Philadelphia wasn’t really the story, but radio kept telling it

Movie poster for The Philadelphia Story While not exactly a “journalism procedural,” the romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story does feature a reporter and photographer on the trail of a high-society wedding — with the reporter literally getting in over his head. (In the swimming pool, by moonlight, with the red-haired bride-to-be.)
Other than that small lesson in journalistic detachment, and a hint of critique for tabloid obsessions over society celebrities, this Philadelphia story is much more about who is getting-the-girl than whether anyone is actually getting a story.

Radio anthology series producers apparently loved the tale, which was based on Philip Barry’s play and filmed in 1940 — with an all-star cast of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart as, respectively, the about-to-be-remarried socialite Tracy Lord, her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven, and swimming-pool-susceptible reporter Mike Connor. Ruth Hussey played Liz Imbrie, the Spy magazine photographer romantically focused on Connor.

What might journalism students or newspaper readers subconsciously take away from the story? “Don’t drink on the job and fall in love with the subject of your story,” might be a simple take-away. The editor, reporter and photographer’s differing opinions about the news value of a celebrity wedding story may be food for thought. Their technique of getting access to the event may raise questions (there’s a hint of blackmail involved). So might the suggestion that there are two economic classes — the reporters who have to make a living, the wealthy socialites who are “news” simply because of their money.

There’s also a seed here for of a discussion of the intellectual divide between journalism and other kinds of writing — Mike Connor seems conflicted about his two careers as “serious” author of fiction and as writer of society news for Spy.

“Can you imagine a grown-up man sinking so low?” Miss Lord remarks at one point. Unfortunately, more serious forms of journalism beyond the gossip photo-magazine do not enter into the conversation.

On the radio, the story was presented at least a half-dozen times, with a variety of casts and script modifications. The original stars recreated their roles in 1942 for Cecil B. DeMille’s wartime-renamed (Lux Theater) Victory Theater. (Click the program name to download or play an MP3 if an audio player icon wasn’t visible at the top of the page.)

See my Philadelphia Story page to play several other radio productions — including one with a surprise appearance by Lois Lane!

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1940s, comedy, journalism, magazines, movies, newspapers, photographer, reporting, romance, sensationalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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