1921 July 31

No Poor People on Film! Pennsylvania Censors Will Rogers Film Depicting Hobos


The Pennsylvania film censorship board ordered cuts to a Samuel Goldwyn-produced film, An Unwilling Hero, starring humorist Will Rogers. The film depicted a scene of a hobo taking money from a safe and putting it in his coat; a hobo holding a gun to a man’s back and ordering, “You stick right here;” scenes of hobos setting fire to a wooden shed; and a title card (this was a silent film) reading, “If it’s only a matter of marrying somebody, why not try me?” The Pennsylvania censorship code prohibited the glorification of crime and immorality. Producer Goldwyn filed a complaint with the board about the required cuts.

Pennsylvania was one of five states that had state film censorship laws; a number of cities, including Chicago, had city film censorship ordinances. The Supreme Court ruled that motion pictures were articles of commerce not protected by the First Amendment in Mutual v. Ohio, on February 23, 1915. The Court reversed itself on May 26, 1952, in Burstyn v. Wilson, ruling that films were protected by the First Amendment.

Learn more at a timeline on movie censorship: https://www.aclu.org/files/multimedia/censorshiptimeline.html

Learn About the film and the case: Laura Wittern-Keller and Raymond Haberski, The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court (2009)

Read: Leonard Leff and Jerold Simmons, The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code from the 1920s to the 1960s (1990)

Learn about film censorship in the 1920s and 1930s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYOm6ar716w

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