Thursday, January 10, 2008

Decoding the 1930s

As I continue revising my play set in 1934, I have to research and consider all kinds of odd subjects. I can spend inordinate amounts of time pondering questions like "What would a 21-year-old theater-loving girl name her new pet cat?"--even though it might seem like a throwaway line of dialogue. (I chose the name "Pandora," if you're curious.)

One of the first things I learned about 1934 was that it was the year the Production Code went into full effect, imposing a new level of censorship on American movies. In my revised draft, I have a scene for 2 characters discussing the Code after they go see a Mae West movie. Oddly enough, as I surfed the Internet while taking a break from writing this scene, I came across an essay by the Self-Styled Siren about the Code and why nostalgia for it is misguided. Go check it out--it, the other stuff she links to, and the long comment thread, is fascinating and thought-provoking. And gave me even more stuff to TRY to cram into my play.

The Mae West movie in my play, by the way, is I'm No Angel (which actually came out in 1933 but I am taking poetic license). I chose it because, in the course of some more research ("research" meaning "random Wikipedia-surfing") I learned that it has a musical number in it called "No One Loves Me Like that Dallas Man." Some of the characters in my play are from Dallas--perfect! And thanks to YouTube, you can see Mae in action:

I learned that even though I'm No Angel is "pre-code," it still came in for some censorship. The original title of Mae's song was supposed to be "No One Does It Like that Dallas Man." I also had trouble understanding some of the lyrics in this film clip, so another source revealed that they are "He's a wild horse trainer / With a special whip." I'm guessing that the censors made Mae hum and "da-da-da" over those lyrics in the final version.

But, to make this song choice even more appropriate, my play already had a whip in it...though I'll leave you guessing as to how!

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