Monday, January 20, 2014

Burlesque Brixx #3 - Censorship struggles circa 1942

It's interesting to note that Broadway saw the big-picture issue of censorship in the arts when Mayor LaGuardia began his crackdown on burlesque - and joined in the fight!

Oakland Tribune
Oakland California
 Tuesday March 10, 1942

New York Mayor and Police Commissioner Attacked for Arbitrary Rulings
By Wood Soanes (excerpt)

"Burlesque has been banned in New York again – the last time was in 1937 and it wrote finis to the colorful career of the Minsky Brothers.
Again, as in 1937, the cause of burlesque is being taken up by its big brother, the legitimate theatre. There is less brotherly love than desire for self-preservation in the gesture.
Broadway always gets behind burlesque in its fights against censorship because it feels that if burlesque loses without a struggle, the eye of the censor, perforce, will be directed at his next victim, the legitimate stage. That isn’t pretty to contemplate.
This time Broadway’s spokesmen are Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, co-authors of “Life With Father” and “Arsenic and Old Lace” which are currently long-run hits of the New York stage.
“We are at Munich” they cried in unison the other day. “and complacently at this point, just because it involves burlesque, does not mean peace in our time. The danger is that the Mayor and the licence commissioner can impose their taste on the entire theatre.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Commissioner Paul Moss are using much the same ammunition they hurled four years ago.
They contend that burlesque is indecent, does not constitute entertainment and is pretty low stuff generally.
Warming to their subject as they denied operating licenses to 14 theatres, they tossed out such lurid phrases as, “cesspools of indecency” and “breeders of prostitution”. This is what they said four years ago, so the burlesque theatres called themselves “Variety” or “Girlie Shows” or “Follies” and went on with a modified strip-tease. This time they can’t even have the strip-tease.
Meantime, burlesque representatives are screaming that high-handed measures are being used.
…Meantime, a great effort is being made to stir up the public.
Petitions are being circulated and voters are being urged to sign for the reinstatement of burlesque.
…All of this seems rather silly to me. Regardless of the virtues or vices of burlesque, the point at issue seems to be whether a couple of gents, who happen to hold office, can arbitrarily decide on the entertainment of a people, and, more important, whether they can do it in a star chamber session at which the public has no voice."

After the 1937 crack-down on burlesque in New York City, Burlesque theatres were forced to change their name to things such as "Girly Show" or "Follies" to avoid the censors.

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