Girl Crush on Girl Reporter (Wish MY Name Were “Torchy Blane”)

The 1940s and Depression era “girl reporter” embodies everything I could ever want to be. The very quintessence of dame-ness, she’s smart, savvy, confident, independent, and quick with the comeback. (She also looks pretty steppy in her fitted suit.) As adept at a snappy line as she is with a byline, she puts the repartee in reporting as she goes around beating deadlines, solving mysteries, and invariably being the smartest one in the room.

Murder is her meat

The epitome of the sassy girl reporter” was Torchy Blane, who snared exclusives and criminals in nine Warner Brothers movies in the 1930s. A female journalist in a man’s world, she lets nothing stand in the way of her getting the story, including her bull-headed police detective boyfriend.

Torchy is played by Glenda Farrell who, along with Joan Blondell, personified the tough, been-around-the-block, smart and smart-ass blondes in early talkies. Glenda made 122 movies in her career, most of them as the archetypal fast-talking dame. (Her wisecracks were delivered rapid-fire – she was said to be able to speak 400 words in 40 seconds!)

Torchy and her erstwhile fiance’

Less cherubic and more acerbic than Blondell, Farrell’s appeal lay in her sharpness rather than her curvy softness. Fearless and unsentimental, nothing gets in the way of a scoop. Torchy is not above wire-tapping or breaking and entering. They don’t boil’em much harder; encountering a dying man 1939’s Torchy Blane in Chinatown she shouts, “Oh boy! What a story!” and has no compunction impersonating the widow at the funeral.

Torchy makes her cinematic debut in 1937’s Smart Blonde as she jumps from a cab onto a perilously close passing railroad car. She adjusts her skirt, tucks her signature beret into her pocket, enters the train as if she were a paying customer, and proceeds to nab an exclusive interview.

“I’ve got ink in my blood and a nose for news that needs something besides powder.” — Torchy Blane in Blondes at Work

Torchy and others see her as a reporter first and a woman second. Even in today’s so-called modern movies, how often is a woman’s professional excellence her primary asset? When her dumb ass doughy boyfriend admonishes, “This rathole is no place for a woman,” Torchy retorts “But I’m a newspaperman!”

Torchy gets her scoop

(An aside about Torchy’s “boyfriend” Barton MacLane: It’s hard to believe Torchy would saddle herself with this big blowhard. Even Torchy’s editor at the Morning Herald editor hates the idea that “the smartest reporter in this cockeyed town” plans “to marry some bourgeois boob and spawn a kennel of brats.” Mercifully, a running gag through the films centers around the fact that she and her “fiancé” are always on their way to City Hall to get married when a story-slash-murder inevitably gets in the way. We are never subjected to having to see Torchy in an apron making pancakes for this bozo. )

In 1937’s Fly Away Baby, Torchy’s fiancé tells her, “Running down criminals is a man’s job. It takes a masculine mind and years of experience to crack these cases. So you just go back to your office and write a nice little story about what the women’s clubs are doing to promote world peace, and then I’ll take you out to dinner…” Of course she proceeds to outsmart him minutes later. Part of the series’ template is that sexism abounds but Torchy is not deterred and we, the audience, know she’ll upturn every condescending remark.

She’s thinking of a wisecrack, believe me

There are more famous mid-century female reporters, but it’s worth noting that Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel cites Glenda Farrell’s portrayal of Torchy Blane as his inspiration for Lois Lane. (Actress Lola Lane played Torchy in one film, inspiring Lois’ surname.)

Lola Lane played Torchy once, in 1938’s Torchy Blane in Panama, where she tells the boys, “Murders and holdups are my meat.”  Torchy’s other meat was…meat. To underscore our herione’s tough masculine side, another running gag involves Torchy’s appetite for steaks — “The fondest thing I is of,” she asserts in Torchy Gets Her Man.

Torchy does indeed always get her man, and now she’s getting her due. This month Turner Classic Movies has begun showing the Torchy series every Saturday. Or, dig in to Torchy’s “Tao of Dame” anytime with the series collection on DVD.

I’d love to be half as cool as Torchy, though I’d substitute a veggie burger for the steak, or perhaps great quantities of pancakes.

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11 Responses

  1. I love this blog post. I don’t know how I managed to miss these films. It sounds like a great series. Thanks for the heads-up!

  2. Now I want to see these movies so I can quote them and get inspiration for being a dishy dame from Torchy Blane! Love the post and your blog!

  3. Hardwicke Benthow says:

    I thought you might be interested in this statement Glenda Farrell made in an interview, about how she took on the role of Torchy Blane:

  4. Hardwicke Benthow says:

    I’m sorry if the quote didn’t show up in my post. From the preview it’s showing me, it looks like it didn’t. In case it didn’t, here it is:

    “They were caricatures of newspaperwomen as I knew them. So before I undertook to do the first Torchy, I determined to create a real human being – and not an exaggerated comedy type. I met those who visited Hollywood, and watched them work on visits to New York City. They were generally young, intelligent, refined and attractive. Until Torchy arrived on the scene, most women reporters were portrayed as either sour old maids, masculine-looking feminists or twittery young girls who couldn’t wait to be rescued from tabloid drudgery by some bright young man. But Torchy Blane was a real girl. I made her bright, attractive, intelligent, daring and single-minded, able to hold her own. Sure, she loved McBride, but she had her own career and wasn’t about to settle for keeping house and raising kids while he brought home the bacon. By making Torchy true to life, I tried to create a character practically unique in movies.”

    • Dixie says:

      What an articulate answer from Ms. Farrell. I am just loving her more and more. (But then I’ve always gotten get very excited when she’d show up on a Perry Mason re-run. But I’ll save my obsession with Perry Masons for another time.) 🙂

  5. Hardwicke Benthow says:

    Here’s an interesting article about Glenda Farrell. For some reason, it’s been mislabeled as a nonexistent article called “Glenda Farrell: Film Music Genius” by R. E. Braff, but it’s really “Glenda Farrell: Diamond in the Rough” by Dan Van Neste. It’s an excellent, informative article, and even contains an interview with Tommy Farrell (Glenda Farrell’s son).

    Also, here’s a post I wrote on a forum called the Silver Screen Oasis, which contains most of what I’ve learned about Glenda Farrell through my research. It’s sort of a combination biographical/tribute article.

    And here are some quotes from her 1959 Columbia Center for Oral History interview (and a correction of a bit of information I had gotten wrong in my first post in that thread).

  6. Hardwicke Benthow says:

    Sorry, I’m not used to using these HTML tags, so those links didn’t turn out right. Here are those three links without the code.

    Glenda Farrell: Diamond in the Rough:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20030102160325/http://www.classicimages.com/1998/may98/glendafarrell.html

    Post about Glenda Farrell on the Silver Screen Oasis:

    http://silverscreenoasis.com/oasis3/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=5795#p110231

    Quotes from her 1959 Columbia Center for Oral History interview.

    1: http://silverscreenoasis.com/oasis3/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=5795&p=120753#p117849

    2: http://silverscreenoasis.com/oasis3/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=5795&p=120753#p120753

  7. Hardwicke Benthow says:

    I’ve created two articles about Glenda Farrell at my website/blog. One is a biographical/tribute article, the other is a compilation of Glenda Farrell quotes. They are similar to some of the things I wrote at the Silver Screen Oasis, but expanded and revised. I’ve also posted the entirety of Joan Blondell’s 1936 tribute article “My Pal Glenda”.

    Here’s the biographical article:

    http://thoughtsandramblingsofhardwickebenthow.wordpress.com/glenda-farrell-her-life-and-legacy/

    Here’s the quote compilation:

    http://thoughtsandramblingsofhardwickebenthow.wordpress.com/glenda-farrell-in-her-own-words/

    And here’s Joan Blondell’s 1936 tribute:

    http://thoughtsandramblingsofhardwickebenthow.wordpress.com/my-pal-glenda/

    You might notice that the version of Glenda Farrell’s quote about Torchy Blane that I use in my two articles is shorter than the one I posted here and on the Silver Screen Oasis. This is because I decided to cite my sources for all the quotes on my site, and the longer version of the quote I used here and on the SSO was from two different versions of the quote (each including bits from the original quote that other had left out), which I had found in two separate sources, and had pieced together into one long version by guessing exactly in which order the parts of the quote had originally been in.

    So, for my articles, I had to choose between one version of the quote or the other, so I could properly cite it. I’m hoping that some day, I can get my hands on “Filmograph 3” (which appears to be the original source of the quote), so I can know exactly what order the different parts of it were in.

  8. Hardwicke Benthow says:

    UPDATE: I found a way to include both parts of the quote and properly cite both of them.

    Check this page, right after the introduction that says “On Torchy Blane”, and the other part is including under the introduction “More on Torchy Blane”:

    http://thoughtsandramblingsofhardwickebenthow.wordpress.com/glenda-farrell-in-her-own-words/

  9. Tara Huff says:

    I am a newspaper woman myself. I own a small paper in a small town with big problems. The assistant city manager nicknamed me ‘Torchy’. I would open the door to his office and he would exclaim, “Well, here comes Torchy Blane!” I had to look her up and felt very honored that he would dub me with that monogram. Love this woman and what a great blog!

    • Dixie Laite says:

      Tara, *I* am so impressed and honored to get such sweet approbation from a real life, honest to goodness Torchy Blane! You are my hero for keeping the faith, and journalism, alive. Maybe you’d allow me to inspire others by doing a brief profile of you and all your wonderful Torchy Blane-ness for the blog.

      Again, Tara, thanks!

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