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Archives On The Air 15: Brassy Barbara Stanwyck

American Heritage Center

In 1934, the Hays Code was being strictly enforced in Hollywood to clean up alleged indecency in movies.

What spurred the prudish policing? Movies like Baby Face.

This 1933 film had Barbara Stanwyck as young Lily Powers whose father hires out her favors to the local men. She fights off most of them, but not all.

Her father dies and Lily heads to New York City. She finds work at a bank and climbs a ladder of company executives. With each advance, she becomes colder, more ruthless, and wealthier.

The film’s original ending had Lily leaving her latest man and fleeing to Europe as a wealthy woman with no regrets. But that did not please censors.

After the film was banned in several cities, a new conclusion was quickly filmed. Instead, Lily regrets her immoral deeds and sells everything to rescue the young banker she loves from financial ruin.

Stanwyck’s character in Baby Face is typical of female leads before the Hays Code: strong, resourceful, and determined to do what it takes to get ahead.

To learn more about Barbara Stanwyck, take a look at her fascinating archive at UW’s American Heritage Center.