Friday, November 17, 2017

BANNED AND BLACKLISTED: STATE CENSORSHIP BOARDS: NOT COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU

This is my entry in the Banned and Blacklisted Classic Movie Blog Association Blogathon. Click HERE for more forbidden fruit!
 
Lordy!
From the moment moving pictures became the medium of the masses, two mostly opposing factions of society have been at odds: those who wish to moralize vs. those who wish to push the limits of conventional decency. From the moment belly-dancing Fatima shook her stuff in 1886, it became clear that this form of entertainment needed policing!


In 1901 a dress blowing up to expose a woman's legs was enough to make clear that moving picture were not wholesome.


Women's ankles! Smoking! Sex! Something had to be done! Sex wasn't the only offense. People flocked first  to Nickelodeons and later movie theaters to see stories of crime, drunkenness, violence and other abhorrent (and entertaining) behavior that much of the public felt was unfit for children and decent adults. Because the infant film industry seemed unable or unwilling to police itself, state and municipal censorship boards were established to keep the obscene from being seen. New York City's was christened as early as 1906, followed by those in other cites and states around the nation. The State Boards in Kansas, Pennsylvania and New York were particularly powerful. It's amazing anyone in Kansas ever got to see a movie!

Well, okay....
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (originally the National Censorship Board) was begun in 1909 in response to New York City’s Mayor McClellan’s crack down on motion picture exhibitors. McClellan viewed movies as an encouragement to erode the morals of the city’s masses. The Board, a non-governmental body, was formed to endorse good and wholesome films for the public (and avoid government regulation), giving it a stamp of approval. It also served to act as an alternative to legalized censorship, which already existed in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Films were, in fact, censored by this Board. As late as 1950, films still carried the legend “Passed by the National Board of Review.”

In 1915, the Mutual Film Corp. vs. Industrial Commission of Ohio had a far-reaching impact on film censorship.  The Ohio Board of Censors, like other State Boards, charged a fee for the review of a film before it could approved for viewing in the state.  Anyone showing a film not approved by the Board could be arrested. Mutual, a film distribution company, took on the Ohio Board, accusing them of interfering with interstate commerce and, critically, violating the right of free speech. The court ruled in the Ohio Board’s favor, essentially ruling that freedom of speech did not extend to film. State and municipal boards were free to impose any and all regulations deemed acceptable to the locality. What was acceptable in New York (whose own censorship board was instituted in 1921) was not always acceptable in Kansas.
 
Birth of a Nation: Controversial then, controversial now

1915 was also the year of “Birth of a Nation,” still one of the most controversial films ever made.  Heavily protested and banned, the film stirred controversy wherever it played (and didn’t play). Kansas, in particular, waged a fierce battle over this film. Initially banned, the fate of the film volleyed back and forth between those who wished it never to see the light of day and those who advocated its release.

The 1920s brought the scandals of Hollywood into the local movie theaters. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s films were banned after his 1921 involvement in a wild Labor Day weekend party in San Francisco that resulted in the death of actress Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle, after multiple trials, was eventually exonerated of the murder charge, but his career was finished when state and local censorship boards refused to show his films. Comedienne Mabel Normand, whose reputation was already shaky due to her friendship with murdered director William Desmond Taylor, found her films banned across the country when she and actress Edna Purviance were in involved in another drunken party, one where Mabel’s chauffer shot Edna’s boyfriend.  Purviance, Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady, also suffered, as many localities went so far as to ban early Chaplin shorts that featured poor Edna. It was bad enough that drunken and low down behavior was portrayed on the screen. It was worse when the residents of Hollywood were found to be no better than the movies that portrayed such immoral behavior.
 
Edna and Mabel visit the local precinct after a
 drunken sailing party and a shooting
In 1922, in an effort to stem the mounting call for legal oversight on Hollywood, the film industry proposed self-policing and hired former Postmaster General and generally moral Presbyterian Will Hays as the face to Hollywood’s commitment to censor itself. By 1927, the pressure for governmental censorship was growing thanks to films starring the likes of Clara Bow and Valentino, not to mention the films of C.B. De Mille.
 
Clara Bow forgot her clothes in 1927's "Hula."

First, there was this “do’s and don’ts” list of rules:

Resolved, that those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated:
·         Pointed profanity – by either title or lip – this includes the words "God", "Lord", "Jesus", "Christ" (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), "hell", "damn", "Gawd", and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled;
·         Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture;
·         The illegal traffic in drugs;
·         Any inference of sex perversion;
·         White slavery;
·         Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races);
·         Sex hygiene and venereal diseases;
·         Scenes of actual childbirth – in fact or in silhouette;
·         Children's sex organs;
·         Ridicule of the clergy;
·         Willful offense to any nation, race or creed;

And be it further resolved, that special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized:
·         The use of the flag;
·         International relations (avoiding picturizing in an unfavorable light another country's religion, history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry);
·         Arson;
·         The use of firearms;
·         Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron);
·         Brutality and possible gruesomeness;
·         Technique of committing murder by whatever method;
·         Methods of smuggling;
·         Third-degree methods;
·         Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime;
·         Sympathy for criminals;
·         Attitude toward public characters and institutions;
·         Sedition;
·         Apparent cruelty to children and animals;
·         Branding of people or animals;
·         The sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue;
·         Rape or attempted rape;
·         First-night scenes;
·         Man and woman in bed together;
·         Deliberate seduction of girls;
·         The institution of marriage;
·         Surgical operations;
·         The use of drugs;
·         Titles or scenes having to do with law enforcement or law-enforcing officers;
·         Excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one character or the other is a "heavy".

 By 1930, the Industry had adopted the Motion Picture Production Code (“the Code”) and promised films that would not offend.

Lax enforcement and the advent of sound presented another challenge for the sensors.  From 1930 through July 1934 Hollywood sent out a proliferation of what we now call “Pre-Code” films – some still standing up to the definition of racy and morally questionable (not to mention fun).
 
Ann Dvorak takes a break from sex, booze and coke
 in 1932's "Three on a Match"
Enter Joe Breen in July 1934 and the fun came to an end. The establishment of the Production Code Administration tightened the noose and sex, booze, and good endings for bad people came to a screeching halt. Breen’s ascent gradually diminished the need for state and local censorship boards, although some hung on until the bitter end.
 
Jane's bosom could not be stopped!
Jane Russell’s bosom in 1943’s “The Outlaw” caused the ruffling of some local censorship board’s feathers, as did the flood of foreign films (starring the likes of Bridgette Bardot) in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1952, the case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson overturned that 1915 Mutual Film decision. The battle was over a New York distributor’s right to show a Roberto Rosellini film called “The Miracle.” Limits continued to be pushed. Billy Wilder’s 1959 “Some Like it Hot” was not granted code approval, but the public made it a hit. Otto Preminger went to the wall in 1953 with “The Moon is Blue” when Kansas, Ohio and Maryland banned the film (which was also condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency – who generally didn’t approve of much) due to its subject matter of illicit sex, chastity and virginity. The film was released without the code’s certificate of approval, but when the state boards banned the showing of the film, Preminger fought it in court, first winning in Maryland and then taking the Kansas decision all the way to the Supreme Court and winning.
 
"The Moon is Blue" won the fight for our right to see silly sex
By the end of the 1960s, the code was pretty much abandoned and in 1968 the rating system of G (for general audiences), M (for mature content), R (restricted - no one under 17 allowed) and X (for sexually explicit content) was unveiled. I remember begging my mother to take me to see “Rosemary’s baby” in 1968 because I wasn’t 17. Bless her, she did.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

True Confessions: Why I Cheated on Cary Grant with Gilbert Roland

This is my entry in the Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon, hosted by the delightful Aurora at Once Upon A Screen. Click here for more fantástico entries.

Can you blame me????


It's Your Lucky Day, Aurora!


My devotion to Mr. Grant is pretty well known. In fact, the hostess of this wonderful blogathon has, from time to time, tried to insert herself into our happy romance (I'm watching you, Aurora). Well, my dear, this is your lucky day. Today I am stepping out on Mr. G and he's all yours for 24 hours. (Oh, and by the way, he's cool with this, so enjoy).

I try very hard not to let an artist's personal story influence my ability to appreciate their art. For example, I don't think I'd like to share a confined space with Woody Allen, but I sure do like his films. I might not want Joan Crawford inspecting the cleanliness of my home, but, wow, I pretty much plotz over the lady on screen. And, look, I know there are some things that are just over the line, but let's not go there today. Let's just stay with this train of thought and not go off the tracks.

It took me a little while to zero in on the charms of Gilbert Roland. I think I first became aware of him as an older, but very handsome, actor who appeared in supporting roles. He always seemed to be around and, for some reason, I was very happy to see him whenever and wherever he showed up, both in movies and on TV. And then there was this:


I was pretty gaga over Jane Russell a few years ago (still am), so I checked out "The French Line" and saw a younger version of that handsome Hispanic fellow, Gilbert Roland. He was a hottie! As Jane's french suitor (crooning "Wait Till You See Paris" in a creamy, dreamy baritone), he knocked my socks off, leading to that brain-throb well known to classic films fans as MUST KNOW MORE! (By the way, TCM, YouTube and Google are known antidotes: prior to these, only the Public Library and late night TV provided any relief).

So, I learned all about the handsome Mr. Roland. Born Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso in Mexico, he made his way(via Texas) to Hollywood at a time when the Valentino Latin-Lover type was in vogue. Luis became Gilbert Roland (allegedly the name is a combination of stars John Gilbert and Ruth Roland) and quickly worked his way up from extra to leading man. Apparently, his good looks were not lost on the ladies. One of his first big breaks came as Clara Bow's co-star in "The Plastic Age" (1925). He and Clara, both only 20 years old, became engaged, but their youth and Clara's bigoted creep of a father put the kibosh on the romance. He later had a flaming romance with Norma Talmadge (his co-star in "Camille") that set tongues wagging and enraged her husband, mogul Joseph Schenck (apparently Schenck threatened to castrate Roland, who then took to parading around in the buff at his club to demonstrate the empty threat).

Norma Talmadge fell for her Armand in "Camille"

Gilbert Roland survived the talkies and continued acting, mostly in large supporting roles, until 1982. A few of my favorites are  "The Bullfighter and the Lady" (1951), "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) and the crazy "Call Her Savage" (1931) with former flame, Clara Bow. He made a few films in the 1930s with Constance Bennett, who he married in 1941. While still married to Connie and while serving in the military during WWII, he apparently had a very secret affair with Greta Garbo (can you blame her?) This only came to light after Roland's death when a pair of GG's silk panties were found in his possession. Such a sentimental man!

Glamorous couple Constance Bennett and Gilbert Roland
Yes, Gilbert Roland was handsome and sexy, but he seemed to be more than that. There is something kind and compassionate about him in every performance, something that makes you feel as though he would be a loyal, caring friend. So, imagine how wonderful to learn that he was exactly that in real life. After divorcing Constance Bennett, he married again and remained married to the same woman for 40 years until his death in 1994. He was known as "Amigo" and that seemed a perfect nickname for him.

Clara Bow and Gilbert Roland at the height of their romance
One of my favorite stories about Gilbert Roland is one about a letter written to Clara Bow many, many years after their affair. Clara, who had suffered with mental illness and much unhappiness, held on to this precious correspondence from a former lover but a forever friend:

Hello, Clarita Girl:

I am truly sad that you don't feel well. Sometimes when I go to church and I think of you, I say a prayer. It will be heard. God hears everything.

You tell me that you long for your boys. I share your feelings. My daughters are with their mother in Wiesbaden, Germany. And there is nothing I can do, except cry a little once in a while.

I hope someday they show "The Plastic Age." It would be wonderful to see that dancing scene, you and I. It would be pleasant seeing how I looked when I was your beau and you were my dream girl. It would be pleasant seeing that. And then it might be very beautiful, and suddenly it might be very sad.

It seems you are in my thoughts.
It's good to feel that way.
It's good I have never forgotten you.
God bless you.

Gilbert 

For more about their brief affair but lasting friendship, click here.

So, for my money, Gilbert Roland was more than just a Latin Lover. He was the real deal - handsome and virile and truly, truly a gentleman and good person.

Aurora, enjoy your day with Cary. I will be back......






Monday, October 2, 2017

Marion Davies: Thumbs Up Or Thumbs Down? (Part 1)

While getting to know more about the work of Marion Davies, it became clear to me that I had to divide her work into two segments: silent films and sound films. This post deals with Marion's work in silent films.

Let's cut to the chase: a HUGE thumbs up for Marion Davies' silent film body of work.👍

Marion's story is well known: New York stage actress catches the eye of William Randolph Hearst, becomes his life-long companion outside of his marriage, emerges as a big movie star in the silent era with his backing, as well as an important figure in the social scene in Hollywood (and San Simeon, Hearst's castle north of L.A.). Her reputation was enhanced by constant promotions in Hearst papers and forever tarnished by the common assumption that the character of Susan Alexander in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" was based upon her (Welles denied it).

Let's allow Marion's work to speak for itself. I viewed 4 of her silent films before writing this post, hoping to get to know this legendary actress a little better.

Show People
"Show People" is one of Marion's best known silent films. I had seen this film before, and had a good opinion of it, but on second viewing I confess I simply fell in love with her. While Hearst liked to see her in romantic, damsel-in-distress roles (that weirdly called for her to impersonate a boy at times), Marion's true talent was in her funny bone. As Peggy Pepper, she is so delightful it almost hurts. I wanted to just reach out and put my arms around her and give her a big hug. Oh, and the endless list of "A" list cameos is mind boggling. 

Marion and co-star William Haines encounter Charlie Chaplin
in "Show People." Marion  is not impressed.

The Patsy


"The Patsy" is the other Davies silent film that has remained well-known and popular. And for good reason!

Marion's comedic flair again gets showcased in this Cinderella story of a less-beautiful sister (major acting challenge here) who is the better person. While Marion's character of Patricia Harrington seeks improvement through a number of funny self-help programs in order to appeal to the man of her dreams (who, of course, is engaged to her older, supposedly more beautiful sister), Marion wins our hearts and her man. Major highlights are Marie Dressler as the bullying mother and Marion's dead-on impersonations of silent stars of the day.


The Red Mill


This film was a little more challenging. I can't say I was thrilled with the subject matter (thwarted love in old Holland), but Marion is, as always, adorable and amusing (Karl Dane and Louise Fazenda supply a great deal of the comedy). This film is also interesting because it was directed by Roscoe Arbuckle under the pseudonym of William Goodrich. It is ironic that Arbuckle found work in Hollywood in a Hearst picture after the Hearst newspapers effectively killed his career with yellow journalism. One has to believe that Marion's influence played a part in this. It was also interesting to me to see Owen Moore in a starring role. Known only to me as Mary Pickford's nasty first husband who stood in the way of her union with true love Douglas Fairbanks, I was quite impressed. He was charming and had a nice ease about him - not hard to see why Mary fell for him.


When Knighthood Was in Flower


I saved the best for last, because this film was a total revelation for me. I was lucky to be able to see a newly restored version on the big screen with live accompaniment by the great Ben Model. 
Captivating her audience
Filmed in 1922, "When Knighthood Was in Flower" was a mega production (reportedly costing up to $1,500,000) and represented Heart's full-throttle push to make Marion as beloved by the movie going public as she was by her adoring suitor. Verdict? It worked! Beyond the expensive sets and costumes, Marion's delightful personality and charm and talent shines through. She is everything in this film. Without her, it is just a lot, and I a mean a lot,  of stuff. If you ever want to surrender to the spell of Marion Davies, see this wonderful film. As Mary Tudor, she is downright adorable (I keep using that word, but there is no better one to describe her) while pursuing true love. 

Pre martini and Nora: boos and hisses from the
audience for this guy in his 2nd film
In 2017, the audience absolutely ate her up. Murmurs of appreciation of her beauty and talent continued throughout the film. So, in silents, big great big, unequivocal thumbs up for Marion Davies' silent film work. She clearly stands the test of time.


Next up: Marion Davies talks.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why did Marilyn Monroe make me cry?


Warning: just teeny bit political

I was flipping through some Facebook posts and landed on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” I watched the entire number because it is one of my all-time favorites; Marilyn at her very best and oh that pink. I was once again admiring the total achievement: the music, the performances, the setting and suddenly I burst into tears. Why? Why would such a delightful, fluffy and joyful musical number send me reaching for the Kleenex?
Jane was pretty wonderful, too

I’ve been asking myself “Why?” about a few things lately. I have a friend who rabidly – and I mean rabidly – supports a current politician who shall remain nameless (it really isn't about him). Since this friend has never been particularly political, I ask myself (quietly and only to myself) what is it about this man that my friend finds so compelling? And in a moment of quiet, clarity about both my friend and my reaction to Marilyn Monroe became a little clearer.

Regarding that friend, he is older and loves to insult people and generally feels superior by mocking others (he's a good guy but has some challenging qualities). And so that politician, for him, is like looking in the mirror. He feels they are the same because he sees a version of himself in the politician (minus the billions of dollars and the gold-plated toilets).
Who does Marilyn see?

let's get back to Marilyn. I don’t see myself in Marilyn, but in that scene her youth and beauty and talent are on full display. It is dazzling, and it represents everything I love about film. Youth and beauty are so fleeting, never properly appreciated until they are gone. My own mirror reveals the passage of time, but never film. The scene is joyous and clever and it makes me so happy. It is perfection and its beauty makes me cry.  

A girl does what a girl must do
Movies have always been the mirror that all of my hopes and dreams and fantasies for the future reflected back to me. I may not be Scarlett, but when she ripped down those drapes and brazened her way into Atlanta, I cheered her. It spoke to a spark of bravery in my heart. And when Shirley MacLaine runs to meet her heel of a lover in “The Apartment,” I saw in her someone I knew, someone who propels herself towards the wrong fork in the road, but hopes it is the right one. More than once. In countless film I see some small speck of the person I am, or was or want to be. As Chaplin moves mountains for the blind girl in "City Lights," I instantly recognize the soul of the romantic.
A true romantic


So, yes, I cried a bit for Marilyn, but mostly for me because I love the movies oh so much that I am overwhelmed and reduced to tears sometimes. When the lights are down and I am truly that person in the dark, I can cry and love and laugh with abandon with a full heart. It’s real and it’s personal.