Sob Sister Journalism

I thought the easiest- and perhaps most compelling way- for me to tell you about Sob Sister Journalism is for me to post some correspondance with Kate, the costume designer about Adela, our sob sister. This also gives you an opportunity to see some of our interaction- to see a bit more of how dramaturgy works.

Kate says:

I've got a question about Violet Sharp...have you found anything about "sob sister journalism"?

I reply:


Sure, I can do that for you. I haven't got anything on file but I'll work on it. The quickest answer is to picture the journalist from CHICAGO, during the song that Billy Flynn talks for Roxie Hart.

As I know, a sob sister is a journalist who appealed to the 'delicate' emotions of women during the early part of the 20th century. I think they were always women journalist, and as such, they would find tragedy in anything. They also often 'cried out' during their broadcasts to the "children of America" as our VS sob sister does, as the stories they were reporting played into prayer and pity.

If you'll notice in CHICAGO, the reporter immediately goes along with the obvious lies of Roxie Hart/Billy Flynn, and sort of represents a parody of the sob sisters, as they generally went with the juiciest-- and therefore saddest and most terrible-- story.

Like many women in this era, to be working was surprising and as such they were often very glamorous single young women (because they wouldn't be mothers or older and still working). This is easily seen through the CHICAGO images but also, if you go onto Google Images and type in 'sob sister' you'll get some made images but also some real photos. The real photos are very interesting.

It is likely that our journalist should be much more glamorous than Mrs. Lindbergh, and well-dressed but obviously not as rich as her. But your own research can further determine that. I would just start with images.

It is also sort of obvious through quick Google research that sob sisters were also women who blamed crimes or cried wolf (in some cases) so sob sister doesn't have to apply only to journalists, it could apply to all women. A woman could be a sob sister journalist or just a sob sister woman (though I doubt they are recorded in history). I think they often incorporated elements of religion into their claims through their speech, but probably didn't live a parallel life (there I go generalizing).

You could probably have some fun with her costume.

Let me know if this helps. Also, just so you know, a lot of this info is derived from a conversation I had with Bill, the playwright.


Before she could email me back, I said:

Furthermore, it seems like sob sisters may actually have investigated things and helped to make reforms (probably because men reporters didn't generally care). Perhaps the journalism of the sob sister degraded over time, or maybe they found problems and just reported them in this way that seems a little pathetic. In either case, note the picture (she's in a motor car) in which she is wearing more fur than I've ever seen (on the Google search noted below). I am also guessing that our sob sister will be a little less fur since we are looking at the depression era, not 1905.


There's a pic for this on the first page of the Google search:
Joe Tracy Provides a Ride for “Sob Sister” Ada Patterson (1905)
Vanderbilt Cup Race rules limited every country’s team to five cars. With 12 entries from America in 1905, an additional qualification race called the American Elimination Trial was staged three weeks before the Vanderbilt Cup Race. A four-lap race totaling 113.2 miles was held over the new course. Prior to the trial, driver Joe Tracy gave Hearst journalist Ada Patterson a ride in the 90-hp Locomobile entry. Patterson was one of the original “sob sister” reporters known for investigative exposes that led to reform of public institutions.

And then, before she read either email I sent her a few links:

Beginning of this essay might be interesting for you:

Here's a page describing in detail Patterson, the sob sister earlier mentioned:

On page 106 they talk about how much society looked at the clothing, makeup, and jewelry of the sob sister:

Kate said thank you…

Then, I double checked somethings with Bill, the playwright and this is what he had to say:

I ask:


I've got some general questions about sob sister journalism and Adela: Is Adela a radio reporter or a newspaper reporter?

So I also ask, when she appears onstage what is she doing? Is she speaking into a radio microphone... or? Is it a live broadcast or a television-like broadcast to the audience (obviously she is not ON television at this time)?

Just a question and a thought.


Bill replies:

sob sister
1. A journalist, especially a woman, employed as a writer or an editor of sob stories.
2. A sentimental, ineffective person who seeks to do good.


If you've seen the film 'Chicago', the Christine Baranski role, "Mary Sunshine", is the epitome of a sob sister. Mary Sunshine is a radio reporter though not all sob sisters were. The most famous real-life sob sister was probably Adela Rogers St. John. She wrote screenplays and novels but really made her name on her coverage of two stories, 1-the 1927 boxing match between Jack Dempsey & Gene Tunney and 2) the Lindbergh trial. Here's a link to her Wikipedia entry-- Two particularly fun quotes attributed to her
"I think every woman's entitled to a middle husband she can forget."
"God made man, and then said I can do better than that and made woman."
"Adela" is named for her but is not based on her so it would be a mistake to say that the character in the play IS ARSJ. She never actually reported on the case until the trial, nearly 3 years after the events of the play. But she does represent the style of writing that I was trying to capture. Here's a segment from her autobiography, "The Honeycomb"--

"The news of the tragedy struck the nation a blow unmatched in our history...Remember, little Lindy was everybody's other baby. Or if they had none, their only child. We were shot down from heights that up until then had been serene no matter what else went on below. Our children were safe...Kidnapped? The Lindbergh baby? Who would DARE?"

"The Honeycomb" also contains a curious segment on Violet Sharpe (as it was incorrectly spelled by everyone until very recently). If you can track down a copy of the book, go to pages 312-313. She makes a series of absurd allegations about Violet, claiming that the press uncovered her 'true' story. She also gets ALL of the facts wrong, including where Violet is from (Wales?!?) and the circumstances of her suicide. I will try and scan the pages and send them to you.

ARSJ was not a radio reporter though I think it would be perfectly appropriate to have Adela speaking into a radio microphone. Television--NO! There was no TV in 1932. It would also be appropriate for Adela to simply address the audience. I leave that to the discretion of the director. She should be the epitome of 1930's style. You might want to take a look at Woody Allen's movie "Radio Days" which, in addition to being a very funny and charming movie, focuses on Depression era radio stars. Might be a good source for costuming ideas.

I hope this is helpful.


That about sums it up, including Adela’s inspiration though she is not based on her.


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