HOLLYWOOD -- The nation's puritanical legacy has been eroded over the years, thanks in large part to literature, movies and now television.
TV has come so far, in fact, that CBS has programmed an hour-long special tracing the diminishing taboos on the tube. 'America Censored' will be hosted May 28 by singer John Denver, who was once censored himself.
Hollywood watchdogs have kept a sharp eye on film going back to Will Hays, a former U.S. postmaster general who was appointed movie czar in 1922. He gave us the production code to censor movies.
Unseemly language, nudity, sex, religion, racism, drugs and social taboos were snipped from scripts and finished films with great zeal. Eddie Murphy would have been jailed on sight.
A screen kiss was limited to five seconds. Couples, married or not, could never be seen in a double bed unless both male and female had one foot touching the floor. Bare breasts were strictly forbidden. Nary a damn nor hell was allowed.
Homosexuality was verboten, not to mention rape or scenes depicting coitus.
But over the years Hays and his censors gradually gave ground before advancing waves of progress. A major breakthrough was Clark Gables' 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn' in 'Gone With the Wind.'
In 1943 Howard Hughes caused a major sensation with Jane Russell's low decolletage and hot haystack love-making with Jack Beutel in 'The Outlaw.'
Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster scandalized production code enforcers in 1953 with their torrid beach love scene in 'From Here To Eternity.' Censors had the temerity to ask Lancaster to wear a bathrobe over his swim suit in the scene.
Director Otto Preminger made history in 1953 using the word 'virgin' written on a bathroom mirror in 'The Moon is Blue.'
Today, literally anything goes in movies, but TV networks continue to wield the censor's blue pencil with such offices as broadcast standards and program practices.
Andrew Solt, who produced 'America Censored,' says TV is gradually but grudgingly liberalizing its code.
'When 'I Love Lucy' was first on the air Lucille Ball became pregnant,' Solt said, grinning. 'She couldn't use the word 'pregnant,' but it was okay to say,'I'm going to have a baby.' CBS asked her to take a hiatus until after the baby was born. Eventually they worked her pregnancy into the show.
'Until recently, all three networks were tough on language. Now you can hear damn, hell and s.o.b. But four-letter words are strictly forbidden.
'Sex is still tightly controlled. On the final episode of 'The New Dick Van Dyke' series a child actress opens her parent's bedroom door and turns away. Later she asks, 'Mommy, Daddy, are we going to have another baby?' It was cut before it reached the air.
'Groucho Marx shot a 60-minute show so 30 minutes of it could be used on the air. The other half was discarded as being too risque with his double entendres. By today's standards it's pretty tame stuff. They could use it all.
'When Elvis Presley appeared on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' they shot him from the waist up. Censors didn't want anyone to see his gyrating pelvis.
'Our special includes clips and out-takes from a variety of shows demonstrating what was allowed and what was cut. John Denver had his song, 'Mountain High,' tossed out because censors thought it dealt with drugs.'
Solt has dug up such censored footage as Shirley Temple's hula dance in 'Curly Top.' Six-year-old Shirley was seen topless with a lei covering her tiny chest. 'No, no,' said the Hays office.
There's also a scene from 'The Dentist' with W.C. Fields straddling a woman patient as he extracts a tooth. The woman is seen with one foot in each of the comedian's jacket pockets.
'One of the biggest controversies in TV was the navel wars,' said Sold. 'They censored Cher's navel when it was exposed for a musical number. They made a flesh-colored plug for Barbara Eden's navel for her slave girl outfit in 'I Dream of Jeanie.' She was the only navel-less performer in TV.
'Now, of course, navels can be seen and the rules are fairly liberal as long as subject matter is handled sensitively and fairly. They're even doing shows on homosexuality, suicide and incest.
'But all three networks are sensitive to sex, drugs and bad taste. I can't foresee a time when they will be as wide open as motion pictures.'