Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, February 26, 2016

You Are Not Going To See That Movie!


Did your parents ever tell you, "You are not going to see that movie!"   After you said, "but," they told you it was too filthy or too violent, or you just don't need to see things like that. Well, back in February of 1936, eighty years ago, the mayor and city council of Dublin stood behind the parents and laid down the law that some movies were not meant to be seen on the theater screens of Dublin, Georgia.

Censorship of movies in Dublin began back in the year 1913 when movies were beginning to become more popular.  Mild and lame by today's standards, some silent movies were once considered too risque and inappropriate for young viewers or any viewers for that matter.  The city council had the full support of the churches, whose members objected to the movies but went to see just for themselves what exactly what was being depicted.

It all began on a Tuesday night on June 22, 1913.  A large crowd of good Christian folks gathered at the old City Hall on the Courthouse Square to voice their concerns about the widespread lack of enforcement of city ordinances.  Col. M.H. Blackshear, a well-respected attorney and long time Sunday School teacher, spoke first and voiced his disappointment in the proliferation of blind tigers, houses of disrepute and wide-open soda fountains, along with the unacceptable number of cigar stands which were operated on Sundays.

Mr. Z. Whitehurst stood up next and implored the council to censor  vaudeville acts at the motion picture shows.  Whitehurst stated, "There are many things which are said and done on the stage that are very harmful to the children who were large patrons of these shows, that costumes were worn and jokes told that were detrimental to the moral sense of the children, and they are being filled with ideas that were evil.

The result of this mass objection to moral depredations was the introduction of an ordinance by councilman Tom Ramsay to appoint a Board of Censors.  The three-man committee was charged with the duty to review and approve all movies, vaudeville shows and theatrical troupe performances. The board was directed to disapprove any performance or showing which was vulgar, immoral or one not in keeping with good morals.

The issue of immorality in movies arose once again in the winter of 1936.  The hubbub started when the Dublin Benefit Association wanted to present a Sunday movie at the Ritz Theater for charitable purposes.  While Georgia state law allowed Sunday movies for solely benevolent purposes, a majority of the Dublin City Council held firm their religious convictions that the Sabbath should be a day of rest and passed a resolution banning all Sunday movies.

The council took a bolder step and resurrected the idea of a Board of Censors.  The practice apparently has disappeared during the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression.  The council gave Mayor M.A. Chapman the authority to appoint a committee to disapprove any movie which may be harmful to the morals of the city.  The council also granted the mayor to hire an attorney to represent the city against the anticipated law suits filed on behalf of the theater owners.

With the coming of World War II, opposition to the showing of movies on Sunday began to wane at least when the movies were shown to benefit a charity.   Mayor Dee Sessions was outraged that illegal and non licensed bar rooms and poker palaces were allowed operate on Sundays under the guise of being a restaurant while otherwise wholesome movies were not allowed to be shown at licensed theaters, which paid the extra $500.00 to present movies on the Sabbath.

The Lions Club planned such a Sunday show in February 1942.  Efforts to repeal the city ordinance, which only provided for the showing of movies on Sundays between 1:00 o'clock and 2:00 o'clock in the afternoons, failed.  A month later, Rose Theater manager Bob Hightower, Sr. was charged by Dublin police with violating the ordinance against Sunday movies. Hightower saw no harm in the movie, "Young America," with child star Jane Withers.  The event was to raise money for the Defense Stamp program.   Hightower retained Carl Nelson, Sr. to challenge the ordinance.  An interesting legal situation occurred when it was revealed that Nelson's brother, James F. Nelson, Sr. was the city attorney.

Wars change things. And so, it was with movies in Dublin.

When personnel form the U.S. Naval Hospital were allowed to attend movies on special Sunday showings, many Dubliners claimed that they too should be allowed to go to see a movie on Sunday, even between the morning and evening worship services.  When minor league baseball came to town in 1949, city officials allowed Sunday games.  The city's "blue laws" would not completely disappear until the early 1970s when the furor over opening of the Dublin Mall's stores on Sundays put the issue to rest forever.  Only the ordinance banning alcoholic beverage sales on Sunday still remains in effect.

During the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, the content of movies changed dramatically. The Motion Picture Association of America instituted a mandatory system of ratings in 1968 to rate movies for general audiences, mature audiences, restricted audiences 16 or over and x-rated for adults only.  Prior to that time, there were some showings at the Martin Theater late on weekend nights which would have sent the citizens of 1913 into a frenzy.

The editors of the Laurens County News took a bold step in 1969 against pornography in movies. In a rare front page editorial, the paper denounced modern day movies and begged for a return to decency in movies.  The paper took an unprecedented step by refusing to run advertisements for such movies.

In response to the editorial and numerous complaints from citizens, Dublin Mayor William Robert Smith appointed a committee to work with theater owners and study measures to prevent indecent movies.  The process, which was entirely voluntary on the part of theater operators, included a study to raise to the age of sixteen, movies which were rated M, R and X.

       The council turned down numerous requests from a packed auditorium to return to the old ordinance and ban all Sunday movies after 7:00 o'clock, p.m..   Alderman Charles Bass attempted to raise the age limit to eighteen years of age for all non-general audience movies.  Bass pointed to the controversy relating to the movie, "Secret Ceremony," with Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow, which had been recently shown at the newly opened Village Theater in Williamsburg Village.  That measure failed.

The matter came to a conclusion with the report of the committee on June 8, 1969. The committee, chaired by Tyrus Gaillard, studied the matters of Sunday movies and the regulations of types of movies which could be shown.  The committee deferred on the issue of Sunday movies since the council had twice voted on the matter.  On the issue of ratings, committee members Katherine Porter, Bunny Hatchett, Dr. Charles Riley and Preston Smith, recommended that the national rating system be followed but directed that all children under the age of 16, accompanied by an adult, should be allowed to watch R rated movies.  The committee reported that owners of the Martin Theater voluntarily agreed to go back to the early Sunday movie schedule, while the owners of the Village Theater had not yet agreed in the recommendation.

In today's world of movies in this "Oscar week,"  these matters may seem to be old fashioned and frivolous. But in those days, the days of the past, when good people genuinely felt that our country's way of life was in immediate peril, the matter was much more serious.  

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