Monday, July 17, 2006

What's eating Marcellus Foster?

Marcellus Elliot Foster, or Mefo, was the founder of the Houston Chronicle. During the 1910s-1920s, he wrote a column for the newspaper.

In 1920, "The Town Tattler" was published. It's a whimsical, observational look at what was going on in Houston during that time. The Handbook of Texas says it is a book of speeches, but I think it was more of a collection of his columns.

Anyway, on this particular day, he apparently had a beef with the Houston censor board.

The Censor

I want to be a censor, and with the censors stand.

I want to burn incense on the altar of the censor.

I want to pay beautiful tributes to the work of the censor -- the Houston moving picture censor.

Yes I do -- not.

Say, honest-to-goodness, folks, every time I think of "Damaged Goods" being refused a permit to show in Houston I feel so outraged that I am just ready to boil over. If I were responsible for the fact that that such a play couldn't be shown in Houston I would be afraid to walk in the dark.

If I had deprived the youth of this city of that badly-needed lesson -- well, what's the use of talking about it, for I might get mad and say just what I think.

Do you know what "Damaged Goods" is? It's a play written for a purpose under the auspices of a great medical association. It tells of the dangers that lie in the paths of our boys and girls daily.

It isn't a nice story. It is not a story that will cause one to desire evil or hunt evil. It doesn't show beautiful, undraped maidens prancing up and down the stage like you see uncensored and uncovered nearly any night in Houston. It isn't lasciviousness and a display of feminine charms, causing evil thought and evil desire, all of which pass by the censor board daily -- it's just a cold, bare recitation of vice in all of its hideousness -- it's Dante's hell -- it's a Dickens' portrayal of crime and disease, and the evils to be avoided.

It's a play that every father should take his son to see. If I were mayor of Houston I would buy the picture for a week's exhibition at the City Auditorium and let the public see it free of cost. It would lessen the work of the medical fraternity, it would make marriage more safe and sacred. It would help babies unborn. It might save your son or your daughter from a life of hell.

And, say, three times it has tried to appear in Houston and been turned down. I wouldn't have on my shoulders, on my conscience, the responsibility of refusing a permit to that play for all the wealth in the world.

It had to go outside the city limits to be shown. For Houston people that dared to go.

A thousand years or so ago men had to preach Christianity in cellars and dark corners and only a short time ago they were burning women in Salem.

Wonder if it would be right to burn a censor?

I rage with you.

("Damaged Goods" was a play and later a silent film about the physical and emotional effcts of veneral diseases, specifically syphilis.)



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