February 26, 2021

All the Editors That Are Fit to Spoof

Big things, little things, all kinds of things annoy you.

Deadlines. Missed scoops. Staff running amok. A cub reporter who insists on calling you Chief.

But perhaps no editor has ever been as unceasingly incensed as J. Jonah Jameson, the bombastic leader of The Daily Bugle in the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” for whom the irritants have expanded from typos and limp headlines to the many encroachments of time and technology.

“We’re fighting bloggers! We’re fighting the Internet! We’re fighting Facebook! We’re a daily paper in a 24/7 world,” he shouts at his staff. “We’re a dinosaur.”

In fact, almost as antique as newspapers these days is the fictive depiction of the hard-boiled editor, sometimes played as an all-bark, no-bite softie and other times as an incorrigible schemer. If you want to know into which camp Jameson falls, pay close attention in Act II when the actor who plays him, Michael Mulheren, filches a few quarters from a nun’s collection pot for the poor.

Mr. Mulheren said the musical’s original director, Julie Taymor, viewed the character as not so much cranky as ferocious.

“He’s ferocious for news,” Mr. Mulheren said.

Aren’t they all, stretching back at least as far as Walter Burns and his rascally manipulation of ace reporter Hildy Johnson in “The Front Page,” the definitive 1928 stage portrait of the news business by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur that was last revived on Broadway in 1986?

On screen Helen Mirren showed that female editors can be just as greedy for exclusives as she pushed Russell Crowe in the film “State of Play” (2009). In four Superman movies, from 1978 to 1987, Jackie Cooper’s Perry White conveyed his own kind of avuncular insatiability for scoops, as did Jason Robards playing the real thing, Ben Bradlee, in “All the President’s Men” (1976).

“You guys are probably pretty tired, right?” Mr. Robards asks his charges, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), as they pursue Richard M. Nixon. “Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up — 15 minutes. Then get your [expletive] back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country.”

Jameson’s white whale is nothing quite so noble as the truth. Even in a show so focused on acrobatic flying and elaborate sets, Jameson, or J. J. as he’s called, wants what he always wants: pictures of Spider-Man, lots of them, preferably in some incriminating tête-à-tête with the Green Goblin.

“Don’t come back empty-handed, Parker, or you’re fired,” he yells at one point to Peter Parker, the cub photographer with an uncanny ability to capture the web-swinging hero in action.

In real life newsrooms are tamer these days, even at the tabloids. Reporters eat salad and don’t smoke. No one ever yells, “Get me rewrite!”

J. J., though, is from an era when the typewriters clattered and newspapermen often kept a bottle in their desk. In the musical it is also somehow an era overtaken by the Internet, an anachronism that Mr. Mulheren posits should not be too unsettling to an audience that has already chosen a musical “where a man wears a red and blue suit and turns into a spider.”

There have certainly been more serious takes on the editor-reporter relationship onstage. Tracey Scott Wilson’s 2003 play “The Story” explored how issues of race affect that dynamic in a fictional account that bore a resemblance to the Janet Cooke incident of 1980, in which a Washington Post reporter was found to have largely fabricated a prizewinning story.

In coming months two new plays about newspapers are set to open in New York. “The Wood” by Dan Klores examines the life of Mike McAlary, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist with the whisk-broom mustache who himself seemed to have stepped right out of “The Front Page.”

Mr. Klores said his play, which opens on Sept. 8 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, would revisit, among other things, Mr. McAlary’s relationship with his editors, including Jim Willse, who edited him at The Daily News, and John Cotter, who shepherded him at Newsday and The New York Post.

“It’s a relationship that has to be built on mutual fervor, love of winning, trust and respect,” Mr. Klores said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4c3754edf6ab4eaa1d868943a14e7332

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