When Howard Hughes decided to cast Jane Russell as the curvaceous supporting character Rio in his Western about Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid, he hit unexpected pay dirt via a salacious marketing campaign that exploited Russell’s sex appeal. The media storm started the moment the production began, with the Hayes Office, Hollywood’s arbiters of morality, demanded changes to what it described as “racy situations” depicted in the script. Hughes took the controversy and ran with it, using his engineering background to design a cantilevered underwire bra that emphasized Russell’s bosom. Next, he ran an ad campaign with a scantily dressed Russell appearing atop the question, “What are the two reasons for Jane Russell's rise to stardom?” Lore has it that Hughes, the consummate businessman, pushed the limits to drive the public into a furor.
Memphis audiences didn’t stand a chance. At least Lloyd Binford was in good company when he banned The Outlaw: The film was boycotted by Catholic groups as far-reaching as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Galveston, Texas. As Variety reported, “roving bands of Catholics” declared the film immoral. Police seized a print before it could be shown in San Francisco.
Here, Binford proclaimed that The Outlaw was “a bad influence on the boys of today and I’m not going to let it show in Memphis.” Yet thanks to Hughes’ publicity machine, fans attended screenings in droves. In Dallas, more than 100,000 of the 375,000 population of Dallas, Texas saw the movie in a three-day run. In San Antonio, entrepreneurs erected a temporary drive-in theater at the Pan American Speedway and sold thousands of tickets. As noted in Gregory D. Black’s The Catholic Crusade Against the Movies, “despite being limited to about two-thirds of the nation’s theaters, the film grossed $3 million by mid-1947, and by the end of the decade was ranked eleventh-best box-office performer” of the decade.
The Outlaw wasn’t Binford’s only battle with Jane Russell. According to Wayne Dowdy’s On This Day in Memphis History, on February 12, 1954, the Press-Scimitar reported that Binford “had two detectives stand guard outside the Malco Theatre during a preview of the film The French Line. The movie starred Russell and was considered risqué by Binford and others because of the revealing costumes the actress wore on screen.”
Director: Howard Hughes | USA | 1943 | 116 minutes
Author and archivist Vincent Astor will introduce The Outlaw and lead a short discussion after the screening.
$9/$5 Brooks members and students with valid id/Free with VIP Film Pass.
Tickets are available online until 2:30 pm the day of the screening or 2:30 pm on Friday for weekend matinees. Tickets are also available at Visitor Services, or by calling 901.544.6208 during regular business hours. Unsold tickets are also available in the rotunda immediately preceding a screening.
Banned in Memphis is an ongoing series of film screenings highlighting work banned from Memphis theaters by Lloyd Binford, the head of the Memphis Censor Board for 28 years. Regarded as “the toughest critic in America,” the former railway clerk turned insurance executive was notorious for his views on white supremacy, womanhood, and outsider views of the American South. Binford banned films with African American stars or unsegregated scenes, films that featured violence or teenage rebellion, and even film that he disliked because of the personal conduct of the actors rather than the content of the script.
The final screening in the series is:
Stromboli, introduced by author and columnist Richard Alley.
Wednesday, August 23 | 7 pm