Hollywood, Main Street, and the Church: Trying to Censor the Movies Before the Production Code

  • Author(s): Francis G. Couvares
  • When: 1992-12
  • Where: American Quarterly
  • The Legion of Decency's sensational campaign of movie boycotts, and the movie industry's inauguration of self-censorship in response to that campaign, remain signal events in both the scholarly and popular memory of depression-era Hollywood.' As film historian Garth Jowett has noted, however, "the unanswered question is why .. did the Catholic Church suddenly decide [in 1933-34] to bring its massive influence to bear on the problem of motion picture immorality?"' This essay will argue that the Catholic Church did not turn so suddenly toward Hollywood. It will also argue that the encounter of Church and movie industry was in some degree less a struggle than a mutual embrace, motivated by an urge on the part of both movie moguls and Catholic clerical and lay leaders to defend their institutional interest and achieve respectability and cultural authority in twentieth-century America.

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