Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mae West: Censorship

MAE WEST was always doing battle with the censors. Once the Brooklyn bombshell was under contract to Paramount Pictures, Joseph Breen, "the Hitler of Hollywood," took a hatchet to all of Mae's scripts. Since Joe Breen — — who died at age 75 during the month of December (on 5 December 1965) — — held the power, some folks might believe he wrote the Production Code. He did not.
• • Gregory D. Black outlines the history of The Hays Code thoroughly in his book, The Catholic Crusade Against the Movies, 1940 — 1975.
• • During the 1920s, celebrity scandals threatened to rock Hollywood. Celebrities were dying in freak sex accidents, lurid private lifestyles were being revealed in the media, and extramarital affairs among screen stars spiced up the tabloids. These shockers, as well as a declining morality portrayed in motion pictures, shook the movie-goer's faith and threatened government censorship in cinema. This new film industry, fearful of alienating ticket-buyers, felt it must boost its image from within — — and created the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) in 1922.
• • The MPAA appointed William Hays, a stout Presbyterian politician, to be the front man for the organization and to ward off government censorship bills while creating a code calling for self-regulation by creators of films. The code Hays created prohibited nudity and profanity as well as other elements. However, the code allowed for each director’s interpretation, therefore, morality in film improved only a little.
• • The Catholic Church furnished a solution. The Church felt that if the Catholic hierarchy supported a moral code, its influence would be strong enough to eliminate the need for political censorship. Because of the enormous and centralized nature of the Roman Catholic Church, the industry would be forced to conform to their standards.
• • Martin Quigley, owner of the trade journals Motion Picture Daily and Motion Picture Herald, together with Father Daniel Lord, S.J., teamed to write a document presenting the Catholic position on the new medium.
• • A portion of the code follows:
• • • • Reasons Supporting Preamble of Code • • • •
• • • • Correct entertainment raises the whole standard of a nation. Wrong entertainment lowers the whole living conditions and moral ideas of a race.[…]
• • • • They [motion pictures] reproduce the morality of the men who use the pictures as a medium for the expression of their ideas and ideals. They affect the moral standards of those who through the screen take in these ideas and ideals. […]
• • • • Reasons Supporting the General Principles • • • •
• • • • No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it… This is done:
• • • • When evil is made to appear attractive or alluring and good is made to appear unattractive.
• • • • When the sympathy of the audience is thrown to the side of crime wrong-doing, evil, sin. The same thing is true of a film that would throw sympathy against goodness, honor, innocence, purity or honesty. […]
• • • • …throughout, the audience feels sure that evil is wrong and good is right. […]
• • • • Crimes against the Law • • • •
• • • • Revenge in modern times shall not be justified. […]
• • • • Sex • • • •
• • • • Impure love must not be presented as attractive or beautiful. […]
• • • • In general, it must not be detailed in methods and manner.
• • • • Costume • • • •
• • • • The effect of nudity or semi-nudity upon the normal man or woman and much more upon the young and immature person, has been honestly recognized by all lawmakers and moralists. […]
• • • • Nudity can never be permitted as being necessary for the plot. Semi-nudity must not result in indecent exposure. […]
• • • • Dances • • • •
• • • • …dances which suggest or represent sexual actions, whether performed solo or with two or more, dances intended to excite the emotional reaction of an audience, dances with movement of the breasts, excessive body movements while the feet are stationary, violate decency and are wrong.
• • • • Religion • • • •
• • • • The reason why ministers of religion may not be comic characters or villains is simply because the attitude taken toward them may easily become the attitude taken toward religion in general. […]
• • Martin J. Quigley and Daniel Lord presented their code to Hays, who felt it was just what he had been looking for. Despite the many restrictions put on their art, the industry accepted the “Hays Code” with little resistance.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •
Mae West.

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