Tag Archives: Obscenity

- We Know What’s Best For You: The Virginia Division of Motion Picture Censorship


 Baby Face movie poster, 1933.

From 1922 to 1966, the Virginia Division of Motion Picture Censorship was responsible for reviewing all motion picture films and their associated advertising materials– banners, posters, newspaper and magazine ads– to determine if the content was obscene or bereft of good morals. First established as the Board of Censors, but later reorganized as a division within the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law, the body licensed those films that passed review and collected fees for those licenses.

One movie that came under the division’s scrutiny was Baby Face. Produced by Warner Brothers in 1933, the film featured Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent. The plot followed Stanwyck as Lily “Baby Face” Powers, a young woman whose early life included a stint as a barmaid in her father’s saloon.  In this decidedly sordid atmosphere, Lily constantly fights off the advances of much older men. Upon her father’s death, she takes the opportunity to leave the small mining community and head to the big city via boxcar.  As a way to better her station in life, she pursues nearly every man she meets in an effort to climb the social ladder.  She finds employment at a bank and seduces a young bank clerk (played by John Wayne), then moves on to his supervisor. He is followed by a bank vice president and, finally, she marries … read more »

- Everybody’s Doing What? The Turkey Trot!: Irving Berlin’s Song and Latest Dance Craze Too Much For Newport News.

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

(Editor’s Note: The short scene above from Downton Abbey, part of PBS’s Masterpiece, though an English period drama, is set only weeks after the trial in Newport News and is a great example of a couple dancing the Grizzly Bear to “Everybody’s Doing It Now.”)

If you’ve ever heard “America The Beautiful” or “White Christmas” then you know the music of Irving Berlin. Considered by many critics to be the country’s greatest songwriter, many of his songs are American classics. It was very strange indeed then when one of our archivists discovered the sheet music to one of Berlin’s songs entered as evidence in an obscenity trial in Virginia.

On the evening of 3 April 1912, Newport News police arrested Olympic Theater owner E. T. Crall, song-and-dance troupe leader Palmer Hines, and his six dancing girls. That night’s act, judged too hot for the public good by police, combined Palmer singing the suggestively titled Berlin song “Everybody’s Doing It Now” with the girls dancing the Turkey Trot, the racy and very latest “animal” dance to sweep the nation.

The animal dances which emerged around 1909 and later, such as the Turkey Trot, Grizzly Bear, and Bunny Hug, were the dances of ragtime music, the popular music of its day. The Turkey Trot was the first … read more »

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