TCM’s star of the day is Rosalind Russell, and my film pick for the actress is His Girl Friday, which airs today at 12:00 A.M. (EST).
When newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) learns his ex-wife and star reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is leaving her job to marry insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and settle down, he determines to sabotage her plans to keep her around. He convinces her to cover one last story, that of the upcoming execution of a convicted murderer. Though initially reluctant to take on the story, her journalistic instincts kick in and she becomes more engrossed in the case than her impending nuptials.
Today, His Girl Friday is one of the most famous films of the screwball comedy genre, and much of that is thanks to the film’s fast-paced rhythm, and the symbiotic chemistry between its stars, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. But the film could’ve easily been a lot different, as Russell was originally not in high consideration for the role of Hildy Johnson. First, the film was initially going to be a straight adaptation of the play on which it’s based, The Front Page, in which the character of Hildy was a man. And back when director Howard Hawks was working on Only Angels Have Wings with Grant the year before, he had thought of casting him in the role before deciding the film would be better if Hildy was played by a woman. There was a long list of actresses who were offered the role, including Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Margaret Sullavan, Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne, and Joan Crawford, but all of them turned it down. So while Russell was far from Hawks’ first choice, she proved to be more than capable of what the part demanded, and it’s probably the role the actress is best remembered for.
Rosalind Russell’s fame was steadily rising by the time she made His Girl Friday, having already starred in a number of films with great stars, including 1939’s The Women, which was a major hit and a huge boost to her career. The 1940s proved to be an especially successful decade for the actress following His Girl Friday, where she made a number of films spanning both the drama and comedy genres. She was also recognized for her work in a variety of films, earning Oscar nominations for Best Actress in My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946), Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), and Auntie Mame (1958).
It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Rosalind Russell filling out the role of Hildy Johnson, who’s a true standout as one of cinema’s most memorable strong-willed female characters. With outstanding performances by Russell and Cary Grant, both evenly matched in their comedic force on screen, and a great team of supporting players lead by Ralph Bellamy, His Girl Friday has endured through the years and is still as hilariously entertaining now as it was more than 70 years ago when it was first released.
I wrote this as a part of the 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the banner below to read more posts!