A woman with a scoop

“Scoop? You couldn’t scoop the insides out of a cantaloupe.” — her editor.

The 1935 Bette Davis film promoted by that trailer, Front Page Woman, was brought to radio four years later with Paulette Goddard in the title role and Fred MacMurray as the defender of male supremacy in the newsroom, courtesy of Lux Radio Theater.

“The love story of two reporters, a boy who thinks that journalism is purely a man’s profession and a girl who won’t say ‘yes’ until she proves him wrong” — that’s how the announcer introduces it.

For more discussion of what we like to think is a dated “battle of the sexes” romantic comedy, see the IMDB page for Front Page Woman and the analysis at She Blogged By Night.

Supporting player Roscoe Karns, as a smart-aleck photographer named “Toots,” is the only cast member to make it from the movie screen to the radio adaptation. Karns’ career is fascinating — the character actor was repeatedly cast as journalist — editor (Copy, 1929 & The Roadhouse Murder, 1932), photographer or reporter (His Girl Friday, 1940 & Woman of the Year, 1942).

On Lux Radio Theater, host Cecil B. DeMille waxes nostalgic about real-life women journalists, two of whom I’ve written about here, Anne Royall and Nellie Bly. Among other things, DeMille repeats the apparently apocryphal story about Anne Royall interviewing a naked president of the United States. Keeping with the reality-radio theme, there is also a long-distance guest-appearance by Floyd Gibbons, a real-life fast-talking star reporter of the day.

For a case of popular culture citing popular culture in this film, listen early in the story when the infuriating leading man calls the young woman reporter a “sweet little kid who’s read too many newspaper novels.” He later mentions that he doesn’t write them, either.

“I don’t write novels or newspaper plays, and I do take off my hat in the house.” — reporter Curt Devlin

He may not write fiction, but he does have a strange grasp of newspaper writing vocabulary. One plot twist turns on his decision to use the too-memorable words boniface and expiate in the same news lead for two newspapers.

“With a song on her lips, Mabel Gay, Broadway’s famous female boniface, walked to the electric chair last night to expiate the murder of dapper Rudy Spain.” — execution story lead by Curt Devlin.

I hope journalism students will quickly add to the film’s list of unlikely plot twists the thin odds of two copyeditors letting that sentence get by. I also look forward to a class discussion of Hollywood’s usual “all’s fair…” attitude toward reporters’ ethics.

Eventually I’ll move the contents of this post and add more details about “Front Page Woman” on a page of her own.

Note: If there’s one film-to-radio 1930s stereotype stronger than “cranky editor,” “wise-cracking, rule-breaking newspaperman” and “feisty, but ultimately marriage-minded newspaper woman,” it’s this episode’s portrayal of an “Irish cop” during the fire scene. For comparison, listen to Michael Axford and his friends on the force in almost any “Green Hornet” episode.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1930s, reporters, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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