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Nicole Underhay as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. (Emily Cooper)
Nicole Underhay as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. (Emily Cooper)

THEATRE

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Note to readers: Jeff Daniels is the actor who plays Will MacAvoy on HBO's The Newsroom. An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information.

“GET ME A REWRITE”: THE VARIOUS EDITIONS OF THE FRONT PAGE

 

THEATRE: The Front Page (1928)

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote the original version of this fast-paced farce based on their times working on newspapers in Chicago during the Prohibition era. “It’s the ‘only’ American comedy of the 1920s in the way that The Importance [of Being Earnest] is the ‘only’ English comedy of the 1890s,” wrote Tom Stoppard, himself a newspaperman turned playwright.

 

FILM: The Front Page (1931)

Lewis Milestone directed this first, faithful movie of Hecht and MacArthur’s play. Adolphe Menjou, playing editor Walter Burns, was nominated for an Oscar; Pat O’Brien played ace reporter Hildy Johnson (still a man).

 

FILM: His Girl Friday (1940)

According to Hollywood legend, director Howard Hawks’s secretary read the part of Hildy Johnson during auditions for a straight remake of The Front Page (photo above) and that’s how the idea of making the character a woman first popped into his head. However, Rosalind Russell only got the part opposite Cary Grant’s Walter after six other actresses, including Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, turned it down.

FILM: The Front Page (1974)

Billy Wilder’s screen farces include Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, but his remake of The Front Page is not remembered as the best of the bunch. Odd Couple stars Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon reunited to play Walter and Hildy, while Susan Sarandon was long-suffering fiancée Peggy.

 

THEATRE: Windy City (1982)

This musical, with lyrics by Dick Vosburgh and music by Tony Macaulay, ran for 250 performances in the West End, but never really cracked North America. “Is it supposed to be a spoof? An affectionate recreation?” asked New York Times critic Alvin Klein.

 

FILM: Switching Channels (1988)

 

The 1980s were not so kind to The Front Page, as this complete overhaul directed by Canada’s Ted Kotcheff (and partially filmed in Montreal and Toronto) showed. Burt Reynolds played a cable TV mogul; Kathleen Turner was his ex-wife ace reporter.

 

THEATRE: His Girl Friday (2003)

 

John Guare (Six Degress of Separation) completed the loop by adapting His Girl Friday for Britain’s National Theatre in 2003. Zoë Wannamaker was Hildy to Alex Jennings’s Walter. The Shaw Festival’s production is a recently revised version of this script, moved a decade later, to 1939.

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