Hollywood's Censor

Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration

Thomas Doherty

Columbia University Press

Hollywood's Censor

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Pub Date: March 2009

ISBN: 9780231143592

440 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $34.00£29.00

Pub Date: November 2007

ISBN: 9780231143585

440 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£75.00

Pub Date: March 2009

ISBN: 9780231512848

440 Pages

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List Price: $33.99£29.00

Hollywood's Censor

Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration

Thomas Doherty

Columbia University Press

From 1934 to 1954 Joseph I. Breen, a media-savvy Victorian Irishman, reigned over the Production Code Administration, the Hollywood office tasked with censoring the American screen. Though little known outside the ranks of the studio system, this former journalist and public relations agent was one of the most powerful men in the motion picture industry. As enforcer of the puritanical Production Code, Breen dictated "final cut" over more movies than anyone in the history of American cinema. His editorial decisions profoundly influenced the images and values projected by Hollywood during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War.

Cultural historian Thomas Doherty tells the absorbing story of Breen's ascent to power and the widespread effects of his reign. Breen vetted story lines, blue-penciled dialogue, and excised footage (a process that came to be known as "Breening") to fit the demands of his strict moral framework. Empowered by industry insiders and millions of like-minded Catholics who supported his missionary zeal, Breen strove to protect innocent souls from the temptations beckoning from the motion picture screen.

There were few elements of cinematic production beyond Breen's reach—he oversaw the editing of A-list feature films, low-budget B movies, short subjects, previews of coming attractions, and even cartoons. Populated by a colorful cast of characters, including Catholic priests, Jewish moguls, visionary auteurs, hardnosed journalists, and bluenose agitators, Doherty's insightful, behind-the-scenes portrait brings a tumultuous era—and an individual both feared and admired—to vivid life.

Thomas Doherty uncovers wonderful details in his research, and he presents them with aplomb. He writes a good book on an important figure in American film history about whom too little is known. This is a valuable contribution.

Chuck Maland, Lindsay Young Professor of English, University of Tennessee

Joseph I. Breen's life story has never been told in such detail before and, although much has been written about the Production Code Administration, no one has brought together the stories of Breen and the Code—which is also a story of Catholicism and its influence on popular American culture—in the manner Thomas Doherty has. Doherty convincingly demonstrates that, in a crucial sense, Breen was the Production Code.

Michael Anderegg, author of Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture and Cinematic Shakespeare

Doherty writes with such wit and verve, bringing the past to life... a very entertaining read.

Publishers Weekly

Compelling, colorful, insightful, and nearly encyclopedic in detail, this book seems destined to become the definitive scholarly biography of Breen. Highly recommended.

Library Journal

[An] entertaining and rigorous biography of Breen.

Ada Calhoun, New York Times Book Review

A fascinating read for anyone interested in American film history.

Carol O'Sullivan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

[An] authoritative, entertaining, unexpectedly unnerving biography.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

[A] brilliant and absorbing new book.

Gerald Peary, The Phoenix

Hollywood's Censor is a stinging portrait of a cultural strongman who made it his business to baby his fellow citizens.

Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post

Written with controlled exuberance, and much wit.

Scott Eyman, Palm Beach Post

A pleasure to read.

Rob Hardy, Commercial Dispatch

An exemplary biography... Highly recommended.

Opening Credits
Prologue: Hollywood, 1954
1. The Victorian Irishman
2. Bluenoses Against the Screen
3. Hollywood Shot to Pieces
4. The Breen Office
5. Decoding Classical Hollywood Cinema
6. Confessional
7. Intermission at RKO
8. At War with the Breen Office
9. In His Sacerdotalism
10. "Our Semitic Brethren"
11. Social Problems, Existential Dilemmas, and Outsized Anatomies
12. Invasion of the Art Films
13. Amending the Ten Commandments
14. Not the Breen Office
15. Final Cut: Joseph I. Breen and the Auteur Theory
Appendix: The Production Code
Film Index
Web Features

About the Author

Thomas Doherty is professor of American studies at Brandeis University. He serves on the editorial board of Cineaste and is the author of Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture; Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934; Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II; and Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s.