When Marilyn Was Banned in Kansas

In an article for SlashFilm, Danielle Moore looks back at Some Like It Hot‘s battle with the censors.

“The movie features no shortage of gender-bending and homoerotic comedy. But not all of America was thrilled with the drag-fueled, titillating laughs of Billy Wilder’s black-and-white classic when it premiered in 1959. Some Like It Hot, indeed, but some didn’t like it at all. As The Take reported, the state of Kansas banned the film altogether upon its release, claiming the film’s content was ‘too disturbing for Kansans.’ But the real reason behind the ban might surprise you.

In the 1950s, Hollywood’s restrictive ‘Hays Code’ was still in effect. The code imposed rules for the onscreen depiction of, among other things, violence and sexuality. In 1959, United Artists released Some Like It Hot to rave reviews. Complete with cross-dressing, gangsters, and innuendo (Monroe’s quip about ‘the fuzzy end of the lollipop’ among the most memorable), the movie flew in direct defiance of the code’s conservative attitude towards sex and gender.

But while the Hays Code was becoming increasingly obsolete, deviating from its guidelines did not come without consequences from outside groups that valued them. On March 5, 1959, the Reverend Thomas F. Little wrote to Production Code Administration Director Geoffrey Shurlock, quoting the Catholic League of Decency’s reaction to the recently released Some Like It Hot.

‘This film, though it purports to be a comedy, contains screen material elements that are judged to be seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency,’ he wrote. ‘Furthermore, its treatment dwells almost without relief on gross suggestiveness in costuming, dialogue and situations.’ Shurlock was more liberal than many of his PCA predecessors, though, and on March 18th, he shot back, ‘Not a single reviewer has been in the slightest way critical of this film, or questioned either its morality or its taste. So far there is simply no adverse reaction at all; nothing but praise for it as a hilariously funny movie.’

But it ultimately wasn’t the Catholic League’s condemnation –- nor any other organization’s -– that caused Kansas to ban the film. Nor was it the many moments in which same sex attraction, via the main characters’ cross-dressing, was not just hinted at, but (particularly in the case of Sugar and Joe-as-Josephine’s poignant onstage kiss near the end of the film) seemingly endorsed. Rather, it was a depiction of heterosexual conquest, one of the film’s (and arguably Monroe’s) most iconic love scenes, that lead Kansas to bar it from theaters.

When Sugar boards the yacht that Joe/Josephine, now masquerading as oil tycoon ‘Junior,’ is pretending to own, she comes onto him under the auspices of kissing lessons. As Mental Floss notes, it was this scene, and United Artists’ refusal to edit it from the film, that resulted in the statewide ban.”