A lesson in Censorship

Lenny Bruce never aspired to being a champion of first amendment rights. He just wanted to tell his jokes and buy his dope and screw beautiful women. But fate conspired to have him arrested for telling jokes that years later Dustin Hoffman almost won an academy award for telling in a movie about Lenny Bruce’s life.

Growing up I never thought I would care about first amendment rights either. But my film "Lickity Split" drove the silliness of censorship home to me. Not after I was busted for pornography, but way before that when we were just getting ready to release the completed film. Hollywood spends hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting even a low budget film. But when the film itself cost less than $25,000 (which is what Lickity Split cost) then the advertising budget winds up about a dollar and a half. I was lucky. I met a very talented but starving young artist who drew a cute sexy cartoon for me for a couple of hundred dollars. (See picture 1). The ad was everything you could ask for to advertise a smut film. It was sexy but aside from one pair of bare breasts (with no nipple mind you) totally non-explicit. The film was booked into the Lincoln Art Theater on 57th street in NY for its world premier. I couldn’t have asked for a better opening. The Lincoln Art was the number one porn palace in NY. So we made up the ads and sent them off to the New York papers, and then the fun began. One would think that New York City would be the most sophisticated city in the world. Well, one would be wrong. The newspapers bounced the ad with a list of over a dozen objections. The objections ranged from the aforementioned bare breasts, to the handle on the soldier’s duffel bag. As well as I can remember them they were

  1. The underpants and bras strewn on the road behind the bus.
  2. The legs hanging out of the bus windows.
  3. The lady half way back with her breasts hanging out the window.
  4. The destination sign on top of the bus (Ft Dix).
  5. The bare breasted lady in the front of the bus
  6. The placement of the hitchhiking soldier’s hand
  7. The handle of the soldier’s duffel bag
  8. The words "Going Down" in "Going Down the Road"
  9. And they wanted to know if the letters MSW stood for anything sexual.

(I told them yes, they were the initials to my real name Malcolm S. Worob and I stood for as much sex as I could get, but they evidently didn’t believe me and thought it must stand for something else, although I never figured out what it could be, and made us cut out the MSW Presents as well.)

The final ad, (see picture 2) as it appeared in the New York papers looked as if the film being advertised were about a church group going on a picnic but at least they couldn’t make us take out the Rated X so some people must have gotten the idea. Although why anyone came to see the film based on the ad is beyond me.

But for the first time in my life I began to understand the senselessness of censorship. The Film "Lickity Split" itself was pornographic so anything even resembling sex related to the film must therefore also be pornographic. Our silly little PG ad was connected to a "dirty" film so therefore it must be obscene. I finally understood the line from the great H.L.Mencken:

"The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think." It was a lesson that was to be driven home to me many costly times in my X-rated career.

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