5 January 2014

Billy Wilder and The Legion of Decency

During Hollywood's Golden Age, moviemaking and censorship went hand in hand. The notorious Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, dictated what was and wasn't allowed in movies between 1930 and 1968. There was, however, another kind of censorship filmmakers had to deal with. I must admit that I had never heard of the National Legion of Decency before, but this organisation (founded by Roman Catholic bishops in 1933) was, like the Production Code, committed to keeping objectionable content out of films. Feeling that the secular Production Code was not severe enough, the Legion introduced a rating system feared by filmmakers. The following ratings were issued: A for movies that were "morally unobjectionable", B for movies "morally objectionable in part", and C for movies "condemned by the Legion". Until the 1960s, the Legion was very influential with moviegoers, and filmmakers wanted to avoid a C-rating at all costs. So, in order to keep the Legion happy, many filmmakers gave in to its demands by making alterations to their films.

Director Billy Wilder and his star Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Seven Year Itch" (1955)
Billy Wilder's "The Seven Year Itch" premiered on 3 June 1955 in New York. After the premiere, the Legion of Decency threatened to give the film a C-rating unless certain scenes were cut. (Prior to the film's release, the PCA had already forced Wilder to make drastic changes.) On 8 June 1955, director Billy Wilder sent the following telegram to William Gehring of the Legion of Decency. Wilder asked Gehring to convince Father Little (the Legion's director) to reconsider his 'request', since additional changes would only ruin the movie.


Via: divine marilyn

Transcript:

6-8-55

COPY
WILLIAM GEHRING
ETC.

DEAR MR. GEHRING:

UNDERSTAND YOU ARE TO SEE FATHER LITTLE REGARDING OUR SEVEN YEAR ITCH PICTURE stop I WOULD BE MOST GRATEFUL IF YOU WOULD POINT OUT THAT IN MY TWENTY YEARS OF MOVIE MAKING I HAVE NEVER YET RUN INTO TROUBLE WITH LEGION OF DECENCY stop I DO NOT HAVE THE REPUTATION OF HAVING EVER BEEN CONNECTED WITH PICTURES OF LASCIVIOUS CHARACTER stop

IN BRINGING SEVEN YEAR ITCH TO THE SCREEN I HAVE TRIED MOST CAREFULLY TO ELIMINATE CENSORABLE MATERIAL stop I HAVE CHANGED THE ENTIRE SECOND HALF OF THE PLAY BY ELIMINATING THE AFFAIR BETWEEN THE MARRIED MAN AND THE GIRL UPSTAIRS stop I HAVE SUCCESSFULLY DEMONSTRATED THE SERIOUSNESS OF MARRIAGE AND THE BASIC DECENCY OF THE HUSBAND stop

OBVIOUSLY, THE PICTURE DEALS HUMOROUSLY WITH A MAN'S TEMPTATIONS BUT THEY ARE VERY HUMAN AND UTTERLY HARMLESS. stop

WE HAVE READ THOUSANDS OF PREVIEW CARDS. WE HAVE LISTENED TO THOUSANDS OF COMMENTS. WE HAVE READ ALL THE REVIEWS WHICH HAVE COME OUT SO FAR, AND NO WHERE WAS THERE ANY OBJECTION TO A SINGLE SCENE OR LINE IN THE PICTURE. stop

IN LIGHT OF THIS I WILL MOST SINCERELY URGE FATHER LITTLE TO RESCIND HIS REQUESTS FOR ADDITIONAL CHANGES stop AS ONE REVIEWER PUT IT QUOTE THE PLAY HAS BEEN LAUNDERED SNOW WHITE UNQUOTE. AM AFRAID THAT ADDITIONAL BLEACHING WILL MAKE THE PICTURE DISINTEGRATE INTO AN INCOMPREHENSIBLE NOTHING.

SINCERE THANKS.
BILLY WILDER

_____________

Well, Wilder's telegram didn't have the desired effect. Father Little refused to yield, and the scenes he had protested against were still cut from the movie. On 30 June 1955, the Legion of Decency gave the film (no longer considered condemned) the less stringent B-rating. Wilder did have to compromise to avoid the Legion's scorn, but as a result "The Seven Year Itch" became one of the highest grossing films for Twentieth Century Fox that year.

Billy Wilder directing the film's most famous scene with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. One of the original shots was disallowed by the PCA and had to be eliminated. And the Legion of Decency protested against a line from Marilyn in this scene (where she uses the words "those hot pants"), after which the line was cut from the scene.



1 comment:

  1. Another fascinating insight into early Hollywood. Good for Billy Wilder standing up for his picture.

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