Academic journal article Journalism History

The Drunken Journalist: The Biography of a Film Stereotype

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Drunken Journalist: The Biography of a Film Stereotype

Article excerpt

Good, Howard. The Drunken Journalist: The Biography of a Film Stereotype. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2000. 200 pp. $40.

I come from a long line of lushes, an autobiographical detail perhaps worth noting in this review of Howard Good's sen-ii-autobiographical account of cinematic stereotypes of the drunken journalist. He grew up on images that suggested a good gin soaking was both a required rite and a practical necessity in a reporter's occupational culture. My home nightly knew a man who drank so he would get drunk. Good briefly bent the elbow as a beginning reporter. As a journalist, I never touched the stuff.

Good argues persuasively that cub reporters have historically seen themselves as cinematic drunks. He traces the tradition through temperance tall tales that warned readers of the ravages of alcohol. The mechanical routines and bohemian schemes of big city reporters made them particularly prey to the relieving logic of the bottle, Good writes. Richard Harding Davis, David Graham Phillips and Edna Ferber depicted deadline-driven newspaper writers for whom booze was but another addiction. H.L Mencken furthered the metaphor. He idealized intoxication as the way reporters rebelled against social convention.

For Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald booze became the writer's way of cooling off and lightening up.

Good's chapters are often fragmentary. His analysis of silent cinema seems based on synopses appearing in the American Film Insti tute Catalog. Richard Ness has identified more than 250 feature-length silent films in which reporters played a significant role and some of them are as drunks. Good's examination of Depression-era movie-making properly emphasizes both The Front Page (1930) and FiveStar,ffn,d (1931), yet it ignores the role of the Motion Picture Production Code in sanitizing these images in the decades that followed. Good largely ignores the war years, which were a critical period of rehabilitation for the reporter on screen. The Office of War Information would play a central role in transforming the self-seeking man on the make into a guardian of democracy. …

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