As a journalist, I should be appalled by Torchy Blane, but I really want to be her. She is the perfect mix of my profession and classic film love.
From 1937 to 1939, Torchy Blane solved crimes and caused trouble for her police detective love interest in nine films.
She also was part of the inspiration for Superman’s reporter girlfriend, Lois Lane.
In a 1988 Time magazine article, creators of the Superman comics Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel credited Glenda Farrell’s performance as Torchy with their creation of lady newshound Lois.
“My wife Joanne was Joe’s original art model for Superman’s girlfriend in the 1930s,” Siegel stated in an interview in the book The Women of Warner Brothers. “Our heroine was of course a working girl whose priority was grabbing big scoops. What inspired me in the creation was Glenda Farrell, the movie star who portrayed Torchy Blane. Because the name Lola Lane, who also played Torchy, appealed to me, I called my character Lois Lane.”
Produced by Warner Brothers Studios, the Torchy Blane series was one of many Hollywood B-movie series of the 1930s and ’40s; others include Maisie, Dr. Kildare, Boston Blackie, The Falcon and The Lone Wolf. Actress Glenda Farrell played Torchy in seven of the films, while Jane Wyman and Lola Lane each played the role once.
Fly Away Baby (1937)
The Adventurous Blonde (1937)
Blondes at Work (1938)
Torchy Blane in Panama (1938)
Torchy Gets Her Man (1938)
Torchy Blane in Chinatown (1939)
Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939)
Torchy Blane…Playing with Dynamite (1939)
Though the other actresses play the part well, Farrell leaves a lasting impression. Her comedic timing, brassiness and nonchalant way about her brings Torchy to life. Her performances were complete with 400-word speeches given in 40 seconds that talked her out of trouble. In many of the films, Torchy is causing more trouble than she is writing stories and meeting deadlines. Each film has a mystery to solve, and before Torchy’s detective boyfriend Steve McBride (usually played by Barton MacLane, with solo turns by Paul Kelly and Allen Jenkins) can take fingerprints, Torchy is one step ahead. Her job is really more of an amateur detective than a reporter.
“Maybe you know who bumped him off,” Steve says in Smart Blonde. “Not off hand, but with a little time and something to eat, maybe I can help you,” says Torchy.
Our heroine usually solves the crime, leaving the police force and her detective boyfriend looking slightly foolish.
In today’s world of journalism, Torchy’s means of sleuthing and reporting are ethically questionable:
-Hiding in a trashcan to eavesdrop
-Bugging rooms with microphones
-Snooping through rooms
-Talking with questionable sources
It’s amazing she even has a job at a publication. At the end of each film, Steve promises a steak dinner and marriage, but at the start of the next series entry, there have yet to be any wedding bells. Though the films were made for low-budget entertainment, the New York Times in the 1930s gave the movies poor reviews, dubbing Torchy a “demon reporter.” They also wrote “we have a murder mystery solved by an endless succession of door-opening and shuttings, taxi-hailings, jumping in and out of automobiles and riding up and down elevators,” quoted in Howard Good’s book “Girl Reporter: Gender, Journalism and Movies.” It’s possible that the Times mainly scoffed because the main character was a female star reporter, Good also wrote.
Dressed in professional suits, Farrell modeled Torchy after female reporters she knew and tried to make her believable. “Before I undertook Torchy, I determined to create a real human being, not an exaggerated comedy type,” she said in a 1969 Times interview, quoted in the book The Women of Warner Brothers. “I met those newswomen who visited Hollywood. They were generally young, intelligent, refined and attractive. By making Torchy true to life, I tried to make a character practically unique in movies.”
Reporters could argue that Torchy Blane scripts are not representative of the newspaper industry. However, as a contemporary female reporter, I love Torchy. I even asked my editors if I could change my byline to Torchy Pickens…but was denied.
Her sass, beauty and energy is endearing, even if she breaks every media law there is.
Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katherine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina. Check out her Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.