Take away the right to say “fuck” and you take away the right to say “fuck the government.”
—Lenny Bruce

I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.
—Mae West

lennybruce maewest
Younger fans often tell me they wish they had been alive in the glamorous and innocent days of the 1950s. From today’s vantage point, I can understand why the aura of Hollywood in the final days of the big studio system is glossy and exotic. Movie stars seemed larger than life then and their movies looked like perfect slices of life. However, the truth about that romanticized era is that the 1950s were a time of serious repression and censorship in art, literature, theater, and movies.

America’s consciousness, fresh out of WWII, wanted everything to be just right—or at least look that way. America had to be manicured homes on quiet suburban streets, Mom cooking dinner while she waited for Dad to get home from work, and the kids busy with their homework until bedtime. There would be no Communists, negroes, protests, socialists, labor unions, pornography, illicit sex, pre-marital sex, and certainly no same-sex sex. Post-marital sex would be allowed, but ONLY in the missionary position.

This was America as created by ad agencies, whose only purpose was to sell STUFF. It was so unreal that it had to be continually propped up by lies and protected from anyone who might point out that Perfect America was only make believe.

I have been a target of censorship for much of my adult life. Censors were routinely on the sets of my movies, their arms folded and stern looks on their faces. In The Private Lives of Adam and Eve they required me to wear a fig leaf over my navel, the sight of which would presumably consume men with sexual desire and cause them to commit rape on the nearest woman. Marty Milner’s belly button was left harmlessly exposed to the world. Go figure.

My movies were routinely boycotted by the Catholic Legion of Decency. My friend, former L.A. Lakers star Karem Abdul Jabar, told me that when he attended Catholic school, the Legion of Decency always had my movies at the top of their banned list. “Those were the ones we always rushed out to see,” Kareem told me with a grin. As Mae West knew so well, one of the unintended consequences of censorship is that it makes a great marketing tool.

Today the shackles may have loosened on sex in films, books, and art, but we face another even more pernicious form of censorship. Every day the tragic censorship of lifestyles continues driving young gay men and women over the edge to suicide. These young people are so bullied and bashed by churches, government, peers, and parents that there seems no way out of their pain but ending their lives. All of us need to take a stand against all forms of bullying—most especially the brutal coercion of our gay brothers and sisters. And we need to make sure that anyone can marry whomever they love.

Censorship really boils down to someone saying, Never mind what you think you know or what’s in your heart. I know what’s best for you. Censors operate best hidden in the dark. The only cure for their evil is to drag them out into the light and thrash them publicly.

The Special Collector’s Edition of Playing the Field is available in my store and on Amazon.