Will H. Hays

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Will H. Hays
46th United States Postmaster General
In office
March 5, 1921 – March 3, 1922
Preceded byAlbert S. Burleson
Succeeded byHubert Work
Personal details
William Harrison Hays

(1879-11-05)November 5, 1879
Sullivan, Indiana, U.S.
DiedMarch 7, 1954(1954-03-07) (aged 74)
Sullivan, Indiana, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Jessie Herron Hays (1879-1960)
ProfessionPolitician, President of the MPAA
Known forHayes Code

William Harrison Hays, Sr. (November 5, 1879 – March 7, 1954) was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1918 to 1921. He was United States Postmaster General from 1921 to 1922. He is best known for the Hays Code for censorship of American movies. He was born in Sullivan, Indiana.

He was the manager of Warren G. Harding's successful campaign for the Presidency of the United States in 1920. He was then named Postmaster General. While serving in the Harding Administration, he became somewhat involved in the Teapot Dome scandal. This was because of some illegal donations.

Career change[change | change source]

Hays gave up his cabinet position on January 14, 1922. He become President of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), when it first began.[1] This group now handles the well-known voluntary film rating system. He began his new job, at a $35,360 (equivalent to $572,438.33 in 2021) annual salary, on March 6 of that year.[2] There was talk that he would be paid between $100,000 and $150,000 a year.[3]

Scandal and outcry[change | change source]

The goal of the group was to rescue the image of the movie industry because of a scandal at that time. An actress, Virginia Rappe, had been raped and murdered. A well-known movie star, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was accused. Religious groups were angry and demanded federal censorship of the movies. Hiring Hays to "clean up the moving pictures" was a public relations tactic. Much was said about his conservative ways. These included his being a Presbyterian deacon and the past chairman of the Republican Party.

In his new role in Hollywood, Hays' main task was to stop American state censor boards from banning movies that were too dirty to be shown. He also had to keep costs down for the movie studios for changes made to give a movie an acceptable rating. At that time, the movie studios were required by state laws to pay the censor boards for each foot of movie that was cut out. Studios also had the expense of making different versions of each censored movie for each state's different ruling.

1922 editorial cartoon by Cy Hungerford illustrating the perception that Hays was coming to rescue the movie industry.

Hays tried to reduce studio costs by telling studios how to make movies that would be safe enough not to have to be cut or changed. Each board kept its "standards" secret. Hays had to try to guess what would or would not be allowed by each board. He made a set of guidelines he called "The Don'ts and Be Carefuls". In general he was not successful in quieting demands for federal censorship.

Hays Code[change | change source]

Catholic bishops and non-church people were suspicious of federal censorship. They preferred the Hays approach of self-censorship. For several months in 1929, a group of Catholic leaders tried to come up with a new stricter code of behavior for the movies. A church Father wrote the legal code. This later became known as "The Hays Code". It was shown to Will Hays in 1930. He said, "My eyes nearly popped out when I read it. This was the very thing I had been looking for".

From 1930 to 1934, the Production Code was only somewhat helpful in fighting off calls for federal censorship. Things came to a head in 1934, with widespread threats of Catholic boycotts of immoral movies. The studios gave the MPAA full authority to enforce the Production Code on all studios. These strict rules of self-censorship lasted for decades. (The Code was finally set aside in the 1960s when the MPAA adopted the age-based rating system now in force.)

Also in 1934, Hays made a list of 117 names of actors and actresses whose personal lives he thought made them unfit to appear in movies.[4]

Many European nations had quotas to make more of their own movies instead of Hollywood imports. A big success of Hays was his ability to work with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Commerce, to keep Hollywood on top of overseas movie markets.[5]

Death[change | change source]

After his retirement, Will H. Hays returned to Sullivan, Indiana, where he died on March 7, 1954.[6][7] His widow died in 1960.[8]

Further reading[change | change source]

  • Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994; ISBN 0-521-45299-6.
  • Hays, Will H. The Memoirs of Will H. Hays. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1955.
  • Jarvie, Ian. Hollywood's Overseas Campaign: The North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920–1950. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Trumpbour, John. Selling Hollywood to the World: U.S. and European Struggles for Mastery of the Global Film Industry, 1920–1950. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Hays to Be Mogul in Silver Screen Realm", San Antonio Express, January 15, 1922, p 4
  2. "Will Hays, Who Is to Get $17 Hourly, to Make the Movies Behave Hereafter", Syracuse Herald, March 5, 1922, p33
  3. "Will H. Hays Signs To Direct Movies. Will Formally Resign From the Cabinet Today, to Take Effect on March 4. To Form New Association. His Signature Is Placed on Contract After Telephone Talk With the President". New York Times. January 19, 1922. Retrieved 5 October 2015. Postmaster General Will H. Hays yesterday signed a contract to become the "Landis of the movies" for three years, beginning next March 4
  4. Russo, Vito (1987). The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (Revised ed.). NY: Harper & Row. p. 45.
  5. John Trumpbour (2002). Selling Hollywood to the World: U.S. and European Struggles for Mastery of the Global Film Industry, 1920-1950, New York: Cambridge University Press, p4.
  6. "Will Hays, First Film Czar, Dies. Former G.O.P. Leader Was 74. Arbiter of Hollywood's Morals 23 Years Was Postmaster General Under Harding". New York Times. March 8, 1954. Retrieved 5 October 2015. Will H. Hays, who left President Warren G. Harding's Cabinet to clean up movie morals in the Nineteen Twenties, died today of heart ailment at his home here. He was 74 years old.
  7. "Will H. Hays Dies; Former Movie 'Czar'". Associated Press. March 8, 1954. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2015. Will H. Hays, 74, who left President Harding's Cabinet to clean up movie morals in the roaring 20s, died of a heart condition at his Sullivan home at noon today.
  8. "Mrs. Will H. Hays Dies. Widow of Former 'Czar' of Movie Industry Was 84". New York Times. August 30, 1960. Retrieved 5 October 2015.

Other websites[change | change source]

Media related to Will H. Hays at Wikimedia Commons