Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): Edwin Thanhouser on Censorship

The New Rochelle Evening Standard, in its edition of December 2, 1911, printed a front-page article, "Film Maker for Motion Picture Censorship - Thanhouser Says Manufacturer's Side Has Never Been Properly Presented," which quoted Edwin Thanhouser at length:

Speaking on the subject of efforts to improve conditions in the motion picture business recently, Edwin Thanhouser, president of the largest Independent producing firm, whose studio is located in New Rochelle, said: "You will find no persons more willing to accept and act upon advice than the film producers and the better class of exhibitors themselves. The manufacturer's side of this matter has never been properly presented," Mr. Thanhouser said.

"Our main grievance is that we have been badly treated by some of our critics, many of whom gravely discuss conditions of which they know absolutely nothing. For example, they are quoted as saying that "films showing train hold-ups, murders and seductions are responsible for a great crime wave." Why do they fail to specify the films? If improper pictures are presented it is easy to have them removed. The real reason is that these critics are either talking of conditions that existed some years ago or else they are commenting on things that do not exist. I can assert with absolute confidence that the percentage of clean films is far higher than that of clean plays or clean books.

"The motion picture of today is a strong educational force. It is particularly well adapted to make very real to the youth's mind the great deeds of history, to acquaint him with the best in literature, to make familiar to him the various scenes, to show him graphically the wonders of nature throughout the world. It is a strong argument why children should be encouraged to see good pictures and why the authorities should not bend their energies to prohibiting children under a certain age from seeing them or from seeing them unless accompanied by their guardian.

"There should be the freest kind of access to this educational force. I agree with the purpose of regulation, but regulation should not mean prohibition. This one fact should be recognized: good motion picture plays should be placed within the reach of children just the same as good books, and bad picture plays and books should be suppressed. An evil picture will contaminate a child whether accompanied by an guardian or not. Therefore there should be no evil pictures and likewise no restrictions on seeing good pictures.

"Every week the Trust and the Independent producers release about 65 photoplays. Perhaps here and there there may a plot or a scene that someone can take objection to, but how many plays are there on Broadway now of which the same can be said? I have been a theatrical manager for a number of years, but my first experience with a censor was two years ago when I entered the motion picture field. Then I found that all manufacturers sent copies of every release they made to the National Board of Censors, which is a patriotic organization whose members work without pay to improve conditions, while certain outsiders simply criticize ignorantly but make no helpful suggestions.

"Every picture that is sent out of this factory is shown to the censors, and any suggestion that they make is unhesitatingly carried out. The censors have made it very clear to the manufacturers that they will not stand for pictures of crimes or anything that is in the least way suggestive. Their regulations exactly meet my views, and our relations have always been most agreeable.

"I read a statement by a certain gentleman the other day in which he asserted that motion pictures incite boys to emulate criminals and that they re-enact the holdups and robberies that they have seen. Of course, boys play at robbers. Every youngster at some time or another wants to be a pirate or an Indian hunter. It was that way in my boyhood days, but nobody blamed motion pictures. One reason was that they had not been invented. I do not hold that the halls in this city are in all instances what they should be, nor do I contend that the city should permit children to visit them until they are proved safe and clean and the pictures there have been properly censored. This is a matter which concerns every parent.

"Does it incite children to train robbery or murder to see the masterpieces of Shakespeare such as Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, or The Merchant of Venice, or to learn about Charles Dickens by watching David Copperfield's friends and his enemies and to look at brave little Nell? Or to become posted on such books as The Vicar of Wakefield, Lorna Doone, and Silas Marner, or to witness the plays of Ibsen: The Doll's House, The Pillars of the Society, and The Lady From the Sea? If it does, I must plead guilty for I have shown all of them and many more of the same class.

"I favor a strict rational censorship of the films and a strict rational regulation of motion picture theatres. If any manufacturer or exhibitor is doing anything that is injuring the morals of the young or old, let him be punished and punished severely, but the men who are doing right should be encouraged and not unjustly condemned by persons who are talking on a subject they do not understand."


Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.