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Theatre / Cactus Flower

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Cactus Flower is a 1965 American play by Abe Burrows. Burrows adapted the French farce Fleur de cactus by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, changing the setting from Paris to New York.

Dr. Julian Winston, D.D.S., has a Park Avenue office that has recently been remodeled with a hi-fi stereo. He's been known to fix the teeth of pretty girls for free. His secretary-assistant, Stephanie Dickinson, who keeps a small cactus plant on her desk, efficiently handles Dr. Winston's needs during his working hours. After hours, he consorts with other women, these days usually with Toni (Antoinette) Simmons, a 21-year-old thing who works at the L.P. Record Shop in Greenwich Village. He does not have a wife and three children, but Toni has lived and loved him for the past year under exactly that impression. He's willing to say anything to Toni to prove he loves her in all honesty, but when he tells Toni he'll get a divorce and marry her and she demands to meet the wife first, he finds himself confronted with a side of Stephanie he never knew in all his years of working with her when he presses her into playing the part of Mrs. Winston.

The play's original New York cast included Lauren Bacall as Stephanie. The 1969 film adaptation, released by Columbia Pictures and directed by Gene Saks, starred Ingrid Bergman and Walter Matthau, with Goldie Hawn making her big-screen debut (and winning an Academy Award) as Toni; the adapted screenplay was by I.A.L. Diamond, a frequent collaborator of Billy Wilder. A 2011 movie remake was titled Just Go with It.

This play contains examples of:

  • Analogy Backfire:
    Julian: You're afraid of life, afraid of intimacy, afraid to let yourself go. You're as scared as that cocker spaniel of yours.
    Stephanie: Frieda has had twenty-two puppies!
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Julian realizes that cutting off both Stephanie and Toni has left him without a woman to take care of his needs in the office or outside it, he goes out and gets drunk.
  • Fake Relationship: Julian wants to marry Toni, but he's already told her that he has a wife and three children. Toni, not wanting to be the homewrecking kind, insists on meeting the wife before Julian divorces her. So Julian convinces his nurse, Stephanie Dickinson, to pretend to be Mrs. Julian Winston.
  • Food End: After Julian finally walks out on Toni, Igor goes into her bathroom to get dressed. She asks him if he's free for dinner together, and he says, "Great. I'll go out and get some Chinese food." She answers by offering to make some chicken cacciatore (which was splattered all over her stove when he first found her), and he emerges from the bathroom smiling. This is the last the audience sees of them.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder:
    Julian: Now take what happens here in the office every day. I'm a man. You're very nice to me, you look after me devotedly. But how do you make up for that? By completely defeminizing yourself.
    Stephanie: Doctor, I don't care what you think of me or the way I look. I'm a nurse, not a geisha girl.
  • Latin Lover: Señor Arturo Sanchez, a passionate South American nicknamed "El Bravo" who doesn't let Stephanie's plain nurse's uniform or his own marriage deter him from making passes at her.
  • Modeling Poses: Toni poses for Igor with the mink stole from Julian, just to prove it's not her style.
  • Modesty Towel: Julian enters Toni's apartment one evening and is surprised to find Igor Sullivan wearing nothing but a towel.
  • No Time to Explain: When Julian reads Toni's Spurned into Suicide letter, he changes out of his lab coat and rushes out immediately, outright refusing to explain the situation to Stephanie, though she suspects it has to do with one of his girlfriends. Not only does Stephanie have to make excuses to his patients about what happened to the doctor, but she has no idea who Toni is when Igor phones the very next moment to report that Toni is alive.
  • Pretty in Mink: Julian presents Toni with a mink stole. She's stunned at the generosity of his gift, though she would have rather received black leather slacks. She decides to send the mink to "Mrs. Winston" along with the original card, whose only words are, "As ever, Julian." Stephanie is so taken with the stole that she buys an expensive evening gown to wear with it to the April in Paris Ball.
  • Sexy Stewardess: Julian describes to Harvey an anonymous airline stewardess for whom he canceled a date with Toni to see instead: "Spectacular looking. A Swedish blonde. Tall. Built. We went to her place, we had a few drinks..." Harvey is eager to find out what happened next, and is disappointed to hear that Julian he walked out on her after suddenly thinking of Toni. At the end of the play, Stephanie receives a phone call from "a stewardess from Swedish Airlines" (likely the same young woman) suggesting an evening date with Julian, who says to Stephanie: "Tell her I've been grounded."
  • Skirts and Ladders: Toni, perched on a ladder stacking records on a top shelf, displays a lot of her legs to Julian:
    Julian: Say, do you always stand up there like that?
    Toni: Like what?
    Julian: Well, if any customers stand where I'm standing... let's just say it's quite an angle.
    Toni (shrugs): Oh, that. Nobody here looks. Most of our customers are classical.
  • Spurned into Suicide: The play begins with Toni's neighbor, Igor Sullivan, smelling the gas in her apartment and breaking in to save her life, much to her annoyance. He thinks Toni was trying to kill herself because she just found out about Julian having a wife and three children, but her actual reason was that Julian canceled a date with her at the last minute on the one-year anniversary of their first meeting, when he told her that he was a married man. She also mailed Julian a suicide note, which reaches him before Igor does, causing further confusion.
  • Title Drop:
    Stephanie: Now, Doctor, you've been complaining that I'm too grim and efficient. You compared me with my cactus plant. Well, Doctor, every once in a while this prickly little thing— puts out a lovely flower that some people think—
  • Un-Confession: Toni, sensing something's wrong with Julian, asks him what the trouble is. He breaks down and begins to tell her his embarrassing secret: "I have to get this off my chest. Toni, Stephanie is..." One interruption later, Toni presses the subject: "Come on, Julian, let's have it. You know me. I can forgive anything except a lie." Julian then realizes that he can't tell Toni that Stephanie isn't his wife, since he was lying to her about being married from the beginning of their affair, and he tries to save face by confirming one of Toni's wild guesses about Stephanie instead.
  • Visual Title Drop: Act Two, Scene Five. "Doctor's office, the next morning. Stage is empty. There is one interesting change in the office. A special spot is directed at Stephanie's cactus plant which has blossomed! There is a good-sized, lovely flower. After a moment the rest of the lights come up."

Tropes in the 1969 film:

  • And Starring: Hawn gets an "introducing" credit. She was already famous due to her being on the TV show Laugh-In.
  • Conversation Cut: Julian starts to get deeper into the web of lies with Toni, telling her that his "wife" wants the divorce too because she's also having an affair. This backfires hugely when Toni decides they have to meet the prospective new husband as well. Toni demands to see him, Julian says "No no no no no," and we cut to Stephanie saying "No no no no no" as Julian is trying to wheedle her into going along with this new complication in the plan.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Julian is brainstorming over who to get to play Stephanie's boyfriend. He says "We have to find someone we can trust," and at that moment his freeloading friend Harvey comes in for his appointment.
  • Match Cut: From Julian with his hands in a patient's mouth, to a rather agitated Stephanie in the office darkroom with her hands in a pan, developing X-rays.
  • Video Credits: The Iris Out on the cactus is paused. Then there's a video clip of Matthau, which irises out—and is paused, and left on the screen. Then the same with Bergman, Hawn, and the other main players.