A journalist and the ex-wife of editor Walter Burns, Hildy is a strong-minded, quick-witted, and accomplished journalist who, at the start of the film, is trying to find a more stable, traditionally feminine lifestyle. Fed up with Walter's neglect as a husband and the chaotic lifestyle of a "newspaperman," Hildy decides to go in the complete opposite direction and marry a boring but loving insurance salesman named Bruce Baldwin. Hildy is tough, smart, and well-liked by the journalists with whom she has worked. As the film progresses, she realizes that she cannot leave journalism behind. The more embroiled in the Earl Williams case she becomes, the less she wants to go to Albany with Bruce. Writing and chasing a story are too exciting to give up. While she may be frustrated with Walter because he is not the typical doting husband—he doesn't light her cigarettes or carry her bags for her—he treats her as an equal and trusts her as a writer, which she ultimately prizes more than Bruce's doting. Hildy is tough but non un-feminine, as typified best by the image of her running down the street in high heels and tackling the warden, after the news of Earl's escape gets out.
Walter is the silver-tongued, manipulative, and savvy editor of The Morning Post. He is at once charming and calculating, an expert strategist and consummate newspaperman, always searching for the best story by whatever means possible. Though he is a neglectful husband, Walter treats Hildy like an equal, which has driven her away in the past. Now, hot on the trail of the Earl Williams story, he and Hildy are reunited and their connection is rekindled. Walter is not altogether trustworthy. Indeed, he often says one thing and does another, as when he tells Bensinger that he has a job before calling Duffy and telling him to string Bensinger along, but never offer him a position. Additionally, he has ties to the mob, as evidenced in his use of Diamond Louie to help him get jobs done, and tells Louie he is one of his best friends one minute, while calling him a "dumb immigrant" behind his back. Charming but cold, competent but corrupt, Walter is the dashing image of journalistic opportunism.
Duffy is Walter's skeptical but loyal assistant.
Bruce is Hildy's kind-hearted but boring fiancé. An insurance salesman from Albany, he treats Hildy with love and respect, offering her the attention and care that Walter could not. While he is extremely loving, however, he proves ultimately forgettable to Hildy as she becomes more entrenched in working on the Earl Williams story. His stability is no match for Hildy's professional vitality and Walter's intellectual respect. Bruce represents stability, family, and domesticity, none of which Hildy ends up being that genuinely interested in.
Bruce's proper and easily offended elderly mother, who sees where Earl is hiding and is kidnapped by Diamond Louie in an unceremonious frenzy. She wants what's best for her well-mannered son.
Walter's righthand man, a gangster who seems to have ties to the mob and isn't above using brute force to help Walter achieve his ends. He is loyal and helpful, but not always the most competent.
An insane criminal. Fired from his job of 14 years, Earl begins listening to crazy zealots in the park and eventually kills a black policeman impulsively, which lands him in jail. He is portrayed as both very dangerous and completely without sanity, an innocent with a loaded gun.
A troubled and wayward woman, Mollie befriends Earl not long after he is fired and takes him in and tries to help him. She is slandered by the press, which makes her all the more upset. Hildy takes care of her when she is bullied by the other journalists in the pressroom.
Sheriff Peter Hartwell
A dim but powerful sheriff. He has no common sense, but knows how to carry out the law and has close ties to the corrupt mayor.
A corrupt leader who is used to bribing his way into power, the mayor is the archetype of the disingenuous politician. He is willing to ignore the reprieve for Earl Williams purely to win the upcoming election.
The comically earnest messenger who delivers the reprieve is not so easily bought as the mayor expects. Fiercely committed to his wife, Pettibone refuses the bribe that the mayor offers on the grounds that the fancy job offer would uproot his family and would make his wife unhappy. When it seems as though Walter and Hildy are going to jail, he arrives with the reprieve and provides them with the tip that leads to their next big story. Pettibone is the unwitting hero of the film.
His Girl Friday Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for His Girl Friday is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.