After more than four decades, I am Hildy Johnson
I am Hildy Johnson.
For those of you out there scratching your heads wondering about that statement, I’ll explain.
Hildy Johnson is a character in a play called “The Front Page,” a comedy about newspapers by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. It’s a part that was played in 1931 by actor Pat O’Brien and again in 1974 by Jack Lemmon. In 1940, Rosalind Russell played Hildy in “His Girl Friday,” a female version of “The Front Page.”
I watched the version with Jack Lemmon Sunday night and each time he complained about working weekends, holidays and late nights, my wife looked at me and pointed.
In the play, Hildy plans to quit the business, marry and take up a different line of work. He turns in his notice and goes to the courthouse pressroom to say goodbye to the other reporters. During the adieus, a prisoner breaks out and Hildy gets embroiled in events — which include hiding the escapee — and writes the big front-page story. He leaves the business but returns to become the paper’s editor.
In a nutshell, no matter how much he wants to leave the paper and live a “normal life,” Hidly is too affected by the media business to give it up. To use an old expression, “he’s got ink in his veins.”
That’s why I say, “I am Hildy Johnson.”
In mid-November, I will have been in the media business for 41 years and as I prepare to reach the “wise old age” of 70 in just a little more than a month, my wife and others are asking me when I plan to retire. And while my daughter has told me I can’t retire until after her wedding (next November), I haven’t given a firm date. I’ve thought about it but never came up with a date.
The problem, you see, is that it’s really hard to get out of this business. Journalism is more than a profession (some call it a craft). To old-timers like me, it’s a way of life; the late nights, the calls in the middle of the night to chase a wreck, fire or shooting, working weekends and holidays — and I’ve worked every holiday on the calendar.
I’ve tried to leave, but to quote Michael Corleone in “The Godfather 3,” “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
For some reason, my wife and daughter have hung with me. I can’t figure out why. We’ve been married 46 years, and I applaud and love my wife for her perseverance to stay with me. That goes for my daughter and I can truly say the only time she ever listened to me was when I told her not to become a journalist.
So here I sit, tapping out these words and continuing the only job I’ve known for too many years. I will eventually retire, but I won’t be surprised if the day after I leave I show up ready to cover a board meeting or chase a fire out of instinct.
John Surratt is a staff writer for The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.