Before Lois Lane there was Torchy Blane

by torchy blane

She’s a fast-talking blond who breaks every rule of reporting.
As a journalist, I should be appalled by Torchy Blane, but I really want to be her. She is the perfect mix of my profession and classic film love.

From 1937 to 1939, Torchy Blane solved crimes and caused trouble for her police detective boyfriend in nine films.

Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blane- my role model.

Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blane- my role model.

She also was part of the inspiration for Superman’s reporter girlfriend Lois Lane.
In a 1988 Time magazine article, creators of the Superman comics Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel credited Glenda Farrell’s performance as Torchy Blane with their creation of Lois Lane.

“My wife Joanne was Joe’s original art model for Superman’s girlfriend in the 1930s,” Siegel is quoted from the interview in the book The Women of Warner Brothers. “Our heroine was, of course, a working girl whose priority was grabbing big scoops. What inspired me in the creation was Glenda Farrell, the movie star who portrayed Torchy Blane. Because of the name Lola Lane, who also played Torchy, appealed to me, I called my character Lois Lane.”

Produced by Warner Brothers Studios, the Torchy Blane series was one of many Hollywood B-movie series of the 1930s and 1940s, others include Maisie, Dr. Kildare, Boston Blackie, The Falcon and the Lone Wolf.

Actress Glenda Farrell played Torchy in seven of the films while Jane Wyman and Lola Lane each played the role once.
Torchy Blane titles include:
Torchy Blane…Playing with Dynamite (1939)
Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939)
Torchy Blane in Chinatown (1939)
Torchy Gets Her Man (1938)
Torchy Blane in Panama (1938)
Blondes at Work (1938)
The Adventurous Blonde (1937)
Fly Away Baby (1937)
Smart Blonde (1937)

Though the other actresses play the part well, Farrell left the lasting impression. Her comedic timing, brassiness and nonchalant attitude brings Torchy to life. Her performances were complete with 400 word speeches given in 40 seconds as she talked her out of trouble.

In many of the films, Torchy is causing more trouble than she is writing stories and meeting deadlines.

Each film has a mystery to solve, and before Torchy’s detective boyfriend Steve McBride can take fingerprints, Torchy is one step ahead.

Her job is really more of an amateur detective than a reporter.
“Maybe you know who bumped him off,” Steve says in “Smart Blonde” (1937).
“Not off hand, but with a little time and something to eat, maybe I can help you,” says Torchy.

Our heroine usually solves the crime, leaving the police force and her detective boyfriend looking slightly foolish.

Torchy does some of her own sleuthing

Torchy does some of her own sleuthing

In today’s world of journalism, Torchy’s means of sleuthing and reporting are ethically questionable:
-Hiding in a trashcan to eavesdrop
-Bugging rooms with microphones
-Snooping through rooms
-Talking with questionable sources

It’s amazing she even has a job at a publication.

At the end of each film, Steve McBride promises a steak dinner and marriage but at the start of the next film, there have yet to be any wedding bells.

Though the films were made for low budget entertainment, the New York Times in the 1930s gave the movies poor reviews, dubbing Torchy a “demon reporter.” They also wrote “we have a murder mystery solved by an endless succession of door-opening and shuttings, taxi-hailings, jumping in and out of automobiles and riding up and down elevators,” quoted in Howard Good’s book “Girl Reporter: Gender, Journalism and Movies.”

It’s possible that the Times mainly scoffed because the main character was a female star reporter, Good wrote.

Torchy and her detective boyfriend Steve McBride played by Barton MacLane.

Torchy and her detective boyfriend Steve McBride played by Barton MacLane.

Dressed in professional suits, Farrell modeled Torchy after female reporters she knew and tried to make her believable.

“Before I undertook Torchy, I determined to create a real human being, not an exaggerated comedy type,” she said in a 1969 Times interview, quoted in the book The Women of Warner Brothers. “I met those newswomen who visited Hollywood. They were generally young, intelligent, refined and attractive. By making Torchy true to life, I tried to make a character practically unique in movies.”

Reporters could argue that Torchy Blane scripts are not representative of the newspaper industry.

However, as a contemporary female reporter, I love Torchy. I even asked my editors if I could change my byline to Torchy Pickens…but was denied.

Her sass, beauty and energy is endearing, even if she breaks every media law there is.

This is part of the Summer Under the Stars blogathon by ScribeHard and Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. 

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12 thoughts on “Before Lois Lane there was Torchy Blane

  1. Thanks for informative piece. Sad to say, I’ve never seen any of the Torchy series,though I like Glenda Farrell. Will have to put that right.

    Vienna’s Classic Hollywood


    • Jessica, I’ve heard of the TORCHY BLANE movies, but never had a chance to see them myself. Now that they’re on SUTS today, I look forward to checking them out. Nice to see Barton MacLaine, too, having enjoyed him in THE THIN MAN, THE MALTESE FALCON, and so many others!


  2. Pingback: tcm SUTS blogathon Day 29: Glenda Farrell | ScribeHard On Film

  3. Pingback: Day 29: Glenda Farrell | Sittin on a Backyard Fence

  4. Excited to discover Torchy this weekend, actually! I’ve got the DVD set! Thanks for this great review! Can’t wait to “meet” her…


  5. Ooh, these sound fun! I love that kind of old newspaper movie, with reporters who’ll do anything to get their story. Great post!


  6. What a delightful tribute to Miss Farrell and her most enduring creation! I particularly love the quotes from Farrell and those she influenced. I also appreciate your insight as a journalist into Torchy—both her real and the unreal aspects. She’ll always be one of my ideals of a modern career woman, even if I don’t plan on hiding in trash bins any time soon… Thanks for sharing this!


  7. Jessica:

    I’m so glad you covered Glenda and the Torchy Blaine series…because we all know Torchy is your spirit animal. 🙂

    Thanks for contributing to the blogathon (and sorry for my horribly late comment.)


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