Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America and the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code, issued a stern warning to his board of directors at its meeting in late October 1939.
Waiving the profanity rule and allowing producer David O. Selznick to use the word “damn” in Gone With the Wind could have dire consequences. The action might violate federal law and draw unwanted attention from the Justice Department. So the directors discussed the issue and reached a decision.
On November 1, 1939, the Association’s Board of Directors amended the Production Code. The words “hell” and “damn” continued to be banned except if they “shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore…or a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste.”
Having cracked “the Code,” Selznick was allowed to use the word “damn” in Rhett Butler’s exit line.
Happy 75th Anniversary, Gone With the Wind!
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Blog Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book (2nd edition) and an expert on the film and its history. Visit the website (www.paulinebartel.com/resources/books/books-available) for further information. Follow her on Twitter @PaulineBartel and “like” her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheCompleteGWTWTriviaBook).