In 1961, This Was Something 'Nice' People Didn't Talk About

In 1961, Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn starred in "The Children's Hour." While censorship guidelines at the time of filming didn't outright prohibit the mention of homosexuality, it was widely known the topic was not something that was acceptable to discuss on the big screen.

At 2:20, you'll see the pain that came with Shirley MacLaine's character's struggle. It was one of the first movies to broach this topic, so you might be very surprised to hear what she says at 2:50. Susie Bright's insight at the end painfully illustrates the things our society still needs to work on.

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Back in Hollywood, the production code had gradually been whittled away. Movie makers, fed up with restrictions, set out to smash the last taboo.

Homosexuality was finally being talked about on the screen, but only as something that nice people didn't talk about.

And we've seen things too.

What things?

Bad things. I can't tell you.

Mary, you're annoying me very much. If you have anything to say, say it.

I mean, I can't say it out loud. I've got to whisper it.

Why must you whisper it?

I don't know. I've just got to.

At the time we made the picture, there were not real discussions about homosexuality. It was about a child's accusations. It could have been about anything.

Stop the car, John. Stop the car, John!

So none of us were really aware . . . we might have been the forerunners, but we weren't really because we didn't do the picture right. We were in the mindset of not understanding what we were basically doing.

You've got to know. I've got to tell you. I can't keep it to myself any longer. I'm guilty.

You're guilty of nothing.

These days, there would be a tremendous outcry, as well there should be. Why would Martha break down and say, "Oh my God, what's wrong with me? I'm so polluted. I've ruined you." She would fight. She would fight for her budding preference. And when you look at it, to have Martha play that scene, and no one questioned what that meant or what the alternatives could have been underneath the dialogue, it's mind boggling. We were unaware.

Don't you see? I can't stand to have you touch me. I can't stand to have you look at me. Oh its all my fault. I've ruined your life, and I've ruined my own. I swear I didn't notice. I didn't mean it. Oh I feel so damn sick and dirty. I can't stand it anymore.

The profundity of this subject was not in the lexicon of our rehearsal period even. Audrey and I never talked about this. Isn't that amazing? Truly amazing.

The loathing she feels, how sick she is with herself, it still makes me cry when I see that, and I think, you know, "Why am I crying? Why does this still get to me? This is just an old silly movie, you know, and people don't feel this way anymore." But I don't think that's true. I think people do feel that way today still. And there's part of me, despite all my little signs, you know, like "Happy", "Proud", "Well-adjusted", "Bisexual", "Queer", "Kinky" know, no matter how many posters I hold up saying, "I'm a big pervert, and I'm so happy about it," there's this part of me that's like, "How could I be this way?"

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This clip comes from the documentary "The Celluloid Closet," which teaches about the history of gay and lesbian portrayals in Hollywood and is worth watching in its entirety. I found the clip on Susie Bright's YouTube channel. To learn more about the Motion Picture Production Code and censorship guidelines in the early 1960s, give this NPR piece a read. Thumbnail image of Shirley MacLaine is public domain, found on Wikimedia Commons.

Aug 27, 2014

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