Director: Kenny Ortega.
Starring: Christian Bale (Jack 'Cowboy' Kelly), David Moscow (David Jacobs), Luke Edwards (Les Jacobs), Gabriel Damon (Spot Conlon), Marty Belafsky (Crutchy), Arvie Lowe Jr. (Boots), Michael A. Goorjian (Skittery), Bill Pullman (Bryan Denton), Ann-Margret (Medda Larkson), David James Alexander (Gov. Theodore Roosevelt), Robert Duvall (Joseph Pulitzer), Michael Lerner (Weasel), Kevin Tighe (Snyder), Ryan MacDonald (Mayor Robert Van Wyck).
musical about the newspaper boy strike against Pulitzer and Hearst in NYC
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"In 1899 the streets of New York City echoed with the voices of newsies peddling the newspapers of Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and other giants of the newspaper world. On every corner you saw them carrying the banner, bringing the news for a penny a "pape". Poor orphans and runaways, the newsies were a ragged army without a leader. Until one day, all that changed."
Newsies are sleeping on the Horace Greeley statue. (Greeley was the founder of The New York Tribune.) Over at the Newsboys' Lodging House a fellow is waking up the newsies. He calls out for Boots, Skittery, Snitch. "Sell a pape! Sell a pape!" The guys slowly get up and get ready for work.
They get some breakfast from the nuns handing out things to eat. Then they go stand in line to buy the newspapers from a seller, in this case Mr. Wiesel. One of the guys is given 19 papers when he paid for 20. Wiesel and Morris tell the guy to get lost when he mentions it. Jack "Cowboy" Kelly counts the papers and confirms that it's only 19. Cowboy tells him not only to give the guy the 20th newspaper but give him 30 more in addition. He gets the money from another newsy to pay for the extra papers. When he gets the papers the guy tells Cowboy that he didn't want 50 papers. Cowboy says that every newsy wants more papers. The guy is Davy and he is with his small brother Les. Cowboy tells him that they will become partners and sell papers together, at least until they can pay Cowboy back his money. Les is real cute and Cowboy knows he can sell more papers working with Les. Davy doesn't want to, but all the other newies tell him it's a golden opportunity and he can learn a lot from Cowboy. Dave agrees to work with Cowboy. The guys all fan out crying out the headlines.
Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World is disgusted with the headline of the day: "Trolley Strike Drags on for Third Week". He compares this boring headline to William Randolph Hearst's headline in the New York Journal: ""Nude Corpse on Rails Not Connected to Trolley Strike". One of his staff says it's not the headlines that are cutting into profits but this newspaper war with Hearst. Pulitzer tells his men to find a way to make more money by tonight.
Warden Snyder of the Refuge for kids sees Cowboy in the crowd watching a boxing match in the street and starts chasing him. Cowboy and his two partners have to run for it. They are able to escape from the man. Now Dave wants to know why was Snyder chasing Cowboy? Cowboy says he was starving, so he stole some food. They caught him and threw him into the refuge, also known as jail. Dave is now very skeptical of whatever Cowboy tells him, because he knows Jack Kelly is a bit of a hustler.
They take refuge in the theater and they see Miss Medda Larkson, the "Swedish Meadowlark". Cowboy knows her and he introduces her to the boys as "the greatest star of the vaudeville stage today". She goes on stage to sing a song, while the guys watch her from back stage.
Back on the street Cowboy hears a big ruckus and runs down to see what it is. Some of the trolley strikers are being beaten up by the thugs, most likely hired by the employers. Jack says this will be a great headline tomorrow. Dave and Les take Cowboy to meet their parents. Cowboy is introduced as their business partner and friend. Cowboy also meets the boys' pretty sister, Sarah. The father has his right arm in a sling. He says when the arm heals they will give him back his job at work and then Dave has promised he will go back to school. After dinner Cowboy asks Dave how his father got hurt? He got hurt at the factory and since then he can't help them anymore, so they fired him. His father has no union to protect him. The guys says goodnight. Cowboy misses having a family.
Pulitzer wants to make more profit and he and his closest staff come up with the idea that they will raise the price they charge for their papers to the newsies. Now the newsies pay 50 cents for 100 papers. They could raise it to 60 cents for 100 papers. Pulitzer figures if he does this, Hearst and the other owners will also raise their prices. One of the men says that's going to be awfully rough on the children. But Pulitzer says they will look on it as a challenge to sell more newspapers.
The newsies are very upset at the price hike. They sit and discuss what they should do. Cowboy thinks a while and then suggests that they go on strike. The newsies gather around the Greeley statue to get the strike started. Later the boys fan out to different parts of the city. The guys, however, don't want to go to Brooklyn because there's a rough fellow there known as Spot Conlon. So Cowboy says he will go with Boots and Dave to Brooklyn. That is after Jack Kelly takes their demands to Pulitzer.
Jack takes Les with him in the hopes that maybe he will soften up Pulitzer. They go inside. A newspaper reporter named Denton from the New York Sun comes by and asks Dave what's going on?. The newsies are on strike. The reporter smiles and says it's like David versus Goliath. While the two talk, Cowboy and Les are thrown out of the building. The newspaper man takes them to lunch and Cowboy tells him that they never even got to meet Pulitzer. They ask the newspaper reporter if he thinks their story is important? The reporters says: "It all depends on you."
The three buddies go out to see Spot Conlon. They tell him about the strike and that they want him to join in. Spot says how is he going to know if they won't run the first time a goon threatens them? He wants the Manhattan fellows to show him what they can do.
The guys descend on the newspaper vendor. The newsies buying papers throw them down once the guys all show up. One fellow makes a run for it. Then the guys start throwing the papers all around the place. They then overturn a wagon full of newspapers. The vendor calls Pulitzer and the cops soon arrive. The guys all make a run for it. The fellow known as Crutchy, because of the crutch that he uses, is last to leave, but he is stopped by two of the young guys working for the vendor.
Cowboy and Dave sneak into the Refuge to get Crutchy out. From the roof Cowboy is let down by rope to the window of the room where Crutchy is being held. He tells Crutchy to get his stuff so he can go with them. Crutchy, however, says that he's not walking so good these days because Oscar and Morris worked him over a bit. Snyder comes in the room and the escape is canceled.
A staff member tells Pulitzer that the strike is not just going to go away. The newspaper vendor Wiezel tells Pulitzer to give him the means and he can take care of the newsies. Pulitzer thinks it's a good idea. A bunch of scabs are going to be selling the newspapers, so the strikers go after them. But then the company goons go after the newsies. In the nick of time Spot Conlon and his Brooklyn newsies arrive and open up on the goons with their sling shooters. The Brooklyn guys brought clubs too and they attack the goons with them.
The reporter Denton gets the story on the front page. The guys are happy about it, about being famous for a minute. They sing a song: "I'm the King of New York."
Crutchy serves Mr. Snyder. He sees the paper and says "Hey, that's Jack!" This tips off Snyder and soon he is down at the Newsboys' Lodging House asking for Jack Kelly. The proprietor and all the guys cover for Cowboy.
Jack sleeps out on the fire escape next to Sarah's window. In the morning she sees him and tells him to go up on the roof. She makes breakfast for him. Sarah says her father is so proud of him and Dave for their strike activity. He asks her if it matters if he goes to Santa Fe or stays here? She smiles at him.
Mr. Snyder goes to Pulitzer and says Jack Kelly is really Francis Sullivan. Pulitzer speaks with the mayor . He tells the mayor that he wants Jack Kelly arrested publicly to show the newsies what can happen to their leaders. Pulitzer then tells the mayor that he and Hearst and Gordon Bennett are meeting to talk about the upcoming election and asks would the mayor like to participate? Of course. At that meeting the mayor meets or greets other famous men such as Mr. Taylor of The Times, and Mr. Gammon just back from Europe, owner of the New York Sun.
The newsies are allowed into the Broadway theater to hold a rally. Jack Kelly speaks to them. With him is Dave and Spot. A dispute breaks out because Dave says to stop beating up the scabs. He says the use of violence just plays into the hands of the authorities. Spot rejects this idea along with many in the crowd. But Jack turns the tide and soon Spot is saying that what Jacks says is what he says. The "Swedish Meadowlark" then sings for the boys.
Snyder shows up at the theater. With him has come a great many police that stand outside the theater. Jack is warned and bolts for an exit. The police rush in and the guys try to get out of the theater. The police use excessive force against the boys. Jack is finally caught. A bunch of the guys were caught too. They each receive a $5 dollar fine. Denton steps forward and says he will pay all the fines. Jack is left by himself. Denton tells Kelly that none of the newspapers covered their rally. Jack is charged with inciting to riot, assault and resisting arrest. Snyder steps up to say that he escaped from his Refuge and he wants the young fellow sent back there. The judge agrees.
Denton has to tell the guys good-bye. He is being sent as a war correspondent to another place. Dave is disappointed in him. The guys are sad to see him go.
A bunch of the newsies get into the Refuge. Once inside they see Jack being moved to another location. Dave jumps on the back of the carriage and goes for the ride. They arrive at a big mansion. Dave removes a key bolt from the carriage. Pulitzer comes down to talk with Jack. He tells Jack that the press has the greatest power in the city. He (Pulitzer) tells the city what to think and do. Pulitzer offers a chance for Jack to get out of the Refuge and says he will have more money than he could earn in three lifetimes. He says that he can go after boys like Dave are put him in the Refuge. He wouldn't do so well there, says the newspaper man. He wants Jack to go back to the Refuge and tell him his answer tomorrow morning.
When Jack is taken out of the mansion, Dave yells to him and Jacks gets away. The carriage driver starts to go after them, but the carriage falls away from the horses and the driver goes flying forward into the air. When they are safe, Jack tells him he shouldn't have helped him escape, because now they could put him in the Refuge. And then what would happen to his family? He keeps yelling for Dave to go, so Dave leaves. Jack goes back to the Refuge.
The strike goes on strong. Wiesel trots out Jack in a suit with some newspapers in his hands. The guys are shocked to see Jack with the scabs. They start saying: "He sold us out!" Wiesel lets Dave come up and speak with Jack. Dave calls him a liar. Jack says for the first time in his life he has money, real money in his pockets. As soon as he gets the rest, he's getting out of New York. A disappointed Dave tells him to go, that they don't need him!
Wiesel lets Jack sleep in the basement. In the morning he picks up his papers. Oscar and Morris tell him to come with them for they are going to fix Davey. Jack chases them away. Oscar and Morris harass Sarah on the street, asking where Davy is. Les tries to save her and gets beat up. Then Davy arrives and fights Oscar and Morris. He is getting beat up badly. Jack arrives and punches one of them out and Davy gets free of the other. Oscar and Morris run away saying that Jack is going back to the Refuge.
Jack, Davy, Sarah and Les go to see Denton. Jack wants to start their own newspaper and they all want Denton to help them. Wiesel has a printing press that they can use. They start printing their newspaper They distribute the paper for free. One of the headlines is: "House of Refuge House of Shame; Scandal Hidden from . ..?" Denton takes the paper to Governor Theodore Roosevelt, who says that this is disgraceful.
New spirit arises from the newsies and they renew their strike. Jack and Dave come to see Pulitzer, who is being blamed for this public relations nightmare. Davy tells Pulitzer that since the strike, his circulation has been down 70% percent. Pulitzer says he has called the police and they will be here soon. Davy and Jack are disgusted with the man. Jack goes and opens the doors to the balcony so Pulitzer can hear the roar of the newsies. Pulitzer can't stand it and covers his ears. Jack tells Pulitzer that he better start listening to him.
Jack and Davy are let go. Jack puts Les on his shoulders and shouts to the crowd: "We beat 'em!" A tremendous cheer goes up from the crowd. A wagon from the Refuge comes to the crowd and lets out its prisoners. Now it's Snyder who is going to jail. Teddy Roosevelt was their savior. Jack goes over and meets Roosevelt, who gives him a ride to the train tracks. Dave, Sarah and Les look very sad and Les even cries.
Jack returns with the governor. Roosevelt advised Jack that he still had things to do in New York City. And besides, says Jack, he's got family here. Sarah comes up to him and they kiss. The guys go wild. Jack, Sarah, Dave and Les all hug each other and are soon surrounded by the rest of the newsies.
Good musical about the newspaper boys in the age of yellow journalism who fought against the almost slave wages paid by the big newspapers. These youngsters went up against some of the most powerful men not only in NYC, but also in the nation as a whole. It would seem an impossible struggle to win against these powerful men. After all, acting as a virtual monopoly they could control the ups and downs of prices for their newspapers. These newspaper giants could also hire a bunch of goons and thugs to harm the young strikers. And yet the giants were brought down and had to settle with the strikers. Of course, the young people had some help: a determined newspaper reporter and the governor of New York State, Teddy Roosevelt, a reformer. There is a lot of clever banter between the youngsters as they take on the giants. Quite a story.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
1890 (September 20) -- unveiling of the Greeley statue by John Quincy Adams Ward’s (1830–1910) of Horace Greeley seated in an armchair. The statue was commissioned by the Tribune. The statue originally stood in front of the Tribune Building on Park Row (aka Publishers Row).
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