Love Goes to Press: A Comedy in Three Acts
It's impossible to dislike a female protagonist who opines, fifteen miles south of the Italian front in the second-to-last year of World War II, "If there's anything I really loathe, it's a woman protector." Delivered by Annabelle Jones, war correspondent for the San Francisco World, in conversation with Jane Mason, war correspondent for the New York Bulletin, this line refers to one of the many well-meaning men who are the butts of the jokes in the play Love Goes to Press.
Longtime friends as well as colleagues, Jones and Mason are globetrotting journalists chasing after war stories when both improbably show up in the same tiny press camp in Italy. There, amid refrains of, "No, I am not a nurse," any time one of them places an intra-military call, each of the two women pursue dangerously-won exclusive stories and navigate surprise romantic encounters, the latter portrayed as considerably more perilous than the former.
The mostly-journalist ensemble draws an easy comparison to His Girl Friday, released six years before Love Goes to Press first appeared on stage. By contrast, the play's pacing and gender commentary read as tersely contemporary, and its production history as relatively dismal. First performed in the summer of 1946, audiences in London packed theaters to see it, taking advantage of the small luxury of cheap tickets, and in co-author Martha Gellhorn's estimation, eager to laugh amid grief, rationing, wide-spread destruction, and exhaustion in the first year of peace after the war.
American audiences, however, did not crave such levity. After only four performances in New York in the first week of 1947 (where, Gellhorn further recounts, the cast was ecstatic to shop and eat as much as they could), the play folded then disappeared. American reviews from the time reflect a limited range of emotions running from irked boredom to disgust: either the veteran lady war reporters who authored the play couldn't get war quite "right," for all of their experience, or they simply had the bad taste to profane such a sacred subject in a three-act comedy. From the distance of sixty-three years—perhaps as cushy as the distance between New York drama critics of the '40s and the European theatre of war—this self-important response seems a bit comical.
Editor Sandra Spanier does a fine job, in this expanded edition of Love Goes to Press, of providing historical and literary context for the play, which did not see a first printing until 1995. Her biographical focus remains overwhelmingly on Gellhorn, whose sixty-year career was comprised of relentless war correspondence, as well as fiction and travel writing. Co-author Virginia Cowles is comparatively unknown, despite being an experienced war correspondent and prolific nonfiction writer herself. (Gellhorn and Cowles met when both women were reporting on the Spanish Civil War—Annabelle Jones and Jane Mason are based on them, respectively.)
In addition to Spanier's description of rescuing perhaps the only extant copy of the play, and her recovery and reprinting of deleted sections of Gellhorn's war reporting from the Collier's archives, Gellhorn's original introduction to the 1995 edition may be the most enjoyable historical work here. Good-humored but pitiless, Gellhorn's recounting of the more hapless accomplishments of the play's authors, which included fleeing stunned from cries of "Author! Author!" at the close of the play's premier, is like an authorial bow on behalf of both herself and Cowles, albeit regrettably late.