The happy 20’s
From the late 19th century everything had changed in the new world. The working class had been growing fed by thousands and thousands of new immigrants, who, unlike the first ones who came from Britain, Canada, Germany, Ireland and Scandinavia, these arrived from Hungary, Italy, Poland and Russian. The new immigrants were often Catholics and Jewish and, often as well, their cultural and religious heritage collided with the one of the first colonists.
Cinema and cartoons were the main forms of entertainment in cities, a cheap ticket to dream for a while trying barely to escape from a harsh life. Cinema was not only inexpensive so that everybody could go, but it also was silent, so you did not need to speak English to understand the film, and in this way, immigrants became a very significant volume of the audience.
It was September of a happy 1921 when newspaper showed a new face of the glamorous joyful dreamed Hollywood.
Rosco Abaco “Fatty”, one the best paid and most famous Hollywood stars was charged with raped and murder. It was a social shock, especially because Rosco was a naive and innocent comic character. Rosco was charged for killing Virginia Rappe, another star, with his weight while savagely raping her. After three days of a wild party, Virginia was translated from a destroyed suite of the hotel to the hospital where she died some days later. Rosco was declared innocent of all the charges, but his career was finished, and the public opinion was convinced of his culpability.
But, Rosco was not alone. February 1, 1922, William Desmond Taylor, one of the most famous movie directors, was murdered in his bungalow in the West Lake District of Los Angeles. He had been shot in the back by a 38 caliber revolver. Taylor’s murder became one of the most sensational cases in the annals of Hollywood crime and one that has never been close to being solved.
Hollywood land of dreams had a dark side and this affected to the box office. The enormous weight of the new immigrants with their traditional Catholics and Jewish moral ideas let showed all his power in the answer of the audiences to the new Hollywood face, and they were not ready to accept this kind of behavior. The producers had serious reasons to be worried. The forces of moral conservatism, fresh from their triumph of adding a prohibition against alcohol to the United States Constitution, prepared to challenge the film world. They started to claim to ask the government for some federal action; voices began calling for censorship of the movies, and the box office went down.
The movie industry needed to be put their house in order, and Will Hays was going to be the man for the task. On 14 March 1922, The Association of Motion Picture Producers, and The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc MPPDA, made Hays the first president of it, with an office on Fifth Avenue in New York. He accepted a salary of $ 15,000 a year (about 8,600,000 in 1986 dollars), a prepaid life insurance policy, plus an almost unlimited expense account.
Hays’s first move was to strengthen the finances of the new trade association. He approached New York bankers whom he knew from his days as head of the Republican party and within a week had set up a line of credit which put the MPPDA on stable economic footing. Such quick action impressed his new bosses. With his political connections, he demonstrated that he was the right man for the job. Then, he created a formal public relations arm of the MPPDA to deal with the religious groups, educational organizations, and other parties so concerned with the presumed negative influence of the movies.
It was Hays who, in 1927, established the Copyright Protection Bureau to register titles of films and thus head off disputes over duplication. The next year saw the establishment of a formal committee on labour relations. This interest in
Labour resulted in the formation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, today well known for its annual Oscar Awards, but the Hays Office had created the academy to provide a forum for labour disputes.
In 1930, therefore, a new code, which came to be known as the Hollywood Production Code or Hays Code, was written. Hays Office had to organize formal self-regulation of movie content through its notorious Production Code Administration (PCA). But, that, certainly was not a real censorship for movies industry. Censorship takes place when an outside force, usually a governmental agency, dictates what may be published or shown. The Hays Office policed the productions of its own member companies: any fines were paid to the Hays Office, owned by and operated for the members themselves. The PCA was created so that federal censorship, most strongly advocated by the Catholic Church, would not become the law of the land.
The industry accepted The Code nominally. Hays had established some kind of morality suggestions more than rules and the most producers followed them or pretended to do it. However, after a few years the guidelines started to relax and by the coming of sound in the late 1920s, the treatment of crime, violence, sexual infidelity, profanity, and even nudity became alarming to some people. The arrival of sounds made even more shocking this kind of contents and the strong morality Catholic group in society claimed for the necessity of a governmental censorship control.
In 1933 a new organization dedicated to identifying and combating objectionable content in motion pictures from the point of view of the American Catholic Church was founded, it was The National Legion of Decency, also known as The Catholic Legion of Decency. At the time, the population of Catholics, some twenty million, were theoretically forbidden from attending any screening of films under the notion of mortal sin. Then, films were submitted to the National Legion of Decency to be reviewed prior to their official duplication and distribution to the general public, after receiving a stamp of approval from the secular offices behind Hollywood’s Production Code.
Hays and Hollywood reacted and 1 July 1934, Hays’ Code was actually working. For that reason, movies made between 1930 and 34 are thus often referred to as precede or pre-code, even though the Production Code was theoretically in effect. Under the original 1930 Production Code, all films were designed to be suitable for viewers of all ages, even if adults were their primary target audiences. They were created for an adult audience and they were full of trickery and salaciousness, as well animation. Like the rest of the industry, cartoons were not particularly worried about The Code. They do include the broad ethnic and gender stereotyping that was common to the comedy of the era, and an inordinate amount of caricatured cameos of celebrities and news makers.
Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930, in the cartoon “Dizzy Dishes”; the sixth installment in Fleischer’s Talkartoon, a series of 42 animated cartoons produced by the Fleischer Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures between 1929 and 1932. At 1932, Talkartoon were replaced by the Betty Boop series, which continued for the next seven years. It is regarded as one of the first and most famous sex symbols on the animated screen. As it is well known, Betty, an over sexualized woman character, has never been the favorite character between conservatives, however, her popularity was drawn largely from adult audiences having a healthy profitable life until 1934 when The Production Code was operating effectively. The Code of imposed guidelines on the Motion Picture Industry and placed specific restrictions on the content films could reference with sexual innuendos. This greatly affected the Betty Boop cartoons in deep.
At that time, Minnie Mouse was as well displayed showing their underwear or bloomers regularly, but in the style of childish or comical characters, not an entirely defined woman’s form. Disney’s style had no problems with the conservative Catholic thought. Although his ancestors arrived at United States in between the lately 18th and the early 19th centuries, his family preserved the original Irish Catholic mentality. Walter Elias Disney educated his children inside of a strict conservative style of life. Walt Disney did not need to do any work to make cartoons according to with the imperative moral at the moment because he was a good example of it. And audiences appreciated it. So, meanwhile others producers were in trouble with the application of The Code, that became an excellent opportunity for the company of the Mouse.
We hope you have enjoyed Cartoons for Children, Part 2, by our new contributing writer Pepa Llausas. Pepa comes to us from Spain, by way of Paris… and we welcome her! Stay tuned for Part Three of Pepas’ look at the History of animation, and how cartoons are not just kids entertainment next week!