Record #439

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Mr Will H. Hays, President, MPPDA
Eugene Chrystal, Eastman Kodak
Reel 5
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Censor - sound

This letter was sent to all MPPDA members. Hays is attempting to orchestrate the response of the industry to sound censorship by having all companies routinely refuse to submit sound tracks for the consideration of the censors. Replies from the various companies to this directive are included. Some are happy to go along with it (probably because they are producing no sound pictures), while Abel Cary Thomas of Warners feels it is "unwise and impolitic."


Censorship (112), Sound technology (24) Show all keywords…



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Long Description:

Attempts to organize a concerted response to sound censorship: 08-28-1928 Hays wrote to all members expressing the MPPDA's intention of resisting "the claims now being made by official state censors of their right to censor the language synchronized with motion pictures. This resistance is assumed as a duty not only to the integrity of our pictures, but to what we believe we owe to the whole matter of the aggressive and unfortunate tendency to censor all methods of expression. If it is necessary to establish the correctness of our position that censors have no right to censor language, we will cause test cases in the proper courts. To this end we have retained counsel in Philadelphia and Cleveland. ... So there may be no precedent established which would react against the position we are taking, I earnestly request that explicit and unmistakable instructions now be issued by you that upon the submission of all pictures submitted to state censor boards (excepting news reels in the state of New York and Kansas where the submission of news reels is not required) there be a refusal in every instance to submit the language if any is synchronized with such pictures. "I realize that this refusal may result in the denial of a licence to exhibit such picture submitted. It may therefore be necessary that exceptions be made in the case of very big pictures where it would not be expedient to withhold exhibition. If instances of such character arise, I would appreciate it if you will advise me so that we may, with the General Counsel of the different companies, determine the procedure. The probabilities in such a case would be that we would submit the language rather than to fail to release such a picture but would make such submission under protest so as to preserve and not prejudice the distributors' rights in the case and the status of the industry's position." Abel Cary Thomas replied for Warner Bros. 08-30-1928: "It does not seem feasible for the Vitaphone Corporation to refuse to submit the words used in its acts and numbers to the censor boards. The Vitaphone Corporation is supplying a regular weekly service to a large number of theatres under contract and has been doing so for two years. The greater part of the time no protest was made by the censors. When the question arose, we instituted an action as you know in Pennsylvania and were about to institute another in Ohio" - but the industry as a whole took the issue up. His position is that one test case is all that is needed in each jurisdiction, whereas what Hays is proposing "would unquestionably involve us in very serious trouble with our customers and possibly with the Western Electric Company."Hays' is the only occasion I can recall of any invocation of a free speech argument in any of this material. Thomas' letter makes the important point that the companies presumably had legal obligations to produce material that could be screened - i.e that would be licensed by the censor boards if that were necessary - and that these interests here clearly conflicted with the good of the industry as seen by the MPPDA in mounting a campaign against censorship. Is this part of the explanation of why this campaign failed?

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