pre-code hollywood

Will Hays and "Pre-Code" Hollywood (Fake News: Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon Episode 7) by Karina Longworth


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Who was Will Hays, and how did he come to put his name on the censorship “Code” that would shape the content of movies more than any other single force from the early 1930s into the 1960s? How much power did Hays really have in 1920s Hollywood, how corrupt was he, and why did it take a decade before the Hays Code was fully enforced?



This episode is a response to, and includes a brief excerpt from, Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.

The Memoirs of Will H. Hays by Will H. Hays

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Go West Young Women! by Hillary Hallett

Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration by Thomas Doherty

Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen

“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” By The Associated Press, March 8,1954, New York Times

“Will H. Hays and the Motion Picture Industry 1919-1922: by Gerald S. Schatz, from The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3, September 1961, pp. 316-329

“Will H. Hays Gets Divorce in Indiana; Court Awards Custody of Son to Motion Picture Official in Uncontested Suit.” New York Times, June 22, 1929

“Mrs. Will H. Hays Dies; Widow of Former 'Czar' of Movie Industry Was 84” New York Times, August 30, 1960

“The Letters That Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want You to See” by By Jordan Michael Smith, New York Times, July 7, 2014

“Pictures More Realistic” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 31, 1930

“Morals and the Movies” The News Leader, April 28, 1930

“America’s Horniest President Warren G. Harding might have been a useless leader, but he sure could craft a sex scandal” By Jordan Michael Smith, August 16, 2015

William Hays (center) shaking hands, c. 1920's

William Hays (center) shaking hands, c. 1920's


Original music was composed for this episode by Evan Viola. Most of the rest of the music used in this episode, with the exception of the intro and outro, was sourced from royalty-free music libraries and licensed music collections. The intro includes a clip from the film Casablanca. The outro song this week is “Chinese Bakery” by The Auteurs.

Excerpts from the following songs were used throughout the episode:

he Smoke Room - Gunnar Johnsen  
My Simple Thing 2  - Peter Sandberg
The Hipcat Swagger 3 - Martin Landh
Mississippi Ramble 1 - Martin Gauffin
Sophisticated Gentlemen 3 - Magnus Ringblom
Loser - Anders Ekengren
Club Noir 4 - John Ahlin
March Militaire - Franz Schubert
Cluedo - Hakan Eriksson
Black and White Memories 3 - Martin Hall
War March 1 - Peter Sandberg
O Come All Ye Faithful - Traditional



Our special guest this week is Gideon Yago.

This episode was written, narrated and produced by Karina Longworth.

Editors: Sam Dingman and Jacob Smith.

Research and production assistant: Lindsey D. Schoenholtz.

Social media assistant: Brendan Whalen.

Logo design: Teddy Blanks.

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MGM Stories Part One - Louis B. Mayer vs. Irving Thalberg (YMRT #56) by Karina Longworth


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Welcome to the fifth season of You Must Remember This! This season, called MGM Stories, is going to tell 15 tales about people who worked at the same movie studio over the course of five decades and counter-culture-hastened decline.

Established in 1924, MGM was the product of a merger of three early Hollywood entities, but the only person working there who got to have his name in the title was studio chief Louis B. Mayer. For the first dozen years of its existence, Mayer’s influence over the company would be at least matched by that of producer Irving Thalberg, who was perceived as the creative genius to Mayer’s bureaucrat. This episode will trace the rise of MGM through the 1920s and early-mid 30s, covering Mayer’s long-evolving working relationship with Thalberg, the creation of the MGM “star factory” identity and unique power within the community of Hollywood, and the in-fighting which would end with Mayer poised to seize his crown as the most powerful man in Hollywood.

Special thanks to Dan Saraceni and Liz Lui, who contributed ideas that inspired this episode in our forum, and Craig Mazin (screenwriter and co-host of the Scriptnotes podcast), who guest stars as Louis B. Mayer. This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky, and our research intern is Allison Gemmill. The outro music to this ep is "We're a Happy Family" by The Ramones.

As you may have noticed, the podcast has a new distribution partner, Panoply. You can find the whole family of Panoply podcasts at If you subscribe to the show on iTunes, it should feel like nothing has changed, but if you have any problem finding or listening to episodes, please contact me using the link at the top of the page. 

This season, as promised, was inspired by suggestions made by our listeners on our Forum. As the season continues, we'll be contacting listeners whose ideas influenced specific episodes. This season, which will last until the end of 2015, is fully scheduled, but you can continue to use the Forum to suggest ideas for future seasons, and also to discuss this current season or past episodes with other listeners. 

The primary sources for this episode were Lion of Hollywood by Scott Eyman, The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger, and a number of oral histories accessed at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript archive, including the recollections of Dore Schary, Anita Loos, and Sheilah Graham.

If you're new to our show, check out our four previous seasons -- including the series Star Wars and Charles Manson's Hollywood - on iTunes.