Wales Padlock Law


Wales Padlock Law
   As 19th-century proprieties declined in the aftermath of World War I with the dawn of the Jazz Age, American drama sparked controversy through its explorations of previously taboo subject matter. Sexuality—particularly as manifested in homosexuality and in interracial relationships—was a major area of concern for censorious forces. The Wales Padlock Law was enacted at the height of a period of change in American theatre as many post-World War I playwrights brought greater seriousness of purpose and realism to their plays than had been seen before. At the same time, writers, performers, and producers exploited a growing sense of freedom by breaking previously held unspoken boundaries of appropriateness.
   In 1927, after several works—Mae West's Sex, John Colton's The Shanghai Gesture, and Edward Sheldon and Charles MacAr-thur's* Lulu Belle—overtly explored (and sometimes exploited) sexuality and mixed race relations, authorities enacted the Wales Padlock Law as a means of discouraging plays "depicting or dealing with the subject of sex degeneracy or sex perversion" on New York stages, with the provision that the theatres where such plays were presented could be padlocked and thus prevented from generating income. The law, which the theatrical community vigorously protested, was rarely enforced, but its mere existence kept offending dialogue and subject matter mostly out of American drama until the 1950s. The Shuberts capitalized on front page stories about the law's enactment by staging a musical revue, Padlocks of1927, starring celebrated nightclub hostess Texas Guinan.
   See also censorship.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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