Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Jerold Simmons
Prior to World War II, state and municipal censor boards, the Production Code Administration, and the Catholic Legion of Decency effectively monitored and shaped the content of Hollywood's film industry so as to insure that American movies would not corrupt public morals or offend major segments of the population. After 1948, however, a series of Supreme Court decisions seriously weakened this triad, and a new breed of independent directors emerged to challenge the boundaries of censorship. One of these trailblazers was Elia Kazan. Kazan broke free from the restraints of the studio system and as an independent director he pursued realism in his films that helped push Hollywood into the adult film era. Kazan's early pictures like Gentlemen's Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and East of Eden, illustrated the potential of an adult-oriented cinema. In 1956, Baby Doll, his first fully independent production, broke new ground and in doing so, demonstrated that the once powerful triad of censors no longer stood as a barrier to film realism. When making Baby Doll, Kazan took full advantage of those developments that had begun in the decade prior to the film's release. Baby Doll and the negotiations and events surrounding it, epitomize the effects of all those changes since 1948. Thus, Baby Doll must be viewed as the off-spring to those changes. More importantly, though, Baby Doll is parent to those daring films symbolic of the late 1950s and early 1960s. As such, Baby Doll can be viewed as the transitional film between the "olden days" and the uninhibited 1960s. Because Kazan's film marked the end of Hollywood's innocence and ushered in the adult film era, this thesis on Baby Doll provides insight into how the film censoring system worked and why it declined. This thesis traces the decline of film censorship by focusing on the evolution of one film maker and the production of one picture. Drawing on the files of the Production Code Administration, the Legion of Decency and Warner Bros., it traces Kazan's long struggle to win Code office approval for his picture and the extensive campaign launched by the Legion to discourage attendance. Kazan's quest to win Code approval and Baby Doll's ultimate success at the box office illustrated that both Hollywood and its audience were ready for the adult picture. In a sense then, Baby Doll is a transitional film. It marked the end of Hollywood's innocent era and pointed toward the much more sexually explicit and uninhibited films of the 1960s.
Young, Tara Ross, ""Baby Doll" (1956): A case study of film censorship and its decline during the 1950's." (1992). Student Work. 3025.
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A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1992 Tara Ross Young.