11 Fast-Talking Facts About His Girl Friday

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In His Girl Friday (1940), fast-talking New York City newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) will do anything to keep his star reporter, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), from leaving the paper. But Hildy, who is also Walter’s ex-wife, has other plans: She’s ready to settle down in Albany with goofy insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), and nothing will convince her to stay—until Burns offers her the scoop of a lifetime. Directed by Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday is at once a newsroom drama, a crime story, a romantic comedy, and one of the most beloved screwball comedies of all time. Here are some things you might not have known about the fast-talking classic.

1. IT’S BASED ON A PLAY.

Director Howard Hawks adapted His Girl Friday from the hit Broadway play The Front Page. First produced in 1928, The Front Page—written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur—was an instant hit on Broadway, with The New York Times proclaiming it “loud, rapid, coarse, and unfailing entertainment” (though they also noted, with some distaste, that its characters “utter some of the baldest profanity and most slattern jesting that has ever been heard on the public stage”). But Hawks's adaptation of the film wasn't the first; Lewis Milestone directed a big-screen version, also called The Front Page, in 1931. Billy Wilder put his own spin on it in 1974, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and CBS even turned it into a television series in 1949. The original play has also been re-staged repeatedly both on and off-Broadway, most recently in October 2016, starring Nathan Lane.

2. HOWARD HUGHES PRODUCED THE FIRST FILM ADAPTATION.

His Girl Friday may be the most famous film adaptation of The Front Page, but it was eccentric aviation magnate Howard Hughes who first brought it to the big screen, in 1931. At the time, Hughes was working as a film producer in Hollywood and had recently directed and produced the costly and controversial Hell’s Angels (1930), a WWI film about combat pilots, on which several stunt pilots lost their lives and on which Hughes himself had been seriously injured while performing an airplane stunt. By contrast, The Front Page was a relatively safe film, since it involved no dangerous stunts and was based on an already-popular play. The film was ultimately nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (for Adolphe Menjou, who played Walter Burns).

3. HAWKS DECIDED TO MAKE HILDY A WOMAN AFTER A DINNER PARTY READING.

In the original play, Hildy and Walter were both male reporters, but Hawks had a sudden stroke of inspiration while discussing the play at a dinner party. In an interview, he recalled:

"We were having dinner one night at the house, six or eight people, and we were talking about dialogue. I said that the finest modern dialogue in the world came from Hecht and MacArthur. After dinner we went in, and I had two copies of their play The Front Page. There was a girl there who was pretty good, and I said, "Read the reporter’s part, and I’ll read the editor’s part." And in the middle of it, I said, "My Lord, it’s better with a girl reading it than the way it was!" See, The Front Page was intended as a love affair between two men. I mean, they loved each other. There’s no doubt about it. And it was a lot easier for me to make a love story with a man and a girl and make some better scenes. It required so little change in dialogue that it was just simple."

4. HAWKS WANTED TO MAKE A "FAST" FILM …

Hawks didn’t just want His Girl Friday to be a fast-paced film, he wanted it to be the fastest film. “Everybody said that the original Front Page was the fastest picture that was ever made,” Hawks recalled in an interview. “I said, ‘I’d like to show them that the first picture was not as fast.’”

5. … SO HE WROTE OVERLAPPING DIALOGUE.

In order to speed up the pace of His Girl Friday, Hawks employed two primary strategies: He wrote overlapping dialogue, then had his actors speak faster than they did in real life. The idea was to write dialogue the way people really speak, so that characters cut off the beginnings and ends of each other’s sentences. In the film, Hildy and Walter are constantly talking over each other, interrupting each other, or cutting each other off. Hawks believed that all that fast dialogue would make the film, as a whole, feel faster paced. “I had noticed that when people talk, they talk over one another, especially people who talk fast or who are arguing or describing something," the director explained. "So we wrote the dialogue in a way that made the beginnings and ends of sentences unnecessary.”

6. THE SCREENPLAY WAS 191 PAGES LONG.

All that overlapping dialogue had a major impact on the length of the screenplay. In most screenplays, one page of dialogue translates to approximately one minute of film. But with all of the overlapping and simultaneous dialogue in His Girl Friday, the film ended up at a fast-paced 92 minutes instead of the lengthy 191 minutes the screenplay seemed to dictate.

7. IT’S FULL OF INSIDE JOKES.

Though he worked off of a script, Hawks encouraged his actors to improvise throughout the film. Twice, Cary Grant managed to sneak Hollywood inside jokes into his dialogue. In one scene, Walter makes a passing reference to a man named Archie Leach, saying, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach, just a week before he cut his throat.” (Archibald Leach was Cary Grant’s birth name.) In another scene, Grant, describing Hildy’s fiancé Bruce Baldwin, says, “He looks like that actor ... Ralph Bellamy!" Bruce was, in fact, played by Ralph Bellamy.

8. ROSALIND RUSSELL HIRED A WRITER TO HELP HER AD LIB.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While ad libbing came naturally to Grant, who got his start in the more improvisational world of vaudeville, Russell sometimes struggled to come up with jokes on the spot. Not to be outdone by her co-star, Russell paid a writer from her brother’s advertising firm $200 a week to write jokes for her. Though she tried to keep her joke writer a secret, and never told Hawks about it, Grant somehow caught on and was said to have teased Russell each morning before shooting began by asking her, “What have you got today?”

9. RALPH BELLAMY AND CARY GRANT PLAYED SIMILAR ROLES IN THE AWFUL TRUTH.

Just three years before His Girl Friday, Grant and Bellamy appeared in the Leo McCarey-directed screwball comedy The Awful Truth, playing nearly identical roles. In His Girl Friday, Grant plays debonair ex-husband Walter, fighting to steal his ex-wife away from her goofy new fiancé, Bruce (Bellamy); similarly, in The Awful Truth, Grant plays debonair soon-to-be ex-husband Jerry, fighting to steal his wife back from her goofy new fiancé Dan (again, Bellamy) before divorce proceedings are finalized.

10. CARY GRANT DONATED HIS SALARY TO THE WAR RELIEF FUND.

Grant didn’t make a penny off of His Girl Friday. Instead, according to biographer Graham McCann, he donated his salary from both His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story, which were both released in 1940, as well as part of his salary from 1944's Arsenic and Old Lace, to the War Relief Fund.

11. THE STORY OF EARL WILLIAMS WAS BASED ON REAL EVENTS.

While hiding a known murderer in a roll-top desk just to ensure an exclusive newspaper scoop might sound like the kind of far-fetched story only the movies could invent, the plot point actually had its roots in real life. The story of murderer Earl Williams and journalist Hildy Johnson was based, in part, on the real life story of journalist Emile Gavreau of the Hartford Courant, who once hid a murderer in his office then published an exclusive story, featuring the murderer’s firsthand account of his own crimes.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Hilarious Andy Bernard Blooper You Can Actually See in The Office

Ed Helms as Andy Bernard in The Office.
Ed Helms as Andy Bernard in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't love the humor of The Office, and even the cast themselves couldn't get enough of the sometimes cringe-worthy comedy. In a past interview, Ed Helms, who played the hilarious Andy Bernard, revealed the one scene he just could not stop laughing in during filming.

As Looper reports, the actor stopped by The Dan Patrick Show in 2018 to talk all things Dunder Mifflin. When asked if he had a hard time keeping the laughter to a minimum, Helms revealed there had been a number of times he couldn't keep a straight face. In fact, he had to hide from the camera in one scene to mask his laughter, which made it into the final cut.

"I was a disaster. Just breaking all the time. Steve Carell, he just slays me," Helms said. "A lot of times, if I was doing a scene with Steve, I would have to look at his chin. Because I couldn't look him in the eyes. I would lose it." When looking back on the holiday episode "Secret Santa," the actor recalled, "I had to duck behind a plant. You can see in the actual episode in the background. And, by the way, that was like take 30 because I had been laughing in every single take."

If you look closely at the moment where Kevin sits on Michael's lap, you can also see Mindy Kaling failing to hide her laughter in the background. This scene really had the Dunder Mifflin crew losing it, just like the fans watching from home.

[h/t Looper]