Wednesday is Bowdler's Day, marking the 258th birthday of Thomas Bowdler, who published the works of William Shakespeare with the dirty parts taken out. And not only the dirty parts — Bowdler changed Ophelia's drowning in "Hamlet" from a suicide to an accident. Talk about watering down the story. Here are 10 facts some people might not want you to know.
1 Some call it the "Great Firewall of China" — the Beijing government's attempts to quash dissent on the Internet. Last month on the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Shanghai stock market index dropped 64.89 — reminiscent of the massacre's date: 6/4/89. Chinese censors already had banned "6/4" and even "5/35," which is dissidents' attempt to evade the censors by referring to the massacre date as the 35th of May. After the suspicious stock drop, Chinese authorities added "Shanghai stock exchange" to their list of banned phrases.
2 Tweety Bird, the animated Looney Tunes character, was originally pink. But censors complained that Tweety looked naked, so animators gave the bird yellow feathers.
3 The original Roman censor not only counted heads, but also upheld the public morality. The censor assessed property and decided what standing his fellow citizens would have in the state. In addition, a man had to conduct himself as befitted a Roman. If he didn't — as decided by the censor — the man's rights as a citizen could be curtailed. The censor quickly became a very powerful and feared figure.
4 The city of Chicago has censored thousands of movies. Beginning in 1907, a government censor, usually a police officer but in many years a member of a civilian board, could order new wording for subtitles (in the silent era) or the removal of specific scenes before a film could be shown to the public. In 1913, "The Miracle" was banned because it depicted "murder, drunkenness and immorality, and is insulting to religion." In 1934, it was revealed that Mayor Edward Kelly ordered that scenes showing mob violence be stricken from movies — and newsreels — because it is "not educational" and has a "bad effect on immature minds." Chicago didn't kill the Police Department's Film Review Section until 1984.
5 For financial reasons, artists sometimes censor themselves. Such was the case with Richard Wright and "Native Son" in 1940. The influential Book of the Month Club told Wright it would select the Chicago novelist's work as its first by an African-American — if he would downplay the lust of the white female victim and tone down other sexual aspects of the story. Wright agreed, and bought a house with his earnings.
6 The Marx Brothers' 1931 film "Monkey Business" was banned in Ireland, whose censors feared the film would provoke the Irish to anarchy. For reasons that are unclear, Latvian censors took their scissors to the Marx Brothers' 1935 movie "A Night at the Opera," removing a scene where Harpo makes a sandwich out of Groucho's cigar.
7 Anthony Comstock, founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, was the namesake for the 1873 Comstock Act, which empowered U.S. postal authorities to ban obscene materials — including information on birth control. Comstock once took credit for the conviction of 3,600 people and the destruction of 160 tons of obscene material.
8 A prominent modern example of attempted censorship through violence was the radical Muslim campaign to threaten Danish journalists who published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But intolerance of Muslims inspired one of history's most famous quotes about censorship: "Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings." That's from German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine's 1821 play "Almansor," in reference to the Spanish Inquisition's burning of the Quran. (Heine's books, of course, were burned by the Nazis.)
9 One of the most extensive and long-lasting efforts to censor books was undertaken by the Catholic Church, which from the mid-16th century until 1966 forbade books it deemed heretical or immoral. As you would expect, some people turned to the index, as it was called, to see what to read.
10 Did you know that (CENSORED) (CENSORED) (CENSORED) (CENSORED) flying pigs (CENSORED) (CENSORED) (CENSORED) kumquats (CENSORED) (CENSORED)?
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the newspaper's weekend editor.
SOURCES: "Censoring Hollywood" by Aubrey Malone; "Tawdry Knickers and Other Unfortunate Ways to Be Remembered" by Alex Novak; "Richard Wright: The Life and Times" by Hazel Rowley; "Banned in Boston" by Neil Miller; "Forbidden Animation" by Karl F. Cohen; "The Yale Book of Quotations" edited by Fred R. Shapiro; "A Concise Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities" edited by Sir William Smith, Francis Warre Cornish; "A Concise Survey of Western Civilization" by Brian A. Pavlac; "Banned Books: Censorship in Eighteenth-Century England" by Anastasia Castillo; "Curiosities of Literature" by Isaac Disraeli; foreignpolicy.com; Los Angeles Times.