In the early days of Hollywood shortly after the development of film-making as an industry, moralists objected to the amount of nudity, sexuality, criminality and violence portrayed in films. 30 year-british sex scenes starlet Virginia Rappe in San Francisco’s St. Arbuckle was eventually fully acquitted of the eventual manslaughter charge after three trials.
The third jury – after a six-minute verdict – stated: “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel a great injustice has been done him. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of twelve men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame. Further scandal erupted over the murder of 49 year-old millionaire film director William Desmond Taylor, popular comedian Mabel Normand’s lover, in February 1922 – he was shot to death in his LA apartment after spending the early evening with Normand.
The murder was never solved, although it appeared that Charlotte Shelby was a major suspect — the angry “stage mother” of 19 year-old blonde starlet Mary Miles Minter who was seeing Taylor. Already, “America’s Sweetheart” star Mary Pickford’s marriage to Douglas Fairbanks on March 28, 1920, after they both divorced spouses to marry each other, was another symbol of the erosion of values in Hollywood. The King of Paramount,” died in early 1923 at the age of 31. The infamous and unsolved “Black Dahlia” murder case in early 1947, involving the murder and dismembered mutilation of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short, was seen as evidence of further major problems in the film capital. Conservative former Postmaster General William H.
One of his first acts of Hays in ‘cleaning-up’ Hollywood, due to pressure from Hollywood’s top film executives, was to banish the acquitted actor-comedian Arbuckle from film, at least temporarily, in order to distract the public. Hays also approved the use of morality clauses in the standard actor’s contract, to control the conduct of performers, and he also assured state and local censorship boards that he would properly regulate the industry. Hays’ 1927 list of “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls”. Also, some of these illicit behaviors could be exhibited — if later punished within the film.
Three factors forced Hays and the studios to change: mounting pressure from the Catholic Church aided by support from other religious groups, economic hardships during the Depression, and the threat of federal censorship. Theatres were not allowed to exhibit films that had not been granted a seal. Interestingly, the Code forced film producers to creatively sublimate sex and violence, to reinvent themselves, and to find other alternatives to attract patrons. The latter was typical of an exploitation film designed to circumvent the Production Code restrictions with its plot that warned against underage marriage.