Will Hays and Motion Picture Censorship

William H. Hays (1879-1954), czar of motion picture morals during the twenties, served as chairman of the Republican National Committee between 1918 and 1921. In 1921, President Harding appointed Hays to be his postmaster general, but he resigned the post in 1922 to become president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), more commonly known as "the Hays organization."

From his MPPDA power base, Hays sought to protect the Hollywood motion picture industry from charges of immorality and efforts at censorship by having the industry monitor itself. The Hays code instated a system of ratings which, in the words of Lary May in Screening Out the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry (1980), sought to make movies respectable enough to "guarantee wide markets, without losing the titillating overtones that drew the audience" (p. 205).

The March 20, 1926 issue of Motion Picture News includes an editorial celebrating Will Hays' fifth year in the motion picture industry and an article on the so-called "blue laws," banning Sunday movie showings. (INTRO NOTE Leisure)

A particularly fascinating subset of documents in the Coolidge Papers case file Advertisement Exploitation concerns the use of a photograph of Coolidge and a quotation from one of his speeches to promote the right of theatres to ignore the blue laws and show motion pictures on Sunday. The text in the promotional newspaper advertisement sent to the White House quotes from the October 6, 1925 Address of President Coolidge before the American Legion Convention at Omaha, Nebraska, reproduced in the Everett Sanders Papers: "Whatever tends to standardize the community, to establish fixed and rigid modes of thought, tends to fossilize society. If we all believed the same thing and thought the same thoughts and applied the same valuations to all the occurrences about us, we should reach a state of equilibrium closely akin to an intellectual and spiritual paralysis. . . ."


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