Apr 26, 2010

Journalist of the week: Hildy Johnson

In October I'll be able to call myself a journalist. So, I'm starting a new series of posts called "Journalist of the week", a kind of character study of the reporters from classic (and not so classic) movies.

As you can see on the image, the journalist chosen for this week is Hildy Johnson, played by Rosalind Russel in "His Girl Friday".

My gosh, Hildy loved her job. And she was great at it.

First, her writing skills were superb. She could get the info one minute and in the next create an emotive but informative article. Based in a part of an article that is read on the movie, we can see that she linked paragraphs with effective comparisons and she used mostly a narration technique called "narrativization", in which the writer totally trusts in what the source said and writes the story without attributing the information. Hildy describes a shooting this way:
"And so into this little tortured mind came the idea that that gun had been produced for use.
And use it he did.
But the state has a production- for-use plan too. It has a gallows. And at 7 a.m., unless a miracle occurs, that gallows will be used to separate the soul of Earl Williams from his body.
And out of Mollie Malloy's life will go the one kindly soul she ever knew."

This ability made her a respected professional in a job that was ruled by men. Her colleagues praised her work and expected the best from her. But of course, it wasn't only this what made her a great journalist. She was intrepid and fearless; she could go alone to the jail and talk to a man accused of murder. She could run like Usain Bolt chasing an important source (on heels people!) and she had useful contacts in different places (hospital, jail, etc). 

She had a strong character to face men and won over the different and complicated situations she was involved in. That was especially useful since she worked in the "Morning Post" and she used to be married to its ethic-less editor, Walter Burns (Cary Grant). And, boy, this guy really had no respect for anyone: he could steal money, send a gangster-ish guy to do the dirty work, lie to his ex wife who's trusting on him, and he didn't mind risking other people lives in order to get some news. 
Maybe this is a little too much but Hildy could really cope with all this and more with great (and hilarious) answers. She used her humor to avoid complications.  When she noticed that Walter was trying to trick her again, she called him and said (calmly first, but then furious and menacing):
I got the interview, but I've got some more important news. Better get a pencil and take it down. All ready?
Get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee. There won't be an interview or a story. Your check leaves with me in minutes. I wouldn't cover the burning of Rome for you. If I ever lay my eyes on you again......I'll hammer your skull so it rings like a Chinese gong!

Hildy was smart and she was aware of the authorities interests. She took the side of the weak and could find the truth talking with a man accused by the major and the sheriff.  She's different from the journalists that surround her. She has sensibility. When the guys are making fun of the prisoner's girlfriend, she comforts her and tells the guys to stop. When she writes a story she doesn't lie like the others, even when that could make her article more interesting. 
She's been working for the “Morning Post” for years, but she hasn't become a puppet of her company. When she is finally writing the story about the fugitive, Walter tells her to put on the first lines that it was the 'Morning' the only newspaper in contact with the runaway prisoner. She doesn't care this kind of lucrative details. 

She also had something very important in journalism: the capacity of stay calm and think clearly even in the greatest crisis. She could maintain two different conversations using two phones; she could stay (kind of) relaxed when she saw the main source of the most important story of the week climbing to her window after escaping from jail.

But there are two things that Hildy had that I don't find very cool. First, she decided to leave her innocent boyfriend and stay with double-crossing Walter, because he promised her that the article would make her famous (she would have street and cigarettes with her name). Second, Hildy argues with Walter because his methods are unethical, but deep down, she likes him that way and finds all the tricks amusing. 

Anyway, Hildy is a great professional. Her colleagues are convinced that she could never leave journalism and be a housewife in a quiet town. And they're right. She calls herself a newspaperman and she's proud of all her adventures (even the one that included the stealing of a human organ to prove her point).  When she recognizes a bit of a potential scoop her eyes shine and she doesn't hesitate a minute. She just has to get her pad and pen and she's ready.  

The script of "His girl Friday" (1940) was written by Charles Lederer based on the play "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

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