Columbia Pictures during the 20's and 30's was known as a lowbrow, low-rent establishment—the kind of studio that other studios snickered about behind its back. That all changed in 1934, though, when Frank Capra directed one of the first screwball comedies, It Happened One Night, for Columbia.
The film was a huge commercial and critical success, and suddenly Columbia was the one snickering at the other film studios, stealing their lunch money, and giving them swirlies. Good job, Columbia.
But while Columbia was now in the big leagues, studio head Harry Cohn still didn't like to spend a lot of money on his movies. As a result, he gave his film's limited budgets—and in the case of His Girl Friday, this meant that Howard Hawks couldn't hire the leading lady he wanted. He'd hoped to get Carole Lombard, who he'd worked with in his film Twentieth Century—but she was too expensive. So he tried a whole bunch of others, until finally Rosalind Russell agreed to do the script.
Cohn was notoriously difficult to work with — which is to say, he was a giant bully and creep. He had his chair made specially so it would be taller than the others in his office and he could loom over people. He also pressured actresses for sex… because he was horrible.
Cohn would often interfere with the filmmaking, and His Girl Friday was no different. For example, he hated the line where Cary Grant says of Hildy's fiancé, Bruce Baldwin, "He looks like that actor… Ralph Bellamy." The joke was that Bruce Baldwin was played by Ralph Bellamy—but Cohn thought it was a slight on the actor, or the studio, or some such. He tried to get the bit removed—but Hawks convinced him to let it be, and it's probably the most famous laugh line in the film.