Mae West’s Garden

Nov 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Sunday, Dec. 12, 1937, represents a landmark for NBC-it’s the date Mae West almost got the radio network shut down.
Ms. West, a big film star, was the guest on NBC’s popular “The Chase and Sanborn Hour” that night. She was featured in an eight-minute sendup of the Adam and Eve Garden of Eden story. The censors had cleared the piece, but they hadn’t anticipated that Ms. West would deliver her lines, well, as Mae West. As Ms. West later wrote, “I only gave the lines my characteristic delivery. … Sunday on the radio doesn’t alter one’s personality.”
The sketch, tame by today’s standards, created such a firestorm that the incident was discussed by the Federal Communications Commission and started a debate about radio obscenity in Congress, according to the book “Radio Comedy” by Arthur Frank Wertheim. There were calls to take punitive action against NBC for permitting, in the words of one congressman, “this foul and sensuous radio program” to reach the ears of innocent Americans.
“Although the [FCC] did not take punitive action [against NBC, it] warned the network that it would not renew licenses when stations failed to conduct their programming in the public interest,” according to Mr. Wertheim’s book. NBC apologized on the following week’s “The Chase and Sanborn Hour,” and Chase and Sanborn’s ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, which owned the show, also apologized.
Mae West wasn’t so lucky. NBC banned both her and any mention of her name from any future radio shows.
To hear what was considered the most offensive part of the Garden of Eden sketch, go to emonline.com.