We quoted Oscar, for obvious reasons, yesterday. We want to get back to one of those quotes today -- this bit of repartee:
"C--You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as an immoral book?
C--May I take it that you think "The Priest and the Acolyte" was not immoral?
W--It was worse; it was badly written."
Now, we have been on mild kick about murder, and we've also been thinking of the peculiar immorality of public moralists. We were planning a post comparing William Bennett to Will Hays, the man who ran the Hays Office that censored films from the thirties to the sixties. However, Will Hays is a very hard man to pin down.
The Hays office has often been studied. It was actually started in the twenties, and was a mask for the studios, who were currently going through a cycle of scandals -- most notably, the railroading of Fatty Arbuckle for the rape of Virginia Rappe, a thing he was never convicted of doing. So the studios pulled Harding's postmaster general to Hollywood. According to an entertaining internet book by Paul Sann on the Lawless decade, the salary was more than decent for 1922 -- 100,000 dollars per year. And Hays knew that Harding's cabinet was ready for a fall. .
Will Hays, according to the interesting account in Allen's book on the "Lost Decade," knew what was going to come down because he'd got a piece of it. Hays was the last link in a long chain of graft, stretching back to a deal for leasing oil rights -- the Teapot Dome scandal. He accepted 150,000 dollars in liberty bonds that were bought with scammed money from a deal hatched between Standard Oil and a dummy Canadian company, one of whose beneficiaries was Harry Sinclair, president of the Mammoth Oil Company -- which was in secret collusion with the Secretary of Treasury, Fall. It isn't clear whether Hays profited personally from the deal -- he accepted the bonds on behalf of the Republican Party, of which he was chairman. He'd run Harding's campaign. He was also Postmaster General. A man of many hats. Perhaps he also knew that the orgies and intoxication of Hollywood were more than matched by the parties of the White House. We know more about the Harding administration since Mrs. Harding's diary was found a couple of years ago. There's an excerpt from her biography, published in the style section of the Washington Post, that is, well, a little unbelievable. We find this paragraph fascinating:
"The Strange Death of President Harding," written in 1930 by the notorious perjurer and former FBI agent Gaston Means, implied that Florence Harding poisoned her husband in retaliation for his adultery, but the book has long been dismissed as a fabrication. New evidence shows that while Means lied in details, he told general truths. He said that he was part of an FBI effort to seize and destroy a small, privately printed book, "The Illustrated Life of Warren Gamaliel Harding," that revealed Harding's affair with Carrie Phillips, the RNC blackmail payoff and Florence's out-of-wedlock child by a common-law first husband.
This turned out to be the only book suppressed by the government in peacetime. The entire action was illegal, and thus the boxes of books and updated manuscript inserts were taken not to any government property but to the McLean estate [Mclean, a friend of Harding's and a companion when they went, as they frequently did, to the whores, was the owner of the Washington Post], where they were all burned. Well, not all: An original with the author's notes sits with none other than Evalyn McLean's papers at the Library of Congress."
Will Hays seems to have been the most influential advocate of the idea that art must be moral since the Chamberlain's office started censoring theater in 18th century England -- driving Fielding to write novels, according to Shaw, and thus destroying English drama for the next one hundred years. But of the man himself, the footstep seems to be unclear.
We want to do one more post about this topic -- considering Ainsworth and the Courvoisier murder.