that she misses Dorothy, and agrees to give Michael a chance to be that wonderful friend again, only this time without the dress.

Influence Character Backstory

Julie Nichols was raised in the country by an old-fashioned father and a loving mother who has died.  She has a fourteen-month-old daughter, Amy, but has never been married.  She doesn’t explain or apologize for being an unwed mother.  She also never explains why she has such low self-esteem.  We never find out why she’s involved with Ron Carlysle, the slimeball director of “Southwest General.”  She admits that when it comes to men she has always picked the ones who will treat her the worst.  Her country upbringing didn’t prepare her for the realities of life, and she drinks too much.

Relationship Story Throughline

""I Was a Better Man With You as a Woman Than I Ever Was as a Man""

Relationship Story Throughline

Michael and Julie are both actors on “Southwest General,” and it is during rehearsals and performances that their relationship develops.  Michael endeavors to keep up his pretense as Dorothy to be close to Julie; Julie cultivates a friendship with Dorothy to fulfill her need for a maternal figure.  Their aborted kiss causes them to sort out their feelings for each other as Dorothy tries to explain, while chasing a confused Julie around the living room.  Determined to quit his masquerade and pursue Julie as the man he is, Michael sheds his wig, glasses, and makeup in front of Julie and millions of television viewers.  Michael and Julie work to reconcile their relationship with a clear understanding of who’s who, and who should really be wearing “that little yellow outfit.”

Relationship Story Concern

By using Dorothy as a confidant, Julie believes she’s building a meaningful, mentor-like friendship with a woman and invites her to spend a weekend on Les’ farm.  Michael, acting as Dorothy, is deceiving Julie to be close to her as much as possible.  They share a bed as “girlfriends” where Julie pours her heart out about her deceased mother.  Michael’s breach of trust causes major conflict between him and Julie.

Relationship Story Issue

A thematic issue that affects Michael and Julie is “experience.”  Michael brings his experience of standing up for himself into his relationship with Julie.  He’s shocked that a lovely woman like Julie has had such bad experiences with men and hasn’t learned from them.  As Dorothy, Michael is affected by Julie’s low self-esteem, and he influences her to take some control over her life.  Julie, numbed by past experiences with men, is shaken out of her complacency by her interactions with Dorothy.  She fires the rude nanny and ends her relationship with Ron.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

As Michael becomes more adept at acting like a woman, his interactions with Julie tap his potential for being more compassionate.

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Experience vs.Skill

The thematic exploration of Julie’s past negative experiences with men, and Michael’s newly acquired interpersonal skills, underlies their relationship.  They develop skills that allow them to overcome past experiences and trust in each other enough to have a rewarding relationship.

Relationship Story Problem

What is and is not within tolerances is the source of problems between Michael and Julie:  When Michael pretends to be Dorothy and engages in a “girlfriend” relationship with Julie, the deception leads Julie to thinking she has lesbian tendencies.  This creates a false dilemma that’s nonetheless painful for Julie.  To her their relationship has been well within tolerances, then with the “almost” kiss, everything they’ve shared becomes inappropriate.

Relationship Story Solution

Julie feels the solution to her problem with Dorothy is to acknowledge their “unnatural” attraction to each other, but to remain apart.  A lesbian relationship can’t work in the type of closeness Julie had in mind concerning Dorothy.
JULIE:  Listen, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you how much you’ve meant to me these past few weeks. [. . .] But. . . I can’t see you anymore.  It would be a lie.  It would be leading you on.  I love you, Dorothy, but I can’t love you.
Julie’s refusal to tolerate a friendship with Dorothy forces Michael to come clean.  At this point they can take steps to create a meaningful relationship.

Relationship Story Symptom

Michael and Julie focus their attention on determining information about each other:
JULIE:  Do you mind if I ask you a question?  Do you worry about wearing so much makeup on your skin all the time?
DOROTHY:  . . . I have a little mustache problem.  I’m a little sensitive to it.  Too many male hormones or something.
JULIE:  Some men find that attractive.
DOROTHY:  I know.  I know.  I just don’t like the men who find it attractive.  I take it you’re divorced?
JULIE:  Oh, no.  I’ve never been married.

Relationship Story Response

Michael thinks using expectation will solve his problem with Julie after, as Dorothy, he tries to kiss her.  Michael expects Julie to be open-minded and use her instincts regarding their attraction to each other.
DOROTHY:  No, no, don’t jump to conclusions about that impulse.  That impulse is a good impulse!  If you could just see me out of these clothes!

Relationship Story Catalyst

Julie doesn’t know exactly why she’s come to love and value Dorothy so much so soon, but something in her craves closeness with her understanding new friend.
JULIE:  You know its funny. . . and don’t. . . don’t take this the wrong way, but since I’ve met you, I’m so grateful to have you as a friend, and at the same time. . . I feel lonelier than I ever have in my whole life. . . as if I want something I can never have.  Y’know that I mean?
This intimate insight prompts the “almost” kiss which speeds the subjective story along.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

The use of assumed knowledge slows the subjective story.  Julie thinks Dorothy is a woman, but she’s wrong and engages in a false relationship, and has to begin again with Michael.  Michael thinks if he uses the pick-up line that Julie had told Dorothy would be effective, he’ll have an instant in with Julie.  However, it doesn’t work.  Julie throws a drink in his face which impedes their relationship.  When Michael finally reveals himself, she punches him in the stomach.

Relationship Story Benchmark

With Julie, Michael learns over time to be a more caring person:  He becomes aware of her frustration over the role-playing between men and women, and realizes that he’s guilty of treating women badly; learns that women respond to honesty more than pick-up lines.  As their relationship develops, Julie learns how to be a better actress from her acting coach, Dorothy; how to stand up for herself when Dorothy stands up to Ron on the set; how not to compromise her self-respect when, under Dorothy’s influence, she breaks up with Ron.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

As Dorothy, Michael meets and falls in love with Julie Nichols, the star of “Southwest General.”  Julie feels an almost instant kinship with the older woman, and invites her for a weekend at her Dad’s farm.  Julie, influenced by Dorothy’s honesty and independence, gains the strength to end a degrading relationship with her two-timing boyfriend.  But when Dorothy makes a pass at her, Julie breaks off their relationship because she realizes she truly loves Dorothy and she can’t deal with feeling “that way” for another woman.  When Michael reveals himself on live national television, Julie punches him in the stomach and walks out.  Later, Michael apologizes for deceiving her.  He convinces her that Dorothy is part of him and she should know him as a man.

Relationship Story Backstory

Michael is an arrogant actor who only cares about pulling off “one of the greatest acting challenges any actor can have.”  He doesn’t stop to think that it’s wrong to engage in a personal relationship with Julie as Dorothy.  Julie is really a simple country girl acting out the glamorous life of a soap opera actress.  She’s vulnerable and insecure when it comes to men.  She believes she’s found a true friend in Dorothy, someone she admires for being an assertive, honest person.  But she’s in for a rude awakening.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

The goal of common concern to the objective characters is for Michael to be himself.
JEFF:  Instead of trying to be Michael Dorsey the great actor, or Michael Dorsey the great waiter, why don’t you just try to be Michael Dorsey?
After Michael’s success as Dorothy, he wants to be her full time, suggesting to his agent that he get Dorothy her own television special.  George reminds him he’s not Dorothy.
GEORGE:  Don’t take yourself so seriously.  Come to the party.
In the screenplay, Michael wonders:
MICHAEL:  So, what do you mean?  I have to come as Dorothy?
GEORGE:  Come as Michael, come as Dorothy.  Just don’t come as Jane Fonda, because Phil’s conservative. . .
MICHAEL:  I’ll come as Dorothy.
GEORGE:  Come as Michael!  I mean it.  (Gelbart, p. 78A)

Overall Story Consequence

If Michael fails to be himself, he’s doomed to give women the same tired pickup lines; he’ll keep watching less talented actors get the roles he should have; he’ll continue to wait tables for a living.  Worse yet, he’ll end up an old lecher acting the same cliche role for twenty years like John Van Horn—or being a self-delusional cad like Ron Carlysle.  If Sandy and Julie fail to assert themselves, Sandy will end up back in San Diego as a waitress, and Julie will be doomed to suffer the abuse of selfish men.

Overall Story Cost

Costs incurred by the objective characters as they attempt to achieve the story goal pertain to the “preconscious.”  Michael has to repress his immediate attraction to Julie because he’s posing as a woman; Sandy’s insecurities are triggered repeatedly, for example, when turned down for the part of Miss Kimberly, her first impulse is to return to her hometown; Michael insults Julie and gets a drink thrown in his face; Michael has to fight John Van Horn off when he tries to seduce Dorothy.

Overall Story Dividend

Michael advances his acting career with the job on “Southwest General”; Julie develops her self-esteem by firing Amy’s dragon-lady nanny; As Michael learns to be a more cooperative actor, George gains another working client and ten percent of Michael’s earnings; Rita’s show earns increased ratings because of Dorothy’s popularity; As Michael becomes more successful and has less time for Sandy, she becomes more assertive with Michael and a stronger person overall.

Overall Story Requirements

In order to achieve the story goal the objective characters come up with various ideas:  Michael comes up with the idea to pose as an actress to get the role Sandy couldn’t; Les advances the idea that Dorothy marry him which causes just one of the complications that leads to Michael to drop his “act” and be himself.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Although Michael has the potential to be a better man than he is at the start of the story, he must learn how to think like a woman to figure out how to be that better self, eventually without the wig and dress.

Overall Story Preconditions

Michael has to consider how to get an acting job if no one will hire him; Jeff must contemplate how much weirdness he’s going tolerate from Michael while his roommate is in his current “role;” Sandy makes a conscious decision to be Michael’s girlfriend, even after he is less than attentive; etc.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Ron is a warning of who Michael will end up like if can’t realize his potential to honestly be himself with others (especially women), in relationships.  Michael observes the current situation between Ron and Julie as a reflection of his relationship with Sandy.  As Dorothy, Michael witnesses Ron deceive Julie when he sees the director in a clinch with April.  When confronted, Ron gives Dorothy the same lame excuse Michael gave Jeff for lying to Sandy:
RON:  Look Dorothy, . . . I never said I wouldn’t see other women.  I just know she doesn’t want me to see other women, so I lie to her to keep from hurting her.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

Jeff’s concept of success is impractical, he imagines having a playhouse that’s open only when it rains so he’ll have “people who are alive” see his plays.  Sandy envisions giving up her acting career after her disappointment at the soap opera audition and going home to San Diego.  George cannot imagine that Michael will ever find an acting job because he’s too much trouble.  Michael imagines dressing up like a woman to audition for the soap opera role.

Overall Story Journey 1 from Conceptualizing to Conceiving

Dorothy gives John a different kind of smack than the one the show’s writer’s envisioned happening.  An angry Jeff comes up with the idea to go to his girlfriend’s house after Michael won’t let him answer their phone:
JEFF:  . . . why should I sit here pretending I’m not home because you’re not “that kind of girl.”  That’s weird, man.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Rita comes up with the idea to hire Dorothy; Michael comes up with the idea to tell Sandy a relative died and left him $8,000, the exact amount needed to produce Jeff’s play; Dorothy invents the idea to hit John Van Horn over the head to avoid their on-camera kiss; John comes up with a way to get his kiss under the pretense of welcoming Dorothy to the show.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Conceiving to Being

After having sex with Michael, Sandy comes up with the idea to ask him for her pain now instead of later so she won’t be cast aside once more.
SANDY:  Otherwise, I’ll just wait by the phone and if you don’t call, then I’ll have pain and wait by the phone.
John Van Horn acts like a lovesick teen after a scene with Dorothy:
JOHN:  That was wonderful, the way you held my face.  You controlled me completely.  I felt your power.

Overall Story Signpost 3

Ron acts like a male chauvinist jerk when he ignores Julie’s great acting job and is rude to Dorothy; Julie acts like a farm girl, horseback riding on her Dad’s farm; Dorothy adapts to farm life when she rides on Les’ tractor and milks a cow.  Les plays the role of the gracious host when he brings a sweater out to Dorothy.

Overall Story Journey 3 from Being to Becoming

Les changes from being Dorothy’s biggest fan and casually courting her on his farm to becoming a potential groom when he presents Dorothy with an engagement ring and proposes.

Overall Story Signpost 4

Jeff becomes a promising playwright with the successful opening of his play at the Syracuse Playhouse.  Michael becomes a better man who can be straight with Les and Julie instead of lying to them.  Les becomes a more sophisticated man after his encounter with Dorothy, checking out his next lady friend to be certain she’s really a woman.

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

Michael is getting nowhere with his acting career.  On his auditions he’s either too young, too old, too short, too tall; he hasn’t worked in two years; discovers that a soap opera actor is rehearsing for a play he was supposed to read for; discovers that his reputation as a hard-ass is stopping him from working.

Main Character Journey 1 from Progress to Future

Michael is so enraged that he’s been blacklisted by New York and Hollywood producers that he dresses in drag and gets a high-paying role on a soap opera.  With the money he’s able to finance Jeff’s play which he’ll star in as Michael Dorsey.

Main Character Signpost 2

After Michael gets on the soap he’ll have money to finance Jeff’s play; he gives Sandy a script of the play so she can learn her lines for the future production; caught undressed in her bedroom, Michael starts an affair with Sandy, and promises to have dinner with her the next evening.

Main Character Journey 2 from Future to Present

When Dorothy appears on the covers of top magazines, Michael gets excited about her future.
MICHAEL:  Why can’t you get me a special where I could do Dorothy singing—
While Dorothy’s future might seem full of possibilities, Michael strikes out with Julie when she throws a drink in his face at a cocktail party.

Main Character Signpost 3

Michael is trapped in the role of Dorothy when her standard contract is renewed by Rita. 
MICHAEL:  When I signed the contract, I didn’t know I’d be working for the rest of my life as a woman!

Main Character Journey 3 from Present to Past

As Dorothy, Michael receives a marriage proposal from Les and is so overwhelmed he runs out of the dance club.  He has a harrowing experience when John Van Horn tries to seduce Dorothy and won’t take no for an answer.  Michael’s upset about his current situation and begs George to help him kill off Dorothy so he can return to being just Michael Dorsey.

Main Character Signpost 4

Michael tries to pick up Julie as he has done with other women in the past.  He’s successful when he speaks from his heart.
MICHAEL:  I was a better man with you. . . as a woman. . . than I ever was as a man. . . with a woman.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

When Michael, as Dorothy, nervously fumbles the audition script, Julie falls back on her own recollections of a similar situation.  She tells Dorothy how one should handle auditioning for the show.

influence Character Journey 1 from Memory to Preconscious

When Dorothy is introduced as a new regular on “Southwest General,” Julie recalls their meeting and immediately introduces herself:
JULIE:  We met the other day.  I’m Julie Nichols, the hospital slut.

Influence Character Signpost 2

When Dorothy hits Dr. Brewster over the head, instead of letting him kiss her in their scene, Julie impulsively voices her agreement with Dorothy’s improvisation.
JULIE:  It was a good instinct.  It would have been mine.

Influence Character Journey 2 from Preconscious to Subconscious

Julie is immediately relaxed around Dorothy, impulsively calling her Dottie the first time Dorothy visits her apartment.  Later, Julie invites Dorothy to spent the weekend with her because she thinks they’ll have fun together.

Influence Character Signpost 3

Julie is drawn to Dorothy because of her basic need for love, compassion, and acceptance.
JULIE:  . . . since I’ve met you, I’m so grateful to have you as a friend, and at the same time. . . I feel lonelier than I ever have in my whole life. . . as though I want something that I just can’t have.

Influence Character Journey 3 from Subconscious to Conscious

Julie, frightened by her basic attraction to Dorothy, runs away from her after their almost kiss.  The next day Julie considers her feelings toward Dorothy.
JULIE:  I love you, Dorothy, but I can’t love you.

Influence Character Signpost 4

Julie considers that she misses her friend Dorothy, and that Dorothy is in Michael.  She gives Michael a chance to know her as a man.
JULIE:  Will you loan me that little yellow outfit?
MICHAEL:  Which one?
JULIE:  The Halston.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

Julie understands Dorothy’s nervousness when she drops the script pages before her audition.  Julie picks up the pages and gives her some advice.
JULIE:  Think of them as something friendly, like a firing squad.

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Understanding to DoingMichael can't understand why Julie lets Ron treat her like "a nothing." He's so love-struck that he accepts a "date" to run script lines with her and have dinner.
Relationship Story Signpost 2

Julie and Dorothy act in their first scene together and save it when Julie faints and Dorothy catches her; Julie makes dinner for Dorothy; Dorothy helps Julie with her lines; Michael tries to pick up Julie with her own line; Julie throw a drink in his face.

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Doing to Learning

Michael starts to fall in love with Julie their first evening together.  Michael’s know-it-all attitude softens when he asks about Julie’s drinking, and gets a lesson on how to accept people as they are.
JULIE:  . . . I’m just telling you not to worry about it. . . It’s nice of you, but. . .
DOROTHY:  But I should mind my own business.

Relationship Story Signpost 3

Julie learns how to stand up for herself from Dorothy, and breaks up with Ron.
JULIE:  You have influenced me, though.  I’ve been seeing Ron through your eyes lately—
DOROTHY:  . . . I don’t want that responsibility.
JULIE:  [. . .] You wouldn’t compromise your feelings the way I have.

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Learning to Obtaining

Julie’s shocked to learn just how much she loves Dorothy when they almost kiss.  That brief experience convinces her that she has lesbian tendencies.  She ends her friendship with Dorothy, and she loses the best friend she’s ever had.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

Although Julie loves Dorothy she can’t enter into a lesbian relationship and won’t see Dorothy again outside of work.
JULIE:  I can’t see you anymore.  It would be a lie.
Michael, faced with losing Julie as Dorothy reveals himself on live television.  He loses Julie again when she punches him in the stomach.  But as some time passes Julie softens and Michael finally “gets the girl.”

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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