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Learning journalism through Lombard

Unlike her husbands William Powell ("Libeled Lady") and Clark Gable ("It Happened One Night" and, much later, "Teacher's Pet"), Carole Lombard rarely portrayed that staple of filmdom, the newspaper reporter. She played one early in her career, in the 1929 Pathe release "Big News," and in 1941 she played one on radio on the "Silver Theater" episode "Murder Unlimited."

But Carole did appear in movies where you could learn a little bit about journalism -- even if was sometimes the wrong lesson. Take, for example, this still from the 1933 Columbia film "Brief Moment":



A nice picture of Carole, as nightclub singer Abby Fane, following her marriage to a New York playboy. Now, look at an enlargement of the lower right corner of the photo, showing a few newspapers by her character's side:



First of all, note that unlike in some movies, names of actual New York newspapers are visible. (Had this film been produced by William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Productions, chances are they would have been Hearst newspapers. Then again, the film would have been made at MGM, then Cosmopolitan's home base, and it's doubtful Lombard would have played the role.) Product placement was still a few decades away, so it's unlikely the papers shelled out anything to get their names on the screen (or, conversely, would have sued Columbia over using said names without permission, as would have been the case today).

The most visible newspaper is the World Telegram, an afternoon paper created in 1931 when the New York World, once a dynamic journalistic force under Joseph Pulitzer and later involved in a circulation war with Hearst's New York Journal, was purchased by Scripps Howard and merged with its Telegram. The World Telegram did feature a few notable writers, such as Heywood Broun (the erudite Heywood Hale Broun, later of CBS television, was his son) and Westbrook Pegler, but it was never considered an elite paper.

You can't say that about the other newspaper whose "flag" is visible, the New York Times. Already a thorough, upscale read (though so was its principal competitor, the New York Herald Tribune), the Times was guided by the principles of Adolph Ochs, who bought the daily in 1896 and beefed up its news coverage in a sober, responsible style, 180 degrees from the "yellow journalism" of Hearst and Pulitzer. In fact, you can see the famous Times slogan, "All The News That's Fit To Print," in its customary box in the upper left-hand corner.

Howeveer, in the "Brief Moment" universe, there must have been a palace coup at the Times layout desk. Look at the main headline:



The Times would only run a banner headline of that size for a presidential election or a declaration of war -- certainly not for a scion's controversial marriage. And the font in the headline is one that Hearst might have used, but definitely not the Times. (It wasn't nicknamed "the grey lady" for nothing.)

Heck, the heavy play given the story on the World Telegram front implies that it must have been a very slow news day. (At least we don't see the stock headline underneath used so often in newspapers shown in schlock '50s films, "Panic In New York: Menagerie Breaks Loose.")
Tags: brief moment, newspapers
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