front page

The Front Page

This article refers to the stage play. For other adaptations, see The Front Page (disambiguation)
The Front Page was a hit Broadway comedy, written by one-time Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and first produced in 1928.


The authors' expert plotting and rapid-fire, streetwise dialogue delighted audiences and made their play an instant classic. Hecht and MacArthur strongly influenced many other American comic writers, especially in Hollywood.

The play's single set is the dingy Press Room of Chicago's Criminal Courts Building, overlooking the gallows behind the Cook County Jail. Reporters from most of the city's newspapers are passing the time with poker and pungent wisecracks about the news of the day. Soon they'll witness the hanging of Earl Williams, a white man and (supposed) Communist revolutionary convicted of killing a black policeman. Hildy Johnson, cocky star reporter for the Examiner, is late. He appears only to say good-bye; he's quitting to get a respectable job and be married. Suddenly the reporters hear that Earl Williams has escaped from the jail. All but Hildy stampede out for more information. As Hildy tries to decide how to react Williams comes in through the window. He tells Hildy he's no revolutionary and shot the police officer by accident. The reporter realizes this bewildered, harmless little man was railroaded — just to help the crooked mayor and sheriff pick up enough black votes to win re-election. It's the story of a lifetime. Hildy helps Williams hide inside a roll-top desk. His daunting challenge now is to get Williams out of the building to a safe place for an interview before rival reporters or trigger-happy policemen discover him. The Examiner managing editor, Walter Burns, is a devious tyrant who would do just about anything to keep Hildy with the paper. Nevertheless, Hildy has no choice but to ask for his help.

For the real-life background to the settings, and for a character, of The Front Page, see City News Bureau of Chicago, where MacArthur had worked, and Chicago's American.


The Front Page has been adapted to film a number of times:

His Girl Friday and Switching Channels employed the twist of changing the sex of a character, from a male Hildy Johnson to females Hildegaard 'Hildy' Johnson and Christy Colleran respectively. John Varley's 1991 science fiction novel Steel Beach takes the story — and the change of sex — to another level. In the novel, the plot includes a sex-change by a male reporter named Hildy Johnson.

There have also been four television productions, all under the title The Front Page:

  • 1945, in the US,
  • 1948, in the UK,
  • 1949–1950, in the US as a series,
  • 1970, in the US

The musical Windy City (book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh, music by Tony Macaulay) was also based on The Front Page. It premiered at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London, England on July 20, 1982 and ran for 250 performances.

See also


External links

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