Most Notorious U.S. Censorship Code

In 1921 the U.S. Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America Inc. asked W. H. Hays, a prominent Republican, to be their president in an effort to ward off plans for government censorship. One of the first Hays initiatives was to insert a “morality clause” into all actors’ contracts forcing them to maintain at least a facade of clean living. In 1930 his Production Code was adopted by the industry; in 1934 it was made mandatory, with fines and sanctions on any film-maker who ignored it. The Code had a statement of general aims followed by twelve sections of “Particular Applications.” These latter included such declarations as “The treatment of bedrooms must be governed by good taste and delicacy” and “Suicide, as a solution of problems occurring in the development of screen drama is to be discouraged as morally questionable.” Inevitably, all sex organs – even those of children – were forbidden for screen representation, as were all forms of “perversion.” The critic George Jean Nathan has commented that the effect of the Hays Office Code on Hollywood film-making was “to picture most characters in their amorous reactions to each other as practically indistinguishable from little children dressed up in their parents’ clothes and playing house.”

WSR Writer

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