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History of the MPAA

After WWI, there was increased pressure from the public to institute some type of censorship or government regulations. A lot of this was due to the public's conception of a wild and scandalous Hollywood, after the unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor and a starlet after an orgy involving Fatty Arbuckle.

By the early 20s, 8 states and several cities passed their own censorship laws.

In 1922, to avoid government involvement, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America hired Will H. Hays, who had been the Postermaster General and was President Warren G. Harding's brilliant campaign manager.

Temporarily this settled the public outcry, but after several years of no real change, the public began to again apply pressure for change. In 1930, the Hays office introduced the Motion Picture Production Code listing all the things that could not be shown or implied.

Still nothing changed, so in 1932 a resolution was introduced into the U.S. Senate to investigate the motion picture industry.

While the investigation started putting pressure on the industry, in 1934, the Catholic Church formed the Legion of Decency to boycott any film that didn't use the Production Code as a guideline.

Finally, the MPPDA gave in. A Code Seal was developed and the members of the MPPDA agreed not to release or distribute any film that didn't carry that seal. A $25,000 penalty was institued for any picture that did not receive the Code Seal.

This provided a self censorship that eliminated the public outcries for many years.

In 1945, Hays retired and handed the reigns over to a former head of the United States Chamber of Commerce, Eric Johnston. Shortly after the name was changed to the Motion Picture Association of America.

It was Johnston who, beginning in the 1950s, first had to grapple with television, opposing the trade restrictions that were being proposed by nations around the world. With all the changes, the Production Code approval system was basically abandoned. Johnston preached free trade policies that would enable Hollywood to move its filmed and video products into every country around the globe.

Eric Johnston died in August of 1963. Ralph Hetzel served as interim head until 1966, when the Hollywood studios persuaded then White House assistant, Texan Jack Valenti, to take the job.

There were problems almost immediately after Valeni took office. Public ethics had changed and studios were challenging the list of do's and don't's trying to keep profits up in a poor economy. Studios were simply distributing films that didn't make the Production Seal guidelines to smaller subsidiary distributors.

Within weeks, discussions of a plan for a movie rating system began with the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and with the governing committee of the International Film Importers & Distributors of America (IFIDA), an assembly of independent producers and distributors.

It took 5 months to develop, but by November 1, 1968, the birth of the new voluntary film rating system of the motion picture industry was announced, with three organizations, NATO, MPAA, and IFIDA, as its monitoring and guiding groups. See Ratings article

Valenti headed the MPAA waging political battles protecting the movie studios until he retired in 1996.


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