The early twenties were rocked by Hollywood celebrity scandals. From Fatty Arbuckle’s unsubstantiated charge of rape and manslaughter, William Desmond Taylor’s murder with homosexual undertones, and Wallace Reid’s drug overdose, the yellow journalism tabloids hungrily fed at what looked to be the bloated corpse of a spoiled Hollywood excess.
Pressure was mounting for someone to clean up Hollywood - with over 100 Congressional bills for censorship to protect the common good being submitted in 1921. But censorship from Washington was the last thing Hollywood wanted.
So Hollywood studios came together in 1922 to form an association called The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). In a move that mimicked the actions of Major League Baseball after the 1919 World Series Gambling scandal, The MPPDA reached out to a Washington insider William H. Hays - Postmaster General under Warren Harding and former head of the Republican National Committee.
Paid a handsome sum of $150,000 a year, Hays’ task was really just PR - to relieve the pressure between Hollywood and Washington to lobby for the interests of the studios.
In 1927 Hays formed a committee of studio heads to create a list of “Don’t and Be Carefuls” based on the items commonly rejected by local censorship boards. These included 11 subjects that were to be totally taboo and 25 that had to be handled very delicately.
But this list was short lived as it didn't’t have any real teeth. The issue of censorship in Hollywood raged on but now fueled by a brand new movie technology - sound.
Full Don'ts and Be Carefuls:
Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, "The Don'ts and Be Carefuls" (1927)
Resolved, That those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated:
1. Pointed profanity-by either title or lip-this includes the words "God," "Lord," "Jesus," "Christ" (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), "hell," " damn," "Gawd," and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled;
2. Any licentious or suggestive nudity-in fact or in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture;
3. The illegal traffic in drugs;
4. Any inference of sex perversion;
5. White slavery;
6. Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races);
7. Sex hygiene and venereal diseases;
8. Scenes of actual childbirth-in fact or in silhouette;
9. Children's sex organs;
10. Ridicule of the clergy;
11. Willful offense to any nation, race o rcreed;
And be it further resolved, That special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized:
1. The use of the flag;
2. International relations (avoiding picturizing in an unfavorable light another country's religion, history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry);
4. The use of firearms;
5. Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron);
6. Brutality and possible gruesomeness;
7. Technique of committing murder by whatever method;
8. Methods of smuggling;
9. Third-degree methods;
10. Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime;
11. Sympathy for criminals;
12. Attitude toward public characters and institutions;
14. Apparent cruelty to children and animals;
15. Branding of people or animals;
16. The sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue;
17. Rape or attempted rape;
18. First-night scenes;
19. Man and woman in bed together;
20. Deliberate seduction of girls;
21. The institution of marriage;
22. Surgical operations;
23. The use of drugs;
24. Titles or scenes having to do with law enforcement or law-enforcing officers;
25. Excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one character or the other is a "heavy."