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The sultry Mae West was considered a sex symbol in Hollywood for her steamy scenes with male actors. But the blonde bombshell's 1933 film “I’m No Angel” with Cary Grant set off a firestorm that changed how sex was portrayed in movies for decades.
The year after “I’m No Angel” was a box office smash, the production code, which included “do’s and don’ts” and “be careful’s” for actors and filmmakers, became mandatory in Hollywood as a way to censor films.
The code listed dozens of red flags, but here are just some of things it restricted:
1. Nudity, even in silhouette, was banned.
2. Showing or talking about divorce or adultery in an attractive light was banned.
3. Most curse words were banned.
4. Kisses couldn't be "lustful." They couldn't last more than three seconds.
5. Lovers weren't allowed to be horizontal. One partner had to keep one foot on the floor at all times.
6. Beds were not allowed to accommodate more than one person.
7. Even actors portraying married couples had to be shown sleeping in separate beds.
West’s Hollywood film career never recovered after the code was instituted, and within a year after "I'm No Angel" was released, the studios introduced a new leading lady: Shirley Temple.
Honest sexuality didn't return to the big screen until studios abandoned the code in 1968. They instead adopted the more permissive advisory rating system, which allowed nudity and casual sex to be portrayed on screen. A form of it is still in use today.
Six months after the new rating system was adopted, the X-rated 1969 film “Midnight Cowboy” was released in theaters.
Oh, how far we’ve come.