Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hollywood's Clean-Up Crew

If you thought the FCC's reaction to 2004's Nipple Seen 'Round the World was bad, you should have been in Hollywood circa 1922. While reading up on the mysterious murder of Paramount director William Desmond Taylor (believe me, there will be more on this in days to follow) I was shocked - and not a little impressed - by the swift, heavy-handed response of the industry to preserve its image.

In a brief, brief summary of the events following the discovery of Taylor's body, its important to note that the last thing anyone did was call the police. And even then, it was a neighbor calling about Taylor's "crazy [rhymes with spoon]" who kept screaming, "Dey've kilt Massa!" up and down the street.

No, the first phone call was made to Taylor's friend, popular screen comedienne Mabel Normand. She, in turn, called Charles Eyton (the general manager of Famous Players-Laskey) who then called one of the heads of Paramount, Adolph Zukor. Decidedly, non of these people were the police, nor did they think to call the police. Instead, Normand rushed to Taylor's home to cry over his body collect a bunch of her letters and correspondence hanging around his place. Eyton rushed over to clear the place of illegal liquor and Zukor rushed over to make sure there were no signs of "sexual hanky-panky." As a result of the cracker jack response, the three patron saints of public image ruined the crime scene and can most likely be blamed for the murder going unsolved.

The investigation itself, however, managed to uncover some heavy-duty scandal which put a big, fat, black mark on Hollywood's good name. It was time to clean things up. Hollywood was to be respectable, after all.

Enter Will H. Hays: member of President Harding's Cabinet who signed on (for $100,000-a-year) as Hollywood's moral authority. As the president of the newly-formed Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc, Hays' first line of duty was to purify films. According to Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger, "screen immorality would be scissored: no more improprieties; no more lingering, lusty kisses; no more carnality." Morals clauses were inserted into contracts and undercover investigations were launched. According to the book, when the reports came in a "Doom Book" was compiled with a total of 117 Hollywood names deemed "unsafe."

Ironically, Hollywood got the idea of the moral authority from Major League Baseball which hired a judge to clean things up after the notorious 1919 Black Sox Scandal. It's amazing how far things have come, yeah?

Source: Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger

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