Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mae West: FCC in 1938

The radio ruckus MAE WEST set in motion just before Christmas 1937 continued being discussed in the news. Time Magazine's issue — — dated Monday, 24 January 1938 — — focused on all those "right-thinking" citizens who penned complaint letters and the FCC's request for a transcript of the offending program. NBC was reluctant to release it. Can you guess why?
• • In case you never saw the article, here it is.
• • FCC on Mae West
• • Last August Franklin Roosevelt plucked goggle-eyed Frank McNinch — — one of the liveliest members of the Federal Power Commission — — and made him chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. His job was to inject some New Deal vigor into the politics-ridden FCC. Last week the results became apparent.
• • Last month Mae West brought down a deluge of criticism from all over the United States by a sexy burlesque of the story of Adam & Eve (TIME Magazine, Dec. 27, 1937). A partial transcript is below.
• • Among the 1,000-odd letters of criticism that showered on National Broadcasting Co. was one from FCC asking for a transcript of the program. Last week NBC President Lenox R. Lohr got another letter from FCC, signed by Chairman Frank McNinch.
• • Taking time out from such radio supervising jobs as dividing up the ether, allotting slices of it to broadcasting stations and licensing operators, Mr. McNinch sounded off on Mae West:
• • "The admittedly objectionable character of these features is, in our opinion, attributable to the lack of a proper conception of the high standards required for a broadcast program intended for reception in the homes, schools, automobiles, religious, social and economic institutions, as well as clubs, hotels, trains and other places, reaching in the aggregate a much larger number of people daily than any other means of communication and carrying its message to men, women and children of all ages.
• • "A clear recognition of the social, civil and moral responsibility for the effect upon listeners of all classes and ages requires such a high standard for programs as would insure against features that are suggestive, vulgar, immoral or of such other character as may be offensive to the great mass of right-thinking, clean-minded American citizens."
• • Although it has long been recognized that the rights and privileges of broadcasters are not so great as those of the press, this letter pointed the difference in official black & white. The press, in spite of its guaranteed freedom, is not permitted to be immoral, obscene or libelous. But in order to preserve freedom of expression, freedom of artistic taste and freedom of information to all minorities however wrong-thinking they may be, the press is permitted to be vulgar, if not suggestive, to be just as offensive as it likes to "right-thinking people." By FCC doctrine as laid down by Mr. McNinch, the radio may reflect only views and tastes agreeable to one group, those whom FCC defines as "right-thinking" people. Mr. McNinch went on still further to restrict the field of radio. He wrote:
• • "In our present system and the statute under which the Federal Communications Commission functions, the Commission has no power of censorship, but this power and responsibility rests squarely and unavoidably upon the licensee. . . . Licenses are granted without any compensation by the licensee to the Government and solely for the purpose of serving the public interest, and, hence, the broadcaster must accept, along with the privilege granted, a definite, inescapable and high public trust in the use of the facilities licensed. . . .
• • "The Commission has decided to take no further action at this time than the writing of this letter in condemnation of the program. However, upon application for renewal of the licenses of the stations carrying this broadcast, the Commission will take under consideration this incident along with all other evidence tending to show whether or not a particular licensee has conducted his station in the public interest."
• • Forced thus to censor themselves, radiomen were placed not only in the position of having to observe a special set of taboos, but of daring to err only in one direction, by being too conservative. Frank McNinch's letter was as good as official notice to the radio industry that its future lies in entertainment and education but not in rivaling the press.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Last week all parties involved refused to release the text of the script, excerpts from which follow:
• • Snake: That's the forbidden tree.
• • Eve (Mae West): Oh, don't be technical. Answer me this — my palpitatin' python — would you like to have this whole Paradise to yourself?
• • Snake: Certainly.
• • Eve: O.K., then pick me a handful of fruit — Adam and I'll eat it — and the Garden of Eden is all yours. What do ya say?
• • Snake: Sssounds all right . . . but it's forbidden fruit.
• • Eve: Listen, what are you — my friend in the grass or a snake in the grass?
• • Snake: But forbidden fruit.
• • Eve: Are you a snake or are you a mouse?
• • Snake: I'll — I'll do it. (hissing laugh)
• • Eve: Now you're talking. Here — right in between those pickets.
• • Snake: I'm — I'm stuck.
• • Eve: Oh — shake your hips. There, there now, you're through.
• • Snake: I shouldn't be doing this.
• • Eve: Yeh, but you're doing all right now. Get me a big one. ... I feel like doin' a big apple.
• • Snake: Here you are, Missuss Eve.
• • Eve: Mm — oh, I see — huh — nice goin', swivel hips.
• • Snake: Wait a minute. It won't work. Adam'll never eat that forbidden apple.
• • Eve: Oh, yes, he will — when I'm through with it.
• • Snake: Nonsense. He won't.
• • Eve: He will if I feed it to him like women are gonna feed men for the rest of time.
• • Snake: What's that?
• • Eve: Applesauce.
— — Source: — —
• • Time Magazine — — Monday, 24 January 1938
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • This skit, written by Arch Obler, got Mae West banned from the airwaves for several years.
Mr. Obler, however, continued to work in radio.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1937 • •
Mae West.

1 comment:

  1. This is the first time I've seen the excerpts. I can just imagine Mae West reading her lines with that sexy voice of hers. It must have been so funny!