1908 December 24

Protect the City’s Morals! NYC Mayor Revokes All Movie Licenses


New York City Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr., revoked the licenses of all motion picture theaters in the city on this day, because he felt movies corrupted the morals of the community. The commercial film industry was new at the time but growing rapidly. The new medium provoked a national debate over whether it corrupted the morals of the audience.

The very first movie censorship board had been established just one year earlier, in Chicago in 1907. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of state movie censorship boards in Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio on February 23, 1915. The most serious form of movie censorship involved a system of voluntary self-censorship by the film industry under the 1934 Hollywood Production Code, adopted on June 13, 1934. The Court did not declare movies a form of expression protected by the First Amendment until May 26, 1952 in Burstyn v. Wilson.

Learn more at a timeline of film censorship in the U.S.: https://www.aclu.org/files/multimedia/censorshiptimeline.html

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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