Our Early Day “No-Nos”May 01, 2016 ● By Bob Warren
First, a personal experience with innocence: When I was 13, I was privileged to land a job at Curtsinger’s Drug Store. My primary duty was being a “soda-jerk,” but I also waited on other customers. Those were the days when unmentionables (such as Kotex) were carefully enclosed in brown wrapping paper before being put on the shelf for sale. Well, it fell my lot to wait on a lady who I knew, and she had no choice but to tell me she wanted a box of Kotex. I probably blushed and stuttered before asking, “What size?” Anyway, I completed the sale and lived to make many others.
To set the stage on just how modest we were, let us look on the clothesline. Before clothes dryers, our laundry was hung out to dry on the backyard clothesline. Any personal items, such as ladies’ underwear, were carefully kept from the neighbors’ prying eyes by putting them on an inside line, shielded by large items, such as sheets.
The word “dancing” is what I will discuss next: In her book, Lebanon On the Preston, Adelle Rogers Clark tells of a fellow who, in the 1890s, got “churched” (had his membership revoked) for dancing a jig on the front porch of the barbershop in the little town of Lebanon. At a church trial, the poor fellow who danced the jig was told, “You have just danced your way out of the church.” The author said, “Nothing ever took more joy out of the hearts of young men and women living in Lebanon during the 1890s than the attitude of the church fathers toward dancing.”
For some time, dancing continued to be thought by many to be sinful. Some thought there was no way a man could hold a woman close and sway with the music without getting sinful ideas. I was told that a man did not, in public, dare embrace a woman while standing, because someone might see them and “think they were dancing.” If people of that era could see some of the dancing shown on television today, they would probably faint. My daughter, Tami, called recently and warned me not to watch some kind of new dance called “twerking.” She feels that I am way too old to watch it, so I will pass that warning along to others of you who have reached the age to qualify for a senior citizen discount.
Another early-day no-no was the mention of the word “pregnant.” Women were said, probably in a whisper, to be “in a family way,” “with child” or “expecting,” and they dressed in a way that concealed their condition. Today, those who are “expecting” wear revealing maternity clothes which show their “baby bumps,” proudly telling the world that a blessed event is on the way. Now, if we could only solve the issue of mothers nursing their babies in public …
“Sin” even invaded our boys’ innocent games. When I was just a lad, we enjoyed playing a game called “marbles.” We drew a circle in the dirt and each of us put some of our treasured marbles in the circle. Then, from a line outside the circle, we took turns thumping our “taw” (an extra large marble) toward the circle to see who could knock the most marbles out of the circle. Everything was just fine until we were caught playing “keepers,” a game in which we kept all the marbles we knocked out of the circle. Some of our mothers saw what was going on and decided that was gambling, which, at the time, was deemed to be a bad no-no. I do not remember being repentant when caught, but it certainly spoiled our fun.
The way we dress has changed drastically through the years. For example, ladies’ skirts moved from a modest ankle length to the “sexy” miniskirt, causing eyestrain among men of the land. Prudes objected when women started wearing shorts, but that did not stop the upward movement. Soon, “short shorts” came into the scene, causing an even louder uproar among conservatives. When Southwest Airlines stewardesses started wearing what was considered very risqué “hot pants,” eyebrows shot up all over the land, and before long, the girls started dressing more modestly.
Swimwear has also evolved from very modest, one-piece to very revealing two-piece suits for women and the one-piece Speedo® for men and boys. “Mixed bathing” (swimming) was once a hot topic for swimming at church camps. Some churches would not allow boys and girls to be in the swimming pool together. The boys, however, managed to find a way, as they waited their turn in the pool, to watch the girls through the fence.
Women’s hairdos, too, have caused quite a stir. In the early 1900s, most women wore their hair long. When movie star Clara Bow “bobbed” her hair in the 1930s, she was called a “flapper,” and some women started following her lead. For a time, short hair was associated with “loose women,” before finally being accepted in the later 1930s.
Lastly, a look at the entertainment industry and its attempts to set some moral guidelines: In 1922, after several risqué films and off-screen scandals, Hollywood studios enlisted Will H. Hays to rehabilitate the industry’s image. In 1924, Mr. Hays introduced a set of recommendations designed to clean up the movies. Later, a censorship committee was formed, which led to a long list of what they called “The Don’ts and Be Carefuls.” These were things that should not be said or shown in movies. The list was approved by the Federal Trade Commission, and the so called Hays Code was born. One of the most talked about rules in the infamous list was the one that prohibited a man and woman being shown in bed together. That rule remained in effect even in television’s early days when Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, though man and wife, could not be shown in the same bed.
The Great Depression led many of the movie studios to seek income in any way possible. Since films containing racy and violent content brought higher ticket sales, the code began to be broken. In 1931, one screenwriters’ publication said, “The Hays moral code is not even a joke anymore; it’s just a memory.” In the late 1930s, Clark Gable shocked the movie-going world in “Gone With the Wind,” by saying the now famous words, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
By the late 1960s, enforcement of the production code was abandoned entirely. The Movie Producers Association then adopted a rating system designed to let movie-goers know what level of “adult” scenes to expect. The system was revised, in 1984, to the one we have today (G, PG, PG-13, R and X), so we can now decide what movie to watch, or not watch, without “getting our modesty shocked.”
These are just a few of our early-day no-nos. Now, you may decide how right or wrong we were. Lots of luck!