The Front Page

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The Front Page is a hit Broadway comedy, written by one-time Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur which was 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.

On Broadway

The original production of The Front Page, directed by George S. Kaufman and produced by Jed Harris, opened at the Times Square Theatre on August 14, 1928. It starred Osgood Perkins and Lee Tracy as Burns and Johnson, respectively. The production was a smash hit, running 278 performances before closing in April 1929.[1]

The show was restaged three more times on Broadway: in 1946, 1969–70, and 1986-87. The most successful of these was the 1969-70 revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, starring Robert Ryan and Bert Convy as Burns and Johnson, which ran 222 performances.[2]


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