Author: Poison Ivory
Spoilers: The whole movie, essentially.
Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank queenitsy, second_batgirl, harmonyangel, baelarion, and cycnus for their advice, encouragement, suggestions, and beta-reads, and ktnb.net for the screencaps.
"If we don't stick together, we're nothin'." -Jack
II. Jack Kelly
III. David Jacobs
IV. Boy Meets Boy
V. Grabby Hands
VI. Why It Works
VII. This Is Where I Came In
“See, that’s the first thing you gotta learn. Headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.” –Jack to David
Newsies is a 1992 Disney musical directed by Kenny Ortega, with music by Alan Menken, best known for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. It stars Robert Duvall, Ann-Margret, and Bill Pullman, but we’re mostly concerned with Christian Bale (Jack) and David Moscow (David).
The story is fairly simple. When Pulitzer (Duvall) raises the price the newsies have to pay to buy his papers, thereby cutting into their (already tiny) profit, the newsies, led by the roguish Jack and newcomer David, go on strike. Despite beatings, riots, bribery, coercion, guilty secrets, betrayals, and one very wooden love interest, they finally succeed in having their demands met. Plus there’s a lot of singing dancing pretty boys, so you can’t really lose.
II. Jack Kelly
“Go get ‘em, Cowboy!” -“Carrying the Banner”
Jack Kelly is the brash, cocky, unofficial-then-official leader of the newsies. He’s a dreamer, he’s popular; he’s respected and trusted as both an older brother figure and a skilled newsboy, as we learn when Crutchy asks him for advice. And, as we see when he ties his red bandanna around his neck, he’s a cowboy.
In the heart of the big opening song-and-dance with the rest of the newsies, we get possibly the most important part of Jack’s personality — he sticks up for the little guy. When the Delancey brothers start picking on Snipeshooter, Jack helps the younger boy up and leads the bullies in a madcap chase, highlighted by an acrobatic swing from under and awning and ending in a fistfight in which Jack emerges the clear victor. He leaps to David’s rescue when Weasel tries to cheat him, tries to spring Crutchy from the Refuge, a “jail for kids,” and eventually gives up his shot of going to Santa Fe in order to rescue the Jacobs siblings from the Delanceys. He’s also fearless; he stands up to Pulitzer, arguably the most powerful man in New York, and he has no problem going into Brooklyn, the territory of the infamous Spot Conlon — in fact, he’s good friends with Spot. He can ride a horse; he’s an escape artist; he can beat up two bigger boys in a fight.
Jack’s also smart (“You know, I don’t just sell your papes, Joe; sometimes I read ‘em.”). He’s got his own moral code but it hurts no one. Everyone loves him, from burlesque celebrities to nuns to the aforementioned Spot. He’s magnetic and personable, and when he speaks, people not only listen, they obey. Yet Jack never forces anyone into anything; he has an appeal that makes people want to follow him to Hell and back just because he asked them to. He’s an optimist, a dreamer, and an idealist, who sinks into depression when his schemes fall apart but bounces back once he starts doing the right thing again.
On the other hand, Jack’s a liar. His real name, we discover when he’s arrested, is Francis Sullivan (and who can blame him for covering that up?); his mother and father are not out West looking for a ranch in Santa Fe like he’s told everyone, but are dead and incarcerated, respectively. You trust him…but you know maybe you shouldn’t.
III. David Jacobs
“What is this, Jacky-Boy—some kinda walkin’ mouth?” –Spot
David Jacobs is, in many ways, the complete opposite of Jack. He comes from a loving family with both parents around, plus a brother and sister. He’s responsible; when his father loses his job, David heads for the streets to support his family and is loath to return to school and stop making money. He’s also very protective of his siblings, especially nine-year-old Les, occasionally to the point of mother hen-ishness.
David is very…well, prim. The other newsies are usually in some state of unbuttoned disarray, with bare calves or rolled-up sleeves or exposed collarbones. When David first appears he’s buttoned up all the way to his chin, with a vest, long pants, and the all-important newsboy cap. Considering it’s the heart of summer, that’s a pretty big effort to make to look presentable while selling papers for a penny on the street. He’s appalled at the rowdiness of the other newsies and at Jack’s flagrant embellishment of headlines (“Trash Fire Next to Immigration Building Terrifies Seagulls” becomes “Ellis Island in Flames, Big Conflagration!...Thousands Flee in Panic!”), and is disgusted by the newsboy habit of spitting on their palms and then shaking hands to seal a deal.
He’s also down-to-earth. When the strike begins David is dead set against it, preferring not to rock the boat, but once the strike gets going he supplies Jack with the rhetoric of labor unrest and is actually more faithful to the strike than Jack. He’s steadfast and expects the same in everyone he meets, so Jack and Denton’s betrayals hit him hard. And it’s David who inspires everyone with “Seize the Day” when things look dark. Despite this highly moralistic stance, David’s far more cynical than Jack; the original, non-musical version of the screenplay includes a scene where Sarah cheerfully informs Jack that she and her father are Socialists, but David’s far too practical for that.
Jack may be all flash and charisma, but David’s just as brave in his way. He’s the one who goes with Jack to rescue Crutchy, not someone bigger or stronger or more accustomed to street life. He takes over the strike when Jack leaves; he defends his siblings against the Delanceys even though he knows he’s no match for even one of them (and he probably knows they’ve come to cripple him, too). And he’s unafraid to voice his opinion to anyone, be it Jack, Spot, or Pulitzer himself. If you’re looking for someone to be the center of attention and everyone’s best friend, Jack’s your man, but when the time comes to be responsible and mature, you need David.
He’s not entirely stodgy, however; he loosens up as the movie progresses, shown by his gradual removal of clothing, and by the final frame he’s a scruffy little piece of jailbait in an undershirt and a newsboy cap, cracking jokes and throwing Jack’s lines back in his face. And Jack (and I) likes that just fine.
IV. Boy Meets Boy
“And if we’re gonna be partners…”
“Wait, wait wait. Who said anything about partners?” –Jack and David, respectively
Jack and David meet in a classic “about to fall in love” move — they crash into each other. More specifically, Jack crashes into David as he’s running from the Delanceys. “What do you think you’re doing?” David demands, annoyed. A grin lights up Jack’s face. “Runnin’!” And he bounds off.
The real relationship doesn’t start until a few minutes later, when the newsies are lining up to get their papes.
Weasel: Hey, hey, hey. You got your papes, c’mon, now, beat it.
David: I paid for 20, I only got 19.
Weasel: Are you accusing me of lyin’, kid?
David: No, I, I just want my paper.
Jack gets up and counts the papers.
Morris: He said beat it.
Jack: No, it’s 19, Weasel. It’s 19, but don’t worry about it, it’s an honest mistake. I mean, Morris, he can’t count to 20 with his shoes on.
Weasel gives David another paper.
Weasel: All right, get outta here.
Jack: Hold it…Another 50 for my friend here.
David: No, I, I don’t want another 50.
Jack: Sure you do, every newsie wants more papes.
David: I don’t. I don’t want your papes. I don’t take charity from anybody, I don’t even know you, I don’t care to, here are your papes.
And so a dream team is born. Even in this short scene, we see the touchy-feeliness of Jack and David’s relationship (explored in further detail in part V), Jack’s protectiveness of David, David’s habit of questioning Jack when everyone else just accepts him (“If he’s the best, then how come he needs me?”). Jack springs up to rescue a guy with whom he’s had precisely one interaction, and that was David scolding him like a fishwife. David lets himself be schmoozed into a rotten deal (it winds up being 60-40 in Jack’s favor, and Jack doesn’t have five mouths to feed) by a total stranger. There’s no reason for either of these boys to want to spent another second with each other, and yet they enter into a partnership.
The selling begins, and immediately Jack and David’s ideologies come into conflict, when Jack teaches Les to pretend to be sick to elicit sympathy.
David: Our father taught us not to lie.
Jack: Yeah, well mine taught me not to starve, so we both got an education.
David: You’re just making up things. All these headlines…
Jack: I don’t do nothin’ the guys who write it don’t do. Anyways it ain’t lyin’, just improvin’ the truth a little.
A moment later David spots Snyder stalking Jack, and Jack takes off, the bewildered Jacobs boys in tow. They seek sanctuary at Medda’s theater, where David demands to know what’s going on, and Jack reluctantly tells him (part of) the truth: “The Refuge is a jail for kids. That guy chasin’ me is Snyder, he’s the warden…I was starvin’, so I stole some food.” David, who’s sharper than the average newsie, points out that Snyder called Jack “Sullivan,” and for the first time, Jack gets defensive.
Jack: Yeah, well my name’s Kelly, Jack Kelly. You think I’m lyin’?
David: Well, you have a way of improving the truth.
Medda’s appearance puts an end to the conversation, and by the time her show’s over Jack and David seem to have made peace. Jack tells the boys about his parents, who he (untruthfully) says are looking for a ranch out in Santa Fe, and David invites Jack back to his place to meet his family, all of whom love Jack immediately.
The next day the price of the papers has been changed, and the newsies are enraged. Jack seizes upon the idea of striking, which horrifies practical David (“We can’t strike, we don’t have a union…Stop and think about this, Jack!”), but before long the kids are swept up in the frenzy and David reluctantly provides Jack with the grist for the rousing cry for unity, “The World Will Know.”
The strike has a lot of early success, but eventually the authorities get their hands on Jack, the “escaped convict.” At his hearing, the truth about Jack’s parents comes out; Jack looks at David, who gives him the most betrayed look imaginable before looking away. Despite his disappointment, David resolves to get Jack out of the Refuge that night, but first Jack is taken to meet with Pulitzer. Pulitzer attempts to bribe Jack, offering him his freedom and enough money to go everywhere he wants, but Jack sees right through him: “Are you bribin’ me, Joe? …I must have you scared pretty bad, old man.” Jack is absolutely not for sale, but then Pulitzer tries another tack: “To your friends, I won’t be so kind. Now your partner, I understand his name is David…what do you think the Refuge will do to him?” Only then does Jack’s smirk disappear.
David helps Jack escape and they run off, but before long Jack stops.
Jack: You shouldn’t’ve done this, Dave, they could put you in jail.
David: I don’t care.
Jack: C’mere. (He pushes David up against a wall. Really.) What about your family? What happens to them if you go in jail? You don’t know nothin’ about jail. Now thanks for what you done, but you get out of here.
David: I don’t understand.
Jack: I don’t understand either, but just get out of here.
Rhyming commands aside, it’s an intense, intimate scene, and the power of it is compounded the next morning, when Jack appears dressed like a “scab,” with a handful of papers to sell. Some of the newsies are murderous, some near tears, but only David is allowed through to talk to Jack.
David: So this is why you didn’t escape last night. You’re a liar. You lied about everything. You lied about your father being out west, ‘cause he’s not out west. You didn’t even tell me your real name!
David: I don’t understand you.
Jack eggs David on, until David breaks his staunch pacifism and lunges at Jack, but Weasel holds David back and Jack heads off to sell his papers. The next day, the Delancey brothers attack the Jacobs siblings, and Jack races to their rescue.
David: What, you couldn’t stay away?
Jack: Well, I guess I can’t be something I ain’t.
David: What, a scab?
Jack: No, smart.
Together Jack, the Jacobs kids, and Denton print up a paper to distribute to the working kids of New York, protesting the child labor situation. Countless kids show up the next day to strike along with the newsies, and Pulitzer is forced to concede. Jack is offered the chance to go wherever he wants, and he heads off for Santa Fe, leaving the Jacobs kids bereft…but within minutes he’s back, amid cheers and wild jubilation. He thanks his traveling companion (Governor Teddy Roosevelt) for his advice, then looks up at David and beams. “I got family here.”
[A Word About Sarah:
But wait! you may be saying. Jack is with Sarah. He kisses her at the end of the movie! Weren’t you watching?
This is all true. Sarah is the love interest, and Jack does kiss her at the end. That said…I don’t buy it. Sarah has only a handful of lines and no real impact on the story; her character is inconsistent at best (she goes from punching Morris in the face to sitting down on the floor and screaming uselessly in under a minute). Her two big scenes — the rooftop scene and the kiss — feel awkward and tacked on, and could easily be removed without substantially changing the movie. The conspiracy theorist in me suspects that she was added at the last minute because Jack and David were “just too obvious.”
More importantly, she has basically no interaction with Jack outside of those two scenes. She barely speaks when he comes to dinner; she doesn’t speak at all at the rally. Jack and David have a complex and symbiotic relationship developed through shared experiences, serious talks, and a working partnership. Jack and Sarah meet all of four times before he plants one on her, and aside from the rooftop scene, barely speak to each other. David is Jack’s equal; Sarah is a near stranger, and a subordinate one at that. I’ve got nothing against Sarah, but the relationship that interests me is Jack’s with David, not his sister.]
V. Grabby Hands
“Jack…why don’t you stay here tonight?” –David
It would be nigh impossible to list all the instances of touching between Jack and David. Newsies is already an extremely touchy-feely movie, with the entire ensemble constantly hugging, punching, tugging, patting stomachs, ruffling hair, and so on, but Jack and David take the cake. This is of course partially due to the fact that they have the most screen time, but it’s too excessive for that argument to entirely explain it away. Here are a few of my favorite moments:
-After Medda tells the boys they can hide in her theater, Jack pulls David off-camera by his tie. Perhaps this is why, when they leave the theater, Jack asks David, “So you like that?” and David replies, “Oh, I loved that. I loved it. It was great.”
-At David’s, Jack is introduced as “our selling partner…and our friend,” and meaningful looks are exchanged by David’s parents. (The constant use of “partner” to describe Jack and David’s relationship is simply beautiful.)
-The dinner is followed by the fire escape scene, known among Jack/David fans as “the balcony scene.” Jack and David share an intensely sexually charged moment on the fire escape, making casual small talk; they look into each other eyes and are about to…well, we don’t know, because David’s father sticks his head out to tell David it’s time for bed, and Jack and David turn quickly and try to act casual. David invites Jack to stay the night, with a hint of desperation in his voice as he says Jack’s name. Jack pauses, then declines, and David looks crestfallen before he looks up, smiles, and cracks a joke. Jack watches him through the window for a moment before climbing the rest of the way down the fire escape.
-When Jack asks David to help him with the strike, he pins him up against the statue of Horace Greeley like the high school quarterback pinning the head cheerleader up against her locker while he asks her to the prom. David pauses, sighs with passionate longing, and agrees. And after Jack sings “Pulitzer may crack the whip but he won’t whip us!” with his hands on David’s shoulders and then bounds off, David gives Jack the most longing look I have ever seen outside of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy.
-Once the strike is underway, Jack sends ambassadors (or, as he pronounces it, “am-bastards”) to the other newsies of New York. No one’s willing to take Brooklyn, so Jack volunteers himself and Boots for the job; he then grabs David around the neck, pulls him into a one-armed hug so that David’s head rests against Jack’s chest, and says, “And Dave can keep us company.” Then he pats David on the stomach and the shoulder. “Sure,” says David. “Just as soon as you take our demands to Pulitzer.” Jack’s incredulous: “Me?” David smiles up at him coyly, all trust and encouragement. “Well, you’re the leader, Jack.”
-Jack and David’s plan for breaking Crutchy out of jail involves them getting on the roof (don’t ask me how) and having David lower Jack to Crutchy’s window on a rope. The audio track of this sequence is a handful of moans and grunts and heavy breathing by Jack, before he says “Gently, Dave, Gently. That’s good. That’s good!”
-After Spot and his boys show up and save the day, Jack grabs David by the shoulders, leans in as if to kiss him, and then wraps his arms around him. Then they realize Denton has a camera and quickly let go of each other, looking like deer caught in the headlights.
-David’s the one who sees Snyder at the rally and warns Jack, mostly by putting his hands all over him. The two of them get Sarah and Les to safety; then David jumps onto a swing and Jack pushes him so that he kicks Snyder in the face with both feet. If combat swinging isn’t the basis of true love, I don’t know what is. David then pushes Jack away (“Get out of here, go!”) and stands with the swing at the ready, willing to fight Snyder so that Jack can escape (and remember, he’s a pacifist).
-As a barely-conscious Jack is being dragged away, David’s desperate fight through the crowd and the look on his face as he clings to Jack are heartbreaking.
-In the alley, Jack is so upset, he becomes British! (Okay, it’s just Christian Bale losing his New York accent, but I like my theory.)
-I always thought it was telling that David says, "You didn’t even tell me your real name!” Not “us,” not “the newsies,” but ”me”, David. harmonyangel points out further that “clearly none of the newsies use their real names, so the fact that he would expect a level of familiarity deeper than that is interesting.”
-“You see, I ain’t got nobody tuckin’ me in at night…like you.” What is that, Jack, an invitation?
-As I mentioned before, when Jack and David meet, David asks Jack what he’s doing and Jack crows “Runnin’!” Much later in the movie, in the alley, Jack slows down and David turns to him with a “Come on, we’re running” — a nice little parallel.
VI. Why It Works
“The main story is about the strike, against Pulitzer, but also about, you know, the relationship with David and Jack…” –Christian Bale
There are many superficial reasons for liking Jack and David as a pairing. They are best friends and partners, relationships that are always fun to turn into a romance. They’re pretty together, and they can’t keep their hands off of each other. (They’re even both named after famous giant-slayers!) But this logic could apply to dozens of pairings in a movie full of clingy, attractive boys. I maintain that Jack and David have a connection that’s deeper than that and more durable. Their affection for each other, their loyalty, their attraction…all of these are self-evident and amply demonstrated in the above sections. What I want to talk about here is their need.
Both boys deny needing each other. Jack says so at the beginning, when he strikes the deal with David (“I don’t need you, pal”); David says so towards the end, when Jack turns his back on the newsies (to protect David, of course, but David doesn’t know this): “We don’t need you! We don’t need you!” Both of these statements are lies, no matter how much the boys believe them — at least as far as the strike goes. Jack has the power to rile the boys up, but he has no idea what to say to them once he’s got their attention. (“Keep talkin’, Jack. Tell us what to do!” “You tell us what to do, Dave.”) Conversely, once Jack leaves the strike the entire effort degenerates into chaos. David can’t control the newsies, even with the help of Spot and Race, while Jack can silence hundreds of boys with a word. Jack’s got the magical appeal of a born leader; David’s got the education and rational genius necessary for strategizing. When they confront Pulitzer, David has the practicality to attack him on a financial basis (“Every day you’re losing thousands of dollars just to beat us out of one lousy tenth of a cent.”), while Jack has the insight to realize that “it ain’t about the money, Dave. If Joe gives in to nobodies like us, it means we got the power.” It’s doubtful that either strategy would succeed alone against the stubborn Pulitzer; together, it’s irrefutable logic that shows Pulitzer they see through him, and forces him to buckle. As selling partners or as strike leaders, Jack and David need each other to survive.
More importantly than their working partnership, however, is their personal need for one another. After all, what do they each want? Well, Jack wants family, security, stability. He says he wants Santa Fe, but as the song by the same name makes clear, “Santa Fe” is just a substitute for “what they call a family.” And David is the living embodiment of family, security, and stability. Yes, Sarah’s in that family too, but she’s not Jack’s equal, and she’s not the one he’s looking at when he tells Roosevelt he’s got family in New York. David is steady and dependable; he’s warm and loving and hospitable; he’s everything that “family” means to Jack and everything that Jack’s biological family isn’t. Yet David also has spunk. He falls in with Jack not because he buys into all of Jack’s hoopla, like the other boys, but because he gets to know the other boy very closely and he likes what he sees. He doesn’t let Jack get away with anything, from lying to fighting to betraying the newsies, but he doesn’t turn his back on Jack for doing any of those things, either. He’s loyal, but he’s no subordinate. Jack can get someone to fawn over him and do whatever he says anytime he wants. David is something else.
It’s more difficult to determine what David wants, but it’s much easier to see how he’s changed. The uptight, cynical, clearly unhappy boy we meet at the beginning of the movie has become a relaxed, happy kid with the respect of his fellows and brimming with confidence. He’s discovered hidden depths in himself and unknown talents. He’s got a cause, a faith, something to believe in. And it’s all because of Jack. Jack has shown him an entirely new world; he’s taught David about people and about survival and about friendship. Through his friendship with Jack David becomes an integral member of a community, just like Jack becomes a member of a family through David. Jack’s an adventure for David; a protector and simultaneously someone to look after; someone who understands him intimately and respects his opinions. It’s also theorized by many in the fandom that David doesn’t have many (or any) friends before Jack, judging by how reluctant he is to return to school and how big a deal Jack’s arrival in the Jacobs’ apartment is. Jack, then, is the first of David’s peers that he’s close to.
Jack and David give each other what they need. They fulfill each other’s seemingly unattainable dreams and help each other rise to previously inconceivable heights. Simply put, they are better together than they are apart. As Jack said, if they don’t stick together, they’re nothing. Together, they can change the world.
VII. This Is Where I Came In
“Send out the call and join the fray.” –“Seize the Day”
I got into the Newsies fandom last January, when a friend of mine got it on DVD. I’d seen it once before, but that was in my pre-slash days, so though I enjoyed the story and the music and the sort of exuberant fun of the movie, I didn’t think much of it beyond that. But at this second viewing, just before the movie started, one of us — I don’t remember who — mentioned the extreme slashiness of it.
It was in that mindset that I rewatched Newsies, and I suddenly saw that, yes, it is an underdog story, and yes, it is a (somewhat) historical story, and yes, it is a coming-of-age story, but at the heart of it? It’s a love story. It’s about two boys who meet and are changed by their relationship, and it’s sweet and simple and understated, and I adored it.
I immediately went searching for the fandom, and that was when I discovered that although Jack and David are the main characters and the most immediately apparent pairing in the movie aside from Jack/Sarah (debatably), they’re a sadly underappreciated ship. Fans tend to focus on more minor characters and semi-obscure pairings, but I love a clearly defined character and am by nature attracted to the central players. Jack and David also happen to be very versatile. They can fluff it up with the best of them (and believe me, the preponderance of Jack/David fic out there is sweet and cuddly and full of puppies and babies (literally)), but there’s hidden depths to their relationship. Jack’s betrayal and his relationship with Sarah lend themselves more to angst and tragedy than sunshine and kisses.
I suspect, though, that the real reason I love this ship is simpler than that. I’ve often wondered what was said in the way of direction or what went on when the cameras were off that led to such obviousness between Jack and David, but whatever the cause, when you watch Newsies, you see two boys who love each other very, very much. Who could ask for more?
“Extry extry, Joe. Read all about it.” –Jack
The first stop for anyone in search of Newsies slash is The Refuge. Fics need to be approved before they can be archived there, which eliminates many of the pitfalls of FanFiction.net, and it’s run by three very cool girls, all of whom are fantastic writers themselves. Most importantly, it’s categorized by ship, which makes things much easier for a Jack/David fan on the prowl.
(As a side note, there are so many Newsies fics set in modern times that it’s barely considered an AU anymore. Modern fics may actually exceed the 1899 ones. Why? Who knows?)
There isn’t much in the way of chaptered Jack/David fic, but one of the best known (and the longest) is queenitsy’s How I Spent My Summer Vacation, the still-in-progress story of David, an awkward loner who finds himself — and Jack — at summer camp. Much shorter is harmonyangel’s Cold Walls, Cold Words, and a Frayed Piece of Twine, which follows David’s thoughts through Jack’s departure at the end of the movie and subsequent return. As Catholic school students, Jack and David have to keep their romance under wraps in second_batgirl’s Best Kept Secret, based on the pop opera Bare. There are also Jack/David chapters in the multi-pairing multi-chaptered fics Birthday and Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, both by queenitsy.
Many Jack/David fics look at quieter, more domestic or intimate moments between the couple, like cycnus’s (Imagine a) Brown Leather Wallet, or parkranger’s Cowboys and Cosmonauts, both of which look at the boys once they’re grown-up and settled. cycnus’s Folgers and Hazelnut Creamer is told through the eyes of David’s father, as he watches his oldest son grow up and fall in love, while her Moonstruck is a whimsical, poetical piece of fluff, and her Catharsis gives some much-needed closure to the (for Jack/David fans) frustrating end of the movie. In harmonyangel’s Retrieving Christmas, David tries to cheer up a depressed Jack during the so-called “happiest time of the year,” while untitled fics by parkranger and baelarion have Jack and David spending a quiet Christmas morning in bed and Jack being lonely in Santa Fe, respectively.
There’s a few NC-17 fics out there: in Making It Right, by queenitsy, a college-age Jack must make amends for past transgressions. Hands Down, by cycnus, has David helping Police Officer Jack release some stress, while Worst Fear, by second_batgirl, has David worrying over the safety of Fire Fighter Jack. (That David just can’t resist a Jack in uniform.)