I came across this article in one of the few books I’ve got on Katharine Hepburn. It’s odd, the speech was written for 1938 and more than seventy years later it’s odd how it could still be applicable.
“I’ve never given a speech before and I don’t think that any one but Mrs. Reid has ever asked me to give a speech before. As Beth so aptly put it in Little Women, “I have an infirmity, I’m shy.” But I’ll try to do my best because there are several things that I am very anxious to say to you about that much-maligned industry of motion pictures.Thoughts?
I think that all of you will agree that moving pictures could be one of our greatest mediums of education today. Children don’t have to be forced to go to the “movies”, even as you and I. They like to go to them. We go to be entertained, to laugh, to weep, to think, and to be inspired. There are a great number of brilliant and talented producers, writers, and directors in Hollywood whose sole occupation is to prove us with an opportunity for just this, to say nothing of the bankers. They work day and night in a mad effort to give the public what it wants.
Now in the field of the classics they have a comparatively free hand, and they have done a fine job. For some reason or other we do not seem to be so touchy about the political, economic, and moral problems of our grandfather’s day with the possible exception of the Constitution. We can face those problems simply and courageously without fear of the consequences. In other words, we can face the past with a clear conscience and we can allow our children to do the same. But allow a “movie” to present situations in which we are all involved now; allow a “movie” to show people their plight and suggest a way out; allow a “movie” to present a political, moral, or economic topic of the day, honestly and simply, and they are told to do nothing, say nothing, and hear nothing.
They are sent scurrying back to the shelves to redraft that poor old story of boy-meets-girl. Then the producers are blamed for not having any originality. We are all creatures of habit. If we are fed on innocuous platitudes we cannot develop either mentally or morally. Are you going to allow this medium of public enlightenment to be stifled? The producers apparently do not dare fight this battle alone, and I don’t blame them, because their risk too great – they must have the public back of them.
Now, if you want intelligent censorship, that is, censorship which will give you “movies” which will not only entertain you but contain an idea or two, the women’s clubs of America can certainly help. You can make this matter one for discussion at your meetings. You can all write your state censorship boards, insisting on boards, insisting on a more liberal attitude, and you can write to the producers, encouraging them to produce better “movies”, better modern “movies”, and guaranteeing your support.
You who are responsible for the growth and development of the men and women of tomorrow must be very careful that in an effort to protect your children’s morality, you are not crippling their minds.
As George Bernard Shaw says on the subject, rather wickedly perhaps, “A nation’s morals are like its teeth, the more decayed they are, the more it hurts to touch them.” Prevent dentists and dramatists from giving pain and not only will our morals become as carious as our teeth, but toothaches and plagues which follow neglected morality will presently cause more pain than all the dentists and dramatists have at their worst, since the world began.”
(Source: Kanin, Garson. Tracy and Hepburn. New York: Viking Press Inc, 1971)