The Law of Contact

The Hays Office

Will Hays (November 5, 1879 – March 7, 1954), former head of the Republican Party and Postmaster General for President Warren G. Harding, in collaboration with Jesuit Priest Father Daniel A. Lord created a set of guidelines intended to govern the moral standards of movies. In 1915 the Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech did not extend to moving pictures, and in the 1920's many states, partiularly in the rural parts of America became shocked at the lifestyles portrayed on screen. Several states created their own boards that would evaluate movies and either allow them to be shown in the state, or forbid them from being shown.

Also during this period, a silent screen comedy star, Fatty Arbuckle, was involved in a drunken Hollywood party that ended with allegations of rape and seduction. The large Hollywood studios decided that if they did not police themselves, that states and the national government would enact laws, and they feared the effect that a hodge-podge of various local, state and national laws could have on the industry. So in 1922 they hired Will Hays to set up an office, and to create guidelines that movie producers would be forced to follow. In 1924 he instituted a set of guidelines that movie producers should follow. His goal was also to convince all of the state and local governments to put aside their laws and planned laws affecting the motion picture industry in favor of his guidelines. Although the guidelines were started in 1924, because of the Great Depression and difficult business environment, studios pushed the limits in order to attract more audience members, and it wasn't until June 13, 1934 that the standards were firmly applied to movies.

The standards specified how many seconds a kiss could be shown, spawned the creation of twin beds because married adults were forbidden to be shown in the same bed together, forbid cursing, required that the bad guys must never seem to 'win,' and other guidelines that were intended to maintain the moral tone of the country.

This set of standards was the rule of all American movies until 1968 when it was abandoned in favor of the film rating system (G, M, R, X, and later PG and NC-17).