Will H. Hays
|Chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America
|46th United States Postmaster General
March 5, 1921 – March 3, 1922
|Warren G. Harding
|Albert S. Burleson
|Chair of the Republican National Committee
February 13, 1918 – June 8, 1921
|John T. Adams
William Harrison Hays
November 5, 1879
Sullivan, Indiana, U.S.
|March 7, 1954 (aged 74)
Sullivan, Indiana, U.S.
Helen Louise Thomas
(m. 1902; div. 1929)
Jessie Herron Stutsman
|Wabash College (BA)
William Harrison Hays Sr. (//; November 5, 1879 – March 7, 1954) was an American politician, and member of the Republican Party. As chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1918 to 1921, Hays managed the successful 1920 presidential campaign of Warren G. Harding. Harding then appointed Hays to his cabinet as his first Postmaster General. He resigned from the cabinet in 1922 to become the first chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. As chairman, Hays oversaw the promulgation of the Motion Picture Production Code (informally known as the Hays Code), which spelled out a set of moral guidelines for the self-censorship of content in American cinema.
William Harrison Hays Sr. was born November 5, 1879, in Sullivan, Indiana. He attended Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
He was the manager of Warren G. Harding's successful campaign for the Presidency of the United States in the 1920 election and was subsequently appointed Postmaster General. While serving in the Harding Administration, he became peripherally involved in the Teapot Dome scandal.
The oilman Harry Ford Sinclair devised a scheme in which twenty-five cents was diverted from the sale of every barrel of oil sold from the oil field leases that were the focus of the Teapot Dome scandal. Sinclair testified that he "loaned" Will H. Hays, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee, $185,000 worth of Liberty Bonds, later getting back $100,000. Sinclair also gave Hays $75,000 as an outright gift to the committee. At the time, Hays was attempting to pay off the 1920 Republican campaign debt. Hays later approached a number of wealthy men and told them that if they would contribute to pay down the committee's debt, he would reimburse them for their contributions with Liberty Bonds.
In 1924, after his resignation from the Harding administration and while he was serving as President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Hays was called to testify before the Senate Committee on Public Lands. When asked how much money Sinclair had contributed to the Republican Party, Hays testified that his contribution was $75,000. In 1928, after more details of Sinclair's scheme had emerged, Hays was called to testify again. Hays then told the full story of Sinclair's contribution, including the donation of $185,000 in Liberty Bonds and the $75,000 cash contribution. He stated that he had not mentioned the bonds in his earlier testimony because the Committee "had not asked about any bonds." While there was some public perception that Hays was attempting to conceal Sinclair's large contribution to the Republican National Committee, he testified that he was "using the bonds to raise money for the deficit."
Hays resigned his cabinet position on January 14, 1922, to become Chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America shortly after the organization's founding. He began his new job, at a $35,360 annual salary (equivalent to $620,000 in 2022), on March 6 of that year. There was speculation that he would be paid between $100,000 and $150,000 a year.
The goal of the organization was to improve the image of the movie industry in the wake of the scandal surrounding the alleged rape and murder of model and actress Virginia Rappe, of which film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was accused, and amid growing calls by religious groups for federal censorship of the movies. Hiring Hays to "clean up the pictures" was, at least in part, a public relations ploy and much was made of his conservative credentials, including his roles as a Presbyterian deacon and past chairman of the Republican Party.
In his new position in Hollywood, Hays' main roles were to persuade individual state censor boards not to ban specific films outright and to reduce the financial impact of the boards' cuts and edits. At that time, the studios were required by state laws to pay the censor boards for each foot of film excised and for each title card edited; in addition, studios also had the expense of duplicating and distributing separate versions of each censored film for the state or states that adhered to a particular board's decisions.
Hays attempted to reduce studio costs (and improve the industry's image in general) by advising individual studios on how to produce movies to reduce the likelihood that the film would be cut. Each board kept its "standards" secret (if, indeed, they had any standardization at all), so Hays was forced to intuit what would or would not be permitted by each board. At first he applied what he called "The Formula" but it was not particularly successful; from that he developed a set of guidelines he called "The Dont's and Be Carefuls". In general his efforts at pre-release self-censorship were unsuccessful in quieting calls for federal censorship.
Catholic bishops and lay people tended to be wary of federal censorship and favored the Hays approach of self-censorship; these included the outspoken Catholic layman Martin J. Quigley, publisher of Exhibitors Herald-World (a trade magazine for independent exhibitors). For several months in 1929, Martin Quigley, Joseph Breen, Father Daniel A. Lord S.J., Father FitzGeorge Dinneen S.J., and Father Wilfred Parsons (editor of Catholic publication America) discussed the desirability of a new and more stringent code of behavior for the movies. With the blessing of Cardinal George W. Mundelein of Chicago, Father Lord authored the code, which later became known as "The Production Code", "the code", and "The Hays Code". It was presented to Will Hays in 1930 who said, "My eyes nearly popped out when I read it. This was the very thing I had been looking for".
The studio heads were less enthusiastic but they agreed to make the code the rule of the industry, albeit with many loopholes that allowed studio producers to override the Hays Office's application of it. From 1930 to 1934, the production code was only slightly effective in fighting back calls for federal censorship. However, things came to a head in 1934 with widespread threats of Catholic boycotts of "immoral" movies, as well as reduced funding from Catholic financiers such as A. P. Giannini of the Bank of America. As a result, the studios granted Hays' organization full authority to enforce the production code on all studios, creating a relatively strict regime of self-censorship which endured for decades (the code was set aside in the 1960s when the age-based rating system in force today was adopted). Hays hired Joseph Breen, a Catholic and anti-Semite who was able to use his position to censor films expressing sentiments against Nazism or fascism. In 1934, to deal with "inappropriate" industry personnel (alongside the Code's concern with the industry's output), Hays created a list of 117 names of performers whose personal lives he thought made them unfit to appear in films.
As an example of Hays' philosophy, he reportedly said to a movie director: "When you make a woman cross her legs in the films, maybe you don't need to see how she can cross them and stay within the law; but how low she can cross them and still be interesting".
Hays worked with the U.S. government, particularly the State Department and the Department of Commerce, to maintain Hollywood's domination of overseas movie markets.
When the entertainment industry started to take off in the early 1920s, thousands of people flocked to Hollywood with hopes of becoming the next big star. These hopefuls were called "extras" because they were the extra people who filled out scenes. The main way to find work at this time was to wait outside the gates of studios, hoping to be hired on the spot. With little regulation on hiring film extras, many people were exploited while looking for work. In an effort to fix the employment issues and exploitation that plagued the industry, Hays commissioned several studies of the employment conditions in Hollywood, including one from Mary van Kleeck, a prominent sociologist with the Russell Sage Foundation. After reviewing the results of the studies, Hays adopted a suggestion of van Kleeck's and created the Central Casting Corporation in 1925 as a way to regulate the hiring of extras in Hollywood.
Main article: United States Motion Picture Production Code of 1930
The production code enumerated three "General Principles":
Specific restrictions were spelled out as "Particular Applications" of these principles:
After his retirement, Will H. Hays returned to Sullivan, Indiana, where he died on March 7, 1954. His widow died in 1960.
In their 1940 short No Census, No Feelings, The Three Stooges refer to Will Hays and his position as censor czar in a joke, when Moe tells Curly, "We have a job now, we're working for the Census"; Curly replies "You mean Will Hays?" in a word association of "census" and "censors".
Postmaster General Will H. Hays yesterday signed a contract to become the "Landis of the movies" for three years, beginning next March 4