The Front Page
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|The Front Page|
|Written by||Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur|
|Date premiered||August 14, 1928|
|Place premiered||Times Square Theater
New York City
|Setting||The Press Room of the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. 1928.|
The Front Page is a hit Broadway comedy about tabloid newspaper reporters on the police beat, written by former Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur which was first produced in 1928. The play has been adapted for the cinema several times.
The play's single set is the dingy Press Room of Chicago's Criminal Courts Building, overlooking the gallows behind the Cook County Jail. Reporters from most of the city's newspapers are passing the time with poker and pungent wisecracks about the news of the day. Soon they'll witness the hanging of Earl Williams, a white man and (supposed) Communist revolutionary convicted of killing a black policeman. Hildy Johnson, cocky star reporter for the Examiner, is late. He appears only to say good-bye; he's quitting to get a respectable job and be married. Suddenly the reporters hear that Earl Williams has escaped from the jail. All but Hildy stampede out for more information. As Hildy tries to decide how to react Williams comes in through the window. He tells Hildy he's no revolutionary and shot the police officer by accident. The reporter realizes this bewildered, harmless little man was railroaded — just to help the crooked mayor and sheriff pick up enough black votes to win re-election. It's the story of a lifetime. Hildy helps Williams hide inside a roll-top desk. His daunting challenge now is to get Williams out of the building to a safe place for an interview before rival reporters or trigger-happy policemen discover him. The Examiner managing editor, Walter Burns, is a devious tyrant who would do just about anything to keep Hildy with the paper. Nevertheless, Hildy has no choice but to ask for his help.
The authors' expert plotting and rapid-fire, streetwise dialogue delighted audiences and made their play an instant classic. Hecht and MacArthur strongly influenced many other American comic writers, especially in Hollywood.
The newspapers are modeled on the City News Bureau of Chicago (where MacArthur had worked), Chicago Daily News (where Hecht was a reporter), and Chicago's American. The character Earl Williams is loosely based on "Terrible" Tommy O'Connor. Walter Burns is a thinly disguised caricature of Hearst editor Walter Howey.
The original production of The Front Page, directed by George S. Kaufman and produced by Jed Harris, opened at the Times Square Theatre on August 14, 1928. It starred Osgood Perkins and Lee Tracy as Burns and Johnson, respectively. The production was a smash hit, running 278 performances before closing in April 1929. It was included in Burns Mantle's The Best Plays of 1928-1929.
The show was restaged three more times on Broadway: in 1946, 1969–70, and 1986-87 at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center directed by Jerry Zaks and starring Richard Thomas as Hildy and John Lithgow as Burns. The most successful of these was the 1969-70 revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, starring Robert Ryan and Bert Convy as Burns and Johnson, which ran 222 performances.
The Front Page has been adapted to film a number of times:
- The Front Page (1931), starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien.
- His Girl Friday (1940) directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant as Walter and Rosalind Russell as Hildy, who in this version is female and Walter's ex-wife. A romantic element is added to the plot, as Walter is trying to win Hildy back both professionally and personally.
- The 1931 film was adapted to radio by Academy Award Theater (1948) with Menjou and O'Brien reprising their roles from the film.
- The Front Page (1949), CBS Television series starring Richard Boone and John Daly
- The Front Page (1974), directed by Billy Wilder, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
- Switching Channels (1988), starring Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner, with the newspaper reporters updated to television reporters and none of the original dialogue retained.
His Girl Friday and Switching Channels changed the male lead Hildebrand 'Hildy' Johnson to females Hildegaard 'Hildy' Johnson and Christy Colleran respectively. John Varley's 1991 science fiction novel Steel Beach takes the story — and the change of sex — to another level; the plot includes a sex-change by a male reporter named Hildy Johnson.
There have also been four television productions, all under the title The Front Page:
- 1945, in the US;
- 1948, in the UK;
- 1949–1950 (see above) in the US as a series on CBS;
- 1970, in the US
The musical Windy City (book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh, music by Tony Macaulay) was also based on The Front Page. It premiered at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London, England on July 20, 1982 and ran for 250 performances.
Additionally, Hecht and MacArthur's story for the 1939 film Gunga Din recycles their basic plot of trying to dissuade someone from leaving his job, in this case Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s character attempting to resign his post in the British army and comrades Grant and Victor McLaglen conniving to prevent it.
- "Hecht, Ben (1894-1964)." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 7 Apr. 2012.
- The Press: Will the Ice Age Return? TIME August 13, 1945
- Internet Broadway Database, The Front Page 1928-29 run entry.
- Internet Broadway Database, The Front Page main entry.
- The Front Page at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Front Page at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Front Page at the Internet Movie Database
- His Girl Friday at the Internet Movie Database
- Switching Channels at the Internet Movie Database