Study Guide

His Girl Friday Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell)

Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell)

Hildy The Woman

Hildy wants to feel like a natural woman. She is woman; hear her roar. Man! She feels like a woman.

And for Hildy, being a woman means a whole lot of domestic bliss. She's chasing that hearth and home feeling—she feels as though being a journalist and being a woman are about as compatible as baking soda and vinegar.

HILDY: I'll be a woman, not a news machine! I'll have babies, give them cod-liver oil, and watch their teeth grow!

Dang. That makes you appreciate how far we've come, huh? But she's not just being anti-feminist. She's talking about how robotic she felt in her former marriage to Walter.

When she was married to Walter, Hildy worked all the time on the paper. Walter treated her more like an employee than like a wife; he cut their honeymoon short to go running after a story in a coalmine. He sent her around, she says, "like an errand boy." He was, in short, a "stinker."

But Bruce, her new fiancée, is not a stinker. He's a sweetie. He holds doors open for her. And Hildy likes how he treats her:

HILDY: He treats me like a woman.

See? And part of being a woman is being "respectable." Hildy wants to "live a half-way normal life" — which means honeymoons, babies, and staying at home while Bruce goes out and sells insurance.

Being a woman, in other words, for Hildy, means wearing pretty things, doing her make-up (as she does in that first scene with Walter), raising kids—and giving up her career. Hildy wants to be the kind of woman that woman were expected to be in 1940—beautiful, domestic, and homey.

Hildy the News Machine

Rosalind Russell, who plays Hildy, didn't want to be a domestic goddess, of course. She was a career actress. Grant introduced Russell to her future husband on the set—not an insurance salesman like Bruce, but a producer, Frederick Brisson. She didn't stop working when they got married though; she just kept making film after film.

Hildy says she doesn't want to be like Russell—but then, sometimes, she's not so sure. She claims she wants to stop being a newspaperwoman, but then she sure seems to be excited at the chance to chase down the story of Earl Williams' escape… so much so that she catches the warden with a flying tackle, and pays him $450 for the inside scoop.

And that $450? That money is Bruce's. She gives away her husbands dough to advance her career. That's hardly what a good domestic helpmate would do—or someone whose main ambition is to to feed babies cod liver oil. (Ew.)

Also, when Walter tells her that the Earl Williams story will make her career, she goes all dewy eyed. She practically swoons when he says:

WALTER: They'll be naming streets after you. Hildy Johnson Street. There'll be statues of ya in the park. The movies will be after ya. The radio. By tomorrow morning, I'll betcha there's a Hildy Johnson cigar.

Hildy wants there to be Hildy Johnson cigars. When Bruce tries to get her to come away with him to Albany towards the end of the film, she's so absorbed in her writing she can barely pay attention to him.

HILDY: This is the biggest thing in my life!
BRUCE: You never intended to be decent and live like a human.

Being "decent," for a woman at the time, meant giving up career and opportunity and ambition. Given that, Hildy decides, she doesn't want to be "decent" after all.

Hildy the Water Buffalo

But then, at the end, she sort of is decent after all.

In the original version of this story, Front Page, Hildy was a man, who was choosing between his career and his fianceé. But Hildy isn't just choosing between career and love. She's choosing between lovers, one of whom wants her to stay at home and work for him… and the other of whom wants her to come to the newspaper and work for him.

Hildy chooses a career—but she doesn't exactly get independence. Instead, she goes back to being Walter's errand boy, as well as Walter's woman. She doesn't even get to pick her honeymoon spot. Instead of Niagara Falls, she goes to Albany.

Albany, of course, was where Bruce and Hildy were trying to get for the whole film. You could say that Hildy gets everything she wants: domesticity and career both.

But you could also say that the "everything she wants" shows how little she's allowed. To be that career woman, she has to be in Walter's thrall. The movie can't, for example, imagine her as his boss. She has to settle for being Bruce's or being Walter's. She chooses Walter… but you can understand why, there at the end, she cries a little.

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