web analytics

Looking for attribution

“Nightcrawler” is a newly released movie written and directed by Dan Gilroy. At the moment, it is receiving mostly positive reviews from film critics such as Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal and A. O. Scott of The New York Times. The first three reviews quote a line the movie, which evolves around the tabloid TV. The line is spoken by a TV news producer played by Renee Russo. This is from Turan’s review:

“I want something people can’t turn away from,” she says. The key word is not bloody but “graphic,” the victims should be well-off and white. “Think of our newscast,” she concludes, “as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

Here is a passage from Ben Hecht’s autobiography, “A Child of the Century” published published 60 years ago (page 144, Simon & Schuster, 1954, first edition): Hecht writes of Sherman Duffy, a Chicago newspaperman whom he idolized. Hecht is writing about the time between 1910 and 1917.

“Great wits crossed swords with my champion (Duffy). There was Arthur James Pegler, the salty and verbally crackling father of Westbrook, the mighty columnist-to-be. Pegler, père, was the inventor of the blood-and-thunder rhetoric which became known as the Hearst newswriting style. He wrote once, in a magazine tale, a description of the thing he had helped create:

” ‘A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.’ ”

Hecht was a Chicago reporter during the golden days newspapering. He famously co-wrote the play “The Front Page,” which was made into three movies,* all of which are well worth watching.*

He later became novelist, playwright and most of all a Hollywood script writer and dubbed the Shakespeare of Hollywood.

Gilroy, the writer of “Nightcrawler,” would have done well to attribute the slit throat quote to Pegler, if not by name then to at least indicate it did not originate with him via the Russo character.

* Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien played in the first version(1931), Matheau and Lemmon in the remake (1974) and Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell gave it a twist (1940) and was titled, “His Girl Friday.”


Speak Your Mind