Jessica Pickens: Girl Reporter

Comet Over Hollywood is moving!

Well…not the blog, but the blogger!

The backstory

Ever since I’ve been in the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer. I had a big imagination and pictured myself on the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine with my best seller.

In high school I got more interested in newspapers and majored in mass communications-journalism at Winthrop University getting involved in the school newspaper The Johnsonian, TV show, Winthrop Close-Up and radio station, WINR.

Starting in March, I started looking for a reporter position in the southeast. By the time I graduated in May, I figured out that getting a job at a newspaper was going to be harder than I thought (as some of you in media related fields might also have found).

For the past two months I’ve been working at a local Greenville newspaper as an advertising representative while still looking for a reporter position.

Two weeks ago, I got a job at The Elkin Tribune in Elkin, N.C. So I will be packing up and moving up to North Carolina-spreading my classic movie love to a whole new state!

Celebration

In honor of this exciting, nerve-wracking event, I’m dedicating this post to journalists in movies. Everyone is invited to the party!

Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine most likely up to no good.

Torchy Blaine Series: Torchy Blaine was a series of films made during the 1930s much like Boston Blackie, The Falcon or Andy Hardy. Torchy Blaine snooped and got into trouble in eight films from 1937 to 1939 (yep, they knew how to churn them out in those days). Torchy Blaine is a wise-cracking and troublesome female reporter. She eavesdrops, bugs rooms and follows people in order to get information-all highly illegal in these days, according to my Media Law and Ethics classes at Winthrop. Not only does Torchy usually get caught by the bad guys she is spying on, but she is constantly at odds with her policeman boyfriend, Steve McBride. At the end of each film, Steve and Torchy usually agree to get married but Torchy has to agree to give up her reporter career-as we all know, this doesn’t happen. Review: These films are very silly but equally entertaining. Through the eight part series, Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman all play Torchy.  But Glenda is my favorite Torchy. However, Lola wears some adorable lounging pajamas in “Torchy Blaine in Panama.”

Citizen Kane (1940): I don’t feel that I can discuss journalism movies without mentioning Citizen Kane. The film follows Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane and his rise as the top newspaper publisher. We all know this film is based off the life of William Randolph Hearst-who was still living at the time. In Joseph Cotton’s autobiography “Vanity Gets You Somewhere,” Cotton says “Kane” was set to premiere in Radio City Music Hall. Hearst made sure it did not play there-or in several other movie houses across the United States. That goes to show just how powerful he was. Review: I do really like this film. It was a bit of an ‘Indie’ film in its day so its funny that is revered so much now. I really enjoy it for the historical background of it as well.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell getting the scoop in “His Girl Friday”

His Girl Friday (1940): When you say “female reporters in film” Rosalind Russell with her crazy hats in “His Girl Friday” automatically comes to mind.  Roz plays the ex-wife of Cary Grant, her reporter co-worker, and is engaged to Ralph Bellamy. On the day that Roz and Ralph are supposed to get married, a huge murder story breaks and news hound that she is, Roz can’t stay away. Not surprisingly, Ralph Bellamy doesn’t get the girl in the end (like always), and Roz and Cary fall back in love in the midst of copy and photography. Review: I really enjoy this movie, but you REALLY HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION.  For comedic value, Cary and Rosalind talk very, very fast. Several actresses turned down this role including Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur. I think Carole, Jean and Irene would have been perfect for the role, but I like seeing Rosalind in a role that is both sexy, funny and strong. Around this time she was flexing her comedic muscles with “The Women” and “No Time For Comedy,” and this is most definitely one of her best during this period.

Foreign Correspondent (1940): Though the United States had not yet joined the war, this Alfred Hitchcock directed film follows American reporter, John Jones-played by my heartthrob Joel McCrea-is sent on assignment to report on the war. Jones starts to uncover a spy ring in England that is aiding the Axis. Jones also meets and falls in love with Carol Fisher-played by one of my favorites, Laraine Day. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to ruin this Hitchcock thriller, but watch for a disaster ending. Hitchcock does it ingeniously. Review: I actually think this is the film the secured in my mind that I wanted to be a journalist. The excitement and discovery that Joel McCrea experienced was irresistible. To this day my AIM name is even the title of this film.

Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland in “Arise My Love.” This photo has nothing to do with journalism. Just makes me happy!

Arise, My Love (1940): This film also follows a reporter in Europe during the start of World War II. This time our hero reporter is Claudette Colbert as Augusta Nash, based off real life reporter Martha Gellhorn. Nash saves pilot Ray Milland (as Tom Martin) before he is about to be executed by Fascists for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Nash saves him, exclusively for the purpose of a story. Martin is thankful for his life, but also a little peeved. The two begin to fall in love though they resist because of their conflicting life styles: Nash doesn’t want to give up her career and Martin wants to fight in the upcoming war. Review: Colbert said this was one of her favorite films that she made. It might be one of my favorites too. There is a good mix of romance, adventure and journalism. Ray Milland is probably at his handsomest here.

Meet John Doe (1941): This is another film about unethical journalism. Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell is fired from her reporter job. To get her job back Ann prints a fake suicide letter in the newspaper signed by “John Doe” who says he will kill himself on Christmas Eve because he can’t take the world’s ‘social ills’ any longer. To prove the letter isn’t a fake (which it obviously is) Ann searches for a man who agrees to pose as John Doe. Gary Cooper (Long John Willowby) and his friend The Colonel (played by Walter Brennan) are in need of money and John agrees to play the part. John Doe becomes a national figure, inspiring people all over to change their ways and come together. However, the role of John Doe requires John to commit suicide. If he doesn’t, it will let down his believers, and newspaper publisher D.B. Norton (played by loveable or hateable Edward Arnold) doesn’t want to disappoint his readers. Review: I love love love this movie. It’s a perfect example at just what journalism can do. Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are so perfect together. We also get a treat of seeing Walter and Gary break out in mouth organ music. One of THE perfect examples of Frank Capra’s ‘social change’ films.

For other ‘Gary Cooper duped by the press’ films see Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

The real Ernie Pyle who is portrayed by Burgess Meredith in “The Story of G.I. Joe”

Story of G.I. Joe (1945): This is a semi-autobiographical film about World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle, played by Burgess Meredith.  Pyle joins Company C, 18th Infantry, lead by Lit. Walker played by Robert Mitchum, and fights with them in North Africa and Italy, documenting their experiences along the way. Pyle learns more about the men personally and we watch as battle wears on their nerves. The film follows real life and ends with Pyle being killed by a Japanese sniper. Review: This is one of my favorite war films, mostly because Ernie Pyle is one of my role models. When I interviewed at Fort Jackson-an Army base in Columbia, S.C.- there was a display about Ernie Pyle. I was so proud that they were honoring him and really wanted to be part of that newspaper. “G.I. Joe” was the only film Robert Mitchum was ever nominated for an Academy Award and unfortunately lost. I really feel that he deserved it.

There is an unintentional running theme throughout all of those films. All of them were made during war years and several from 1940. Here is a brief list of other films featuring journalists. I’ve listed the actors who portray reporters.

Other films:

My Dear Miss Aldrich (1937) -Maureen O’Sullivan and Walter Pidgeon

Nothing Sacred (1937)- Frederic March

Everything Happens at Night (1939)- Ray Milland and Robert Cummings

Philadelphia Story (1940)- James Stewart and Ruth Hussey

Lifeboat (1944)-Tallulah Bankhead

Objective Burma (1945)- Henry Hull

Close to My Heart (1951)- Ray Milland

The Sell Out (1952)- Walter Pidgeon

Roman Holiday (1953)-Gregory Peck

Never Let Me Go (1953)- Clark Gable

Teacher’s Pet (1958)- Doris Day and Clark Gable

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I’m ready for my close up: Photography in films

Photography and moving pictures walk hand-in-hand, especially when shooting in black and white. Many people prefer color and dismiss black and white as cheap. However, some don’t realize the skill it takes to shoot black and white: making sure you have perfect lighting or having the shadows just right are just a few things to consider.

For being so closely related, it’s surprising that there aren’t many classic films about photography. I was only able to find an handful:

James Stewart in “Rear Window” spying on his neighbor

1. Rear Window (1954): James Stewart plays L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, a free lance photographer who is laid up with a broken leg that was a result of a dangerous assignment. I’m not sure if this movie paints photographers in the best light. Jeff is in love with high society Grace Kelly but doubts that she could go on assignments with him even though she says she could. Jeff is also a bit of a peeping Tom, spying on his neighbors with his telephoto lens.
However, his peeping Tom-ery isn’t all bad since he uses it to solve a murder that he partially witnesses in an apartment across the way. Jeff cleverly mixes his career and survival techniques as he thwarts the murderer by blinding him with flash bulbs.

2. Roman Holiday (1953): The movie is more about  journalism than a photography, but the photographer certainly plays a large part in the film. Journalist, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), is trying to get an exclusive story on a visiting princess (Audrey Hepburn) who just happens to be staying in his apartment.
Eddie Albert plays Peck’s photographer friend who tags along to get the photos for the story. This movie seems to depicts photographers as deceitful playboys. When Peck calls Albert about the story, Albert is photographing and kissing a woman in his apartment. When he is getting pictures of the princess, he doesn’t openly take pictures of her but uses sneaky little spy cameras. A real photographer wouldn’t be so afraid…
Actually, from a journalism student’s point-of-view, it doesn’t paint the newspaper business in a good light either. It has the “anything for a story” undertones and Peck goes to unethical measures to get a story. Even though he doesn’t publish it, if he was doing that in today’s journalism world he would probably face a law suit.

Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in “Funny Face.” Their characters were modeled after Richard Avedon and Dovima.

3. Funny Face (1957):

This movie is simply about fashion photography. It has many interesting and pretty scenes with fashion, dresses and dancing. The thing I like about the movie is that Fred Astaire’s character, Dick Avery, and Audrey Hepburn’s character is supposed to be like the relationship between one of my favorite photographers, Richard Avedon and his muse, Dovima.
Fashion photography is fun and pretty to look at, but the photographer I can’t imagine it being very exciting. From a journalist/writer view point, it would be like writing the same story over and over again. For example, how does Danielle Steel get any excitement out of writing when all of her books basically have the same plot?

 

4. Weddings and Babies (1958): This is an independent film about a photographer (John Myhers) who is trying to save money in order to get married to his girlfriend, Viveca Lindfors.
I think this movie gives the most realistic depiction of a photographer. He feels unfulfilled because he is only taking pictures of just weddings and babies and wants to do something with a purpose. I’ve heard several photographers say that, others take the wedding route because it’s easier and pays well, but the ones with a drive don’t care so much about the money.
My philosophy of photography is that it should inform just like a newspaper article. You can write a story about how the Yanomamo are losing their indigenous life style, but a picture can better show how it is devastating them. Photography should be about truth, not about how to show in the best light.

 

5. Blowup (1966): This movie is a mod 1960s, English film. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it means that it’s rather odd, has little plot and a few naked women thrown in for good measure. However, in comparison to the photographer in “Rear Window” who is a photojournalist and travels the world, the photographer, played by David Hemmings, is a successful commercial fashion photographer. He is also bored with life…go figure, wouldn’t you if you were just photographing fashion?
Anyways, the movie is about his career as a photographer, but it is rather long and drawn out. He thinks he might have photographed a murder, but we never really find out and the murder is never solved. It is a treat though to see the beautiful Russian model, Verushka, at the beginning of the film.

Those movies are the only real pre-1970s movies that used photography as a basis of the plot. I was disappointed and surprised that there are so few movies that have main characters playing photographers, since photojournalism was a big field in the 1940s and 1950s due to publications like LIFE that revolved around photography. I just can’t believe that there are so many movies about stewardesses, nurses and architects but so few about photographers.

Here are a few films that the main characters are photographers, but it is not a main point in the plot:

-One More Tomorrow (1946): Anne Sheridan plays a photographer who falls in love with high society Dennis Morgan. The fact that she is a female photographer means she is lower class and could never fit in Morgan’s social circle.

If a Man Answers (1962): Sandra Dee marries photographer Bobby Darin. She plans on keeping her new husband using a dog training book, because she worries about him photographing other women.

Wait Until Dark (1967): Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman terrorized by men trying to get a heroine filled doll. Her husband in the movie is a photographer.

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