October 31: A Day of Death and Recollections

Tonight is October 31, which is Hallowe’en. It originally was called All Hallows’ Eve, since it was the evening before All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day. The holiday of Hallow’s Eve begins at sunset; it is the beginning of Allhallowtide, which lasts through November 2. This is a Christian holiday for remembering the saints who have died, whether they are famous saints or obscure ones. To me, however, October 31st has another significance, which is strangely related to Hallowe’en.

Forty-nine years ago today, something which is very dear to me died. On October 31, 1968, the Code lived its last day. As the sun set, Hallowe’en began, and the Code’s last day ended. On November 1, the Production Code Administration was officially replaced with the Classification And Rating Administration. I think this change occurred at a very appropriate time. What better time for the death of something good than Allhallowtide?

Hallowe’en’s real meaning has been buried in American society. It is now all about horror, fear, the wearing of costumes, and trick or treating for children. However, it is a good opportunity to indulge in part of the original meaning of the holiday. Classic movie lovers can take this as an opportunity to remember the wonderful times of the past which are now gone. Horror films are not the only movies which are appropriate Hallowe’en films. Any movie from the Golden Era of Hollywood is appropriate tonight, since each one features the talent of actors, directors, writers, and other filmmakers who are no longer living. Despite this, we can still appreciate their talent and gifts as much as people in their own days did. This is the more serious, less sinister side of Hallowe’en. I encourage you to ponder this side of Hallowe’en by watching a film with departed actors before dawn of November 1.

There is another side of Hallowe’en which I like to ponder. Its origin is very close to Joseph Breen’s history. The holiday has many of its roots in Ireland, and it was originally a Catholic holiday. However, during the Catholic Irishman’s era of Hollywood, there were very few intensely sinister films. Most of the films which people consider classic Hallowe’en pictures are pre-Code or post-Code films. Although some horror films were made in the Code era, they weren’t really that horrifying, since the Breen ideal is that movies should be “reasonably acceptable to reasonable people,” and many people are repulsed or offended by the gory or violent elements of horror films. Also, many horror films are very intensely focused on evil and wickedness; they revolve around supernatural and pagan elements such as vampires, mummies, monsters, ghosts, and witches. Even if these evil protagonists are defeated, they are still the leading characters; where are the compensating moral values in that? The good thing about Code horror films is that they maintain the Breen standard of clean language, moral propriety, decent dressing, and minimal violence. If I have to watch a horror film, I’ll choose a Breen one any day!

Amid the frightening and ghoulish elements of Hallowe’en, spare a few moments to think about a real death that occurred today. Think about the uncelebrated self-regulators and moral guardians of Hollywood who died years ago. Think about the first head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), Will Hays, and his successor, Eric Johnson; think about the authors of the Code, Martin Quigley and Father Daniel Lord; think about the chief self-regulator, the unpraised, misunderstood Joseph Breen, and his assistants, the other men who worked at the Production Code Administration. One of the saddest deaths to remember is the death of the Code forty-nine years ago. It signified the death the hard-won success of those who wanted moral purity. The work of years was officially killed on Hallowe’en of 1968. It was not a sudden or unexpected death. The Code had been alive in name only for years. When Jack Valenti became the head of the MPAA in 1966, the Code was in a highly weakened state, and he dealt it its death blow. It languished for two more years until it was put out of its misery in 1968. It had been amended, altered, abridged, contaminated, ignored, and mocked for fourteen years. Ever since Joseph Breen had left, it had been dying. It was no longer working in 1968 because it was no longer enforced. It was a failure between 1954 and 1968 just as it was a failure between 1930 and 1934. How can a Code of values be effective when it is not enforced?

The Code’s death was not a final one. When a person dies, his life is definitely over. The lives of Mr. Breen, Mr. Hays, Mr. Quigley, and all the other gentlemen of the Code can never be revived or continued. In contrast, the Code is not a mortal being which has a fixed life span. It is an ideal and a cause. A set of beliefs and values can never die. They can cease to exist on the earth for a while, but they can never totally disappear. The Code can come to life again. Its ideals are beginning to be rekindled in people’s hearts; it is only a matter of time before Hollywood re-embraces it. Then, the Code will really be alive again.

Please, don’t let the Code’s death be final. Help us bring it back to life. Every reader of this has the ability to help us in our struggle to revive the Code. Sign our petition to tell Hollywood that you don’t like its product since the death of the Production Code Administration. Then, follow PEPS and send the information to your friends. The people from the Golden Era of Hollywood are gone, but the hope for the Era’s return is still bright. If the Code is resurrected, a new Golden Era will come to life!

Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!

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