The Women War Correspondents of World War II: Guts, Bravery and Stockings





6-19-12

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

Love Goes to Press
Mint Theater
311 W. 43rd Street           
New York, N.Y.

Rob Breckenridge, Heidi Armbruster photo credit: Richard Termine
                 
                  There is a scene in the second act of Love Goes to Press, the play about women war correspondents in World War II, when a special effects bomb goes off, the ceiling lights on the set’s war room jiggle and a slight shudder can be felt in the seats. There is a low gasp from the audience. It is then when the play, that opened at the Mint Theater yesterday, takes off.

                  Love Goes to Press is the story of two women reporters stationed with Allied Forces in Italy in February, 1944. It was written by WWII women reporters Virginia Cowles and Martha Gellhorn, upon whom the characters are based (Gellhorn was Ernest Hemingway’s third wife and yes there is a tough guy Hemingway type in the play). It is the story of two women who must struggle to cover the war, deal with the men in their lives and put up with a visiting, ditzy British singer who through an accident becomes a war hero.

                  The play was written by the two women just after the war ended, ran in London and did reasonably well. It was moved to New York and only ran four performances. You have to wonder why the reception was not more enthusiastic.

                  The play opens slowly. There is no real plot to it and for about twenty minutes people try to set up a half dozen or so sub plots. It is tedious. In the second act, though, the action picks up nicely. Annabelle Jones and Jane Mason, the chief protagonists, continually try to one-up the male correspondents by pulling strings to get sent to the front, where the action is. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they do not. The story ends on a very clever and funny note.

                  Audiences learn much about the history of war correspondents in the show. As an example, who knew that a special public relations officer was put in charge of war correspondents and monitored their whereabouts and work? Or that Generals could pull the credentials on reporters, making it impossible for them to work? Or that, as civilians, correspondents could do a lot of things that the army brass opposed but could do nothing about? Or that all correspondents wore an armband with a large ‘C’ on it?

                  Although the plot of the story is rather tepid, the acting is quite good. Heidi Armbruster as Annabelle and Angela Pierce as Jane are wonderful as a pair of friendly reporters who bump into each other in different battles and Margot White is delightful as the daffy Daphne from England, the singer. Other good performances are from Rob Breckenridge as Joe Rogers (the Hemingway type), Bradford Cover as Major Philip Brooke-Jervaux, the public relations officer, and Peter Cormican as Captain Alastair Drake, his assistant.

                  Director Jerry Ruiz did a fine job of making the 1947 play as fresh as it could be and making the two women very 2012, even though they were in a 1940s war. He might have taken more time to stress the woman in a man’s world idea, though.

                  HBO just premiered a movie about Hemingway and Gellhorn in which Nicole Kidman plays a vixenish Gellhorn, who worked as a correspondent until she was 82. The movie offers viewers sensational battle scenes and a lot of sex (some sex while the bombs are dropping, too).  A play, of course, cannot do that.  The play has to keep the action smaller. You wish that this play was a movie so that you could get a better view of the lives of both men and women correspondents but, even so, Love Goes to Press is a nice look at women reporters and the history of World War II.

                  The history in the play is pretty good, although a lot is left out (the Annabelle Character, supposedly Martha Gellhorn, had an affair with a U.S. general). You just wish that the two women had done more to highlight the hard work, bravery and success of all the women who served as war correspondents in World War II. They never talk about the others and for a while you think Annabelle and Jane are the only two women covering the war.

                  The women reporters were a sturdy battalion of journalists. Altogether, credentials were issued to 127 women (out of some 1,500 correspondents), most of whom spent the whole four years of the war with the army. They worked under numerous hardships. They always had to fight two wars, one against the army brass for their right to work and the other, like the male correspondents, in gathering information without getting killed. Women were often refused permission to cover certain armies and battles under the false claim that no women’s bathrooms could be provided. They were given substandard housing, always came second in preference to the male correspondents in generals’ eyes and were often harassed by men in whatever army they covered.

                  The women who wrote for newspapers and worked in radio in World War II took an enormous step forward for women journalists. Only one woman worked in World War I. The women writers of World War II took all of the risks of the male writers. Martha Gellhorn was refused credentials to travel with the allied force in the D-Day invasion, so she hid in a bathroom aboard a hospital ship and got to Normandy that way. Virginia, Cowles, the other author, fought long and hard and won an interview with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and nearly landed one with Joe Stalin. Margaret Bourke White, the famous photojournalist, sailed to North Africa on an allied boat that was torpedoed and took dozens of pictures of the war from her lifeboat. Dickey Chapelle wound up with the U.S. Army in the Pacific and was mixed up in the army when it landed at Iwo Jima and had to be rescued. She was killed in the Vietnam War. Marguerite Higgins won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Korean War.

                  Today, there are dozens of women war correspondents in Iraq, Afghanistan and the countries involved in the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings and civil wars. All of them owe their jobs, and their newspapers and network support, and the respect of all, to the dogged women war correspondents of World War II, women who were not only just as brave as the male reporters, but just as brave as the soldiers they covered.


PRODUCTION: Produced by the Mint Theater Company. Sets: Steven Kemp, Costumes: Andrea Varga, Lighting: Christian DeAngelis, Sound: Jane Shaw. The play was directed by Jerry Ruiz.


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