Sunday, July 21, 2013

Don't Make a Scene: His Girl Friday

The Story: There seems to be some dispute about who came up with the idea of sex-changing "The Front Page" to His Girl Friday.  Hawks claimed it came about from a script-reading where a woman played the Hildy Johnson part and it seemed to "fit" better.  But, that was Hawks and he was good with embellishing a tale. The DVD extras seem to think it was screenwriter Charles Lederer's idea to take the predominately male cast of Hecht and McArthur's newsroom play and turn the character of Hildy into a woman, instead of the guy he is in the play.  But, one wonders how much power Lederer had in deciding how to adapt a property, and making such a radical move, even if it had already been filmed nine years previously. 

And, as said, Hawks was good at embellishing a tale. 

Not only is Hildy a former employee of editor Walter Burns, she's his ex-wife, making Burns want to get her back, both professionally and personally, making Burns less of an ogre and more of a spurned romantic.

That's kinda the modus operandi for Howard Hawks.  Sex was an important part of his formula for spicing up a story, but in non-traditional ways.  He liked to put men in weakened positions, either by giving them an injury, or compromised in some other way, or dominated by a woman, whom Hawks would, as a matter of course, strengthen to the point of intimidating and "one of the boys."  He loved to tear down Cary Grant, who was the embodiment of the handsome, roguish charmer. Hawks would make him an egg-head, wearing glasses, put him in women's clothes, kick his pedestal out from under him and keep him flustered. And the list of strong females in Hawks' films is legendary, up to and including Rosalind Russell here, who could carry on a long dialog scene with Grant and match him punch-line for punch-line, and "wing" the dialogue (which Hawks would re-write every day, anyway) and gave as good as she got stepping on his vocal toes at the fast pace that Hawks insisted on.  His Girl Friday was awash in script-alterations, re-writes, tinkering, and actor contributions. And to accommodate the rapid pace and overlaps, the meat of a line was moved to the middle where it couldn't be lost in the confusion.  

Hawks was good at embellishing a tale.

The Set-Up:  The Earl Williams execution is scheduled the next day, and the happy occasion is marked by the reunion of divorcees Walter Burns (Cary Grant) and Hildegard Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in the newsroom where they had previously worked, sometimes tooth and nail.


As we've said, Hawks would re-write the dialogue for a day's shooting, but there's a lot of ad-libbing and actor-finessing mixed in, so we've crossed out what was ditched in Lederer's script (not much, really) and put in GREEN what was added on-set.

HILDY Well, Walter I see you're still at it.

BURNS First time I ever double-crossed a governor.  What can I do for you?

HILDY Well, would you mind if I sat down?

BURNS There's been a lamp burning in the window for ya, honey.  Here.
HILDY Oh, I jumped out that window a long time ago, Walter.

Hildy sits. 
CLOSE SHOT DUFFY AND LOUIE going out of the door. They cast an interested look back and linger a second. Over scene comes Burns' voice. 
BURNS' VOICE I said scram! 
They close the door hurriedly. 


HILDY Oh, may I have one of those? a cigarette, please? 

Burns reaches into his pocket, extracts a cigarette and tosses it on the desk. Hildy reaches for it. 

HILDY Thanks. A match? 

Burns delves into pockets again, comes up with matchbox, tosses it to Hildy, who catches it deftly, and strikes the match. 

BURNS Well, well. How long is it?

Hildy finishes lighting her cigarette, takes a puff, and fans out the match. 

HILDY How long is what? 

BURNS You know what. How long since we've seen each other? 

HILDY Let's see. I was in Reno six weeks -- then Bermuda... Oh, about four months, I guess. Seems like yesterday to me. 

BURNS (slyly) Maybe it was yesterday. Been seeing me in your dreams? 


HILDY (casually) No -- Mama doesn't dream about you any more, Walter. You wouldn't know the old girl now. 
BURNS (with conviction) Oh, yes I would. I'd know you any time --  
He grows lyrical and, rising from his seat, is about to start toward her, as he continues: 

BURNS AND HILDY (together) -- any place, anywhere -- 

He sits.

HILDY (half-pityingly) You're repeating yourself! That's the speech you made the night you proposed. (she burlesques his fervor) "-- any time -- any place -- anywhere!" 


BURNS (growling) I notice you still remember it. 
HILDY I'll always remember it. If I hadn't remembered it, I wouldn't have divorced you. 

BURNS You know, Hildy, I sort of wish you hadn't done it. 
HILDY Done what? 
BURNS Divorced me. It sort of makes a fellow lose faith in himself. It almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted. 
HILDY Holy mackerel! Look, Junior, that's what divorces are for.
BURNS Nonsense. You've got the old-fashioned idea that divorces are something that last forever -- till 'death us do part'. Why, a divorce doesn't mean anything today. It's only a few words mumbled over you by a judge. 

BURNS We've got something between us nothing can change. 

HILDY I suppose that's true in a way. 
BURNS Sure I'm right.
HILDY I am fond of you, Walter. 
BURNS Thatagirl!
HILDY I often wish you weren't such a stinker. 

BURNS Now, that's a nice thing to say. Eh?  Latin, I suppose. You must come up and meet my Mother, she'd like that phrase.
HILDY Well, why did you promise me you wouldn't fight the divorce and then try and gum up the whole works? 
BURNS Well, I meant to let you go, Hildy -- but, you know how it goes, you never miss the water till the well runs dry.

HILDY A fellow your age big, fat lummox like you, hiring an airplane to write: (she gestures above to indicate sky- writing) 'Hildy: Don't be hasty -- remember my dimple. Walter.!' It held things up twenty minutes while the Judge ran out to watch it. 

BURNS Well, I don't want to brag, but I've still got the dimple -- and in the same place -- I just acted like any husband who doesn't want to see his home broken up. 
HILDY What home? 

WALTER What home? Don't you remember the home I promised you? 
HILDY Oh, yes -- we were to have it right after our honeymoon -- honeymoon! 

BURNS Was it my fault? Did I know that coal mine was going to have another cave-in? I meant to be with you on our honeymoon, Hildy -- honest I did. 
HILDY All I know is that instead of two weeks in Atlantic City with my bridegroom, I spent two weeks in a coal mine with John Kruptzky -- age sixty-three -- getting food and air out of a tube! 

HILDY You don't deny that. Do you, Walter? 
BURNS Deny it! Why, I'm proud of it! We beat the whole country on that story. 
HILDY Well, suppose we did? That isn't what I got married for. Oh! What's the good of -- 

HILDY Look, Walter, I came up here to tell you that you'll have to stop phoning me a dozen times a day -- sending twenty telegrams 
BURNS I write a good telegram, don't I? Everybody says so...
HILDY -- all the rest of it, because I'm -- Are you going to listen to what I'm trying to say?

BURNS Let's not fight, Hildy. Tell you what. You come back to work on the paper 
HILDY Aaahhhh
BURNS ...and if we find we can't get along in a friendly way, we'll get married again. 

HILDY What?!!
BURNS I haven't any hard feelings. 

HILDY Walter, you're wonderful in a loathesome sort of way. Now, would you mind keeping quiet long enough for me to tell you what I came up here for to say? 
BURNS (rising, reaching for his hat) Sure, come on. We'll have some lunch and you can tell me everything.

HILDY (also rising) I have a lunch date already. I just want -- 
BURNS You can break it, can't you? 
HILDY No, I cannot. Will you take your hands off... 

BURNS Sure you can. Come on.
HILDY What are you doing? Playing osteopath? 

BURNS Temper, temper... 


HILDY Don't tell me what to do! We're divorced -- I'm a free woman. You're not my husband and you're not my boss! And what's more, you're not going to be my boss. 

BURNS What do you mean by that? What's that supposed to mean?
HILDY Just what I said. That's what I -- 
BURNS You mean you're not coming back to work here? 

HILDY That's the first time you've been right today. That's what I -- 
BURNS (still interrupting) You've had a better offer, eh? 
HILDY You bet I've got a better offer. 
BURNS Well, go on and take it. Work for somebody else! That's the gratitude I get for -- 

HILDY I know, Walter, but I -- Oh, I wish you'd stop hamming...
BURNS (ignoring her) What were you when you came here five years ago? A little college girl from a School of Journalism! I took a little doll-faced hick mugg -- 
HILDY You wouldn't have taken me if I hadn't been doll-faced! 
BURNS Why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering. 

HILDY Listen, Walter -- 
BURNS (going right on) I made a great reporter out of you, Hildy, 

BURNS ...but you won't be half as good on any other paper, and you know it. You need me and I need you -- and the paper needs both of us. 

Hildy begins to do a simultaneous auctioneer's patter and stops on 

HILDY "Sold, American!"

BURNS Oh, alright...
HILDY Well, the paper'll have to learn to do without me. And so will you. 

HILDY It just didn't work out, Walter. 


BURNS It would have worked if you'd been satisfied with just being editor and reporter. But no! You had to marry me and spoil everything. 
HILDY (indignantly) I wasn't satisfied! I suppose I proposed to you! 

BURNS Well, you practically did! Making goo-goo eyes at me for two years till I broke down. "O-oh, Walter!"

BURNS And I still claim I was tight the night I proposed. If you'd been a gentleman you'd have forgotten all about it. But not you! 

HILDY (speechless) You -- you -- 

She grabs something and chucks it at him. He ducks. 

The phone rings. 

BURNS (to Hildy) You're losing your eye. You used to be able to pitch better than that.

(he reaches for phone) 
BURNS Hello... Yeah... What? Sweeney? Well, what can I do for you? 

CLOSE SHOT DUFFY seated at his desk, talking into phone. 

DUFFY Huh? What?  This is Duffy, not Sweeney! 

BURNS AND HILDY Burns into phone: 

BURNS Sweeney! You can't do that to me! Not today, of all days!

DUFFY What's the matter with you? Are you drunk loony?

BURNS Jumping Jehosophat! Oh, no, listen, Sweeney, this is no time to... Well, I suppose so... All right. If you have to, you have to. (he hangs up) 
HILDY He had to.

BURNS How do you like that? Everything happens to me -- with 365 days in the year -- this has to be the day. 
HILDY What's the matter?
BURNS Sweeney. 
HILDY Dead? 

BURNS Not yet. Might just as well be. The only man on the paper who can write -- and his wife picks this morning to have a baby! 
HILDY Sweeney? (she laughs) Well, after all, he didn't do it on purpose, did he? 
BURNS I don't care whether he did or not. He's supposed to be covering the Earl Williams case and there he is -- waiting at the hospital! Is there no sense of honor left in this country? 
HILDY (practically) Well, haven't you got anybody else? 
BURNS There's nobody else on the paper who can write! This'll break me, unless --
(he stares at Hildy; then a light breaks) 
BURNS Hildy! 

BURNS You've got to help me, Hildy. 
HILDY Keep away --

BURNS Get outta here, Duffy.  I'm busy. 

BURNS It'll bring us together again, Hildy -- just the way we used to be. 
HILDY That's what I'm afraid of. "Any time -- any place -- anywhere!" 
BURNS Don't mock, Hildy, this is bigger than anything that's happened to us. Don't do it for me! Do it for the paper. 
HILDY Get away Scram, Svengali. 

BURNS If you won't do it for love, how about money? Forget the other offer and I'll raise you twenty-five bucks a week. 
HILDY Listen, you bumble-headed baboon -- 
BURNS All right -- thirty-five, and not a cent more! 
HILDY Please! Will you just -- 
BURNS Great grief! What's that other paper going to give you? 
HILDY I'm not working for any other paper! 
BURNS Oh! In that case, the raise is off and you go back to your old salary and like it. How do you like that? 

BURNS Trying to blackjack -- (picks up the phone) I'm busy!

HILDY Look at this! (pulling her glove off her left hand) 
She gets glove off left hand and holds up an engagement ring for him to see. 

HILDY Do you see this? Do you know what an engagement ring is? 


He looks at ring, swallows, then: 

BURNS An engagement ring.

MED. SHOT Burns and Hildy. 

HILDY Uh-huh. I tried to tell you right away but you started reminiscing. 

HILDY I'm getting married, Walter, and also getting as far away from the newspaper business as I can get! 

HILDY I'm through. 

BURNS (himself again) Get married all you want to, Hildy, but you can't quit the newspaper business. It would kill you. 
HILDY You can't sell me that, Walter. 
BURNS Who says I can't? You're a newspaper man. 
HILDY That's why I'm quitting. I want to go some place where I can be a woman. 

BURNS I know you, Hildy, and I know what it would mean. It would kill you. You'd be a traitor!
HILDY A traitor! A traitor to what?
BURNS To journalism! You're a journalist, Hildy!


HILDY (bitterly) A journalist! Now, what does that mean? Peeking through keyholes -- running after fire engines -- waking people up in the middle of the night to ask them if they think Hitler's going to start a war -- stealing pictures off old ladies of their daughters that got chased by apemen! I know all about reporters -- a lot of daffy buttinskies going around without a nickel in their pockets, and for what? So a million hired girls and motormen's wives will know what's going on! No, Walter, I'm through. Ah, what's the use?

HILDY Walter, you don't know what it means to be respectable and lead a half-way normal life.  Point is, I'm through.

BURNS Where'd you meet this man?
HILDY Bermuda. 
BURNS Bermuda... Rich, eh? 
HILDY Not what you'd call rich. Makes about five thousand a year. 
BURNS What's his line? 
HILDY He's in the insurance business. 
BURNS (looks up) The insurance business? 
HILDY (on the defensive) It's a good, honest business, isn't it? 


BURNS Oh sure, it's honest. It's also adventurous, romantic! Listen, Hildy, But somehow, I can't picture you with a guy who sells surrounded by policies. Policies to the left of you, policies that doesn't make sense...
HILDY Well, I can, and I love it! He forgets the office when he's with me. He doesn't treat me like an errand-boy -- he treats me like a woman. 

BURNS He does, does he? How did I treat you -- like a water buffalo? 
HILDY I don't know from about water buffaloes, but I know about him. He's kind and sweet and considerate. 
BURNS Hmm-hmm.
HILDY He wants a home -- and children. 
BURNS Say, sounds more like a guy I ought to marry. What's his name? 

HILDY Baldwin.
BURNS Baldwin? Baldwin? I knew a horse thief named Baldwin in Mississippi, couldn't be the same fellow, could it?
HILDY Well, I'll give you a hint. By tomorrow they'll be calling me Mrs. Bruce Baldwin. You're not talking about the man I'm marrying tomorrow.

BURNS Tomorrow? Tomorrow... as quick soon as that?
HILDY Mm-hmm.

HILDY The quicker the better. Well -- At last I finally got out what I came in to tell you. (she extends her hand) Guess there isn't any more to the story.  So long, Walter, 

BURNS So long, Hildy.
HILDY and better luck to you next time.
BURNS Thanks...

BURNS Uh, Hildy...
BURNS Uh...well..You kinda took the wind out of my sails.
BURNS Look, honey (taking her hand) I just wanna wish you everything I couldn't give you, Hildy. 
HILDY Thanks... 

BURNS This other fellow...Too bad I couldn't see this guy first. Well, I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to see him.  I'm pretty more or less particular about whom my wife marries. 

BURNS Where is he?
HILDY (laughing) Well, he's waiting in the anteroom for me now. Well, he's right on the job, waiting for me out there. 
BURNS Say, could do you mind if I meet him? 
HILDY Oh, better not, Walter. Wouldn't do any good, really

BURNS You're not afraid, are you? 
HILDY Afraid? I should say not! 

BURNS All right Well then, come on let's go and let's see this paragon. (gets hat) Is he as good as you say? 
HILDY Better. 
Burns has his hat. They start toward the door. 
BURNS Then what does he want with you? 
HILDY (laughing) Now you got me. 
BURNS Nothing personal. I was just asking

At the door, Burns walks ahead, opens door and walks out. 

BURNS Back in an hour, Mildred. After all -- 

He stops as he realizes she's not there. The door opens. Hildy comes out. 

BURNS Oh, I am sorry, Hildy. I suppose Bruce what's his name...
HILDY Baldwin

BURNS ...Baldwin opens doors for you.
HILDY You wouldn't believe this, Walter, but Bruce holds the door open for me
BURNS (incredulous) No kidding? 

Reporters conversing. They stop as Hildy and Burns enter scene. 
TRUCKING SHOT as Hildy follows Burns through the City Room. This time, in contrast to Hildy's original walk through the room, the groups are silent as they watch the two. 

HILDY (trying to keep pace) And when he's with a lady, he takes his hat off when he's with a lady
BURNS (over his shoulder) What for? Oh, I am sorry.

HILDY (shouting) And when he walks with a lady, he waits for her! 

BURNS (stops) Oh, I'm sorry well, in that case.... 

Burns, at this point, has reached the switchboard. He says, under his breath, to Maisie: 

BURNS (under his breath) Have Duffy call me in the restaurant in twenty minutes. 

Hildy, a little out of breath, catches up with him. At the iron gate that opens into anteroom Hildy jumps ahead, opens the gate and holds it for Burns. 

HILDY Allow me. 
BURNS (walking right through) Thanks. 

Hildy follows him out.

His Girl Friday

Words by Ben Hecht, Charles McArthur and Charles Lederer

Pictures by Joseph Walker and Howard Hawks

His Girl Friday is available on DVD from Columbia Home Video.

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