Cast & Crew
A. E. Christie
William Post Jr.
Mrs. Burgess explains menstruation to her teen-aged daughter by showing her diagrams in a medical book. Her daughter-in-law Mary then tells Mrs. Burgess that she wishes that she, too, knew more about her body. She also reveals that she may be expecting a baby and is apprehensive about her safety and the changes that a new baby will bring to her life. That night, Mary tells her husband John that she is going to see the family doctor to confirm her pregnancy. The next day, Dr. Wilson gives Mary a thorough examination and explains the process of childbirth. Throughout the next seven months, Dr. Wilson and his nurse, Julia Norton, help Mary and other patients with both the physiological and psychological effects of pregnancy and birth. Dr. Wilson emphasizes the need of proper medical care and rest, but encourages Mary to go on with most of her regular routine, including light exerise. Because their town has no hospital, Mary gives birth at home with the doctor and his nurse in attendance. The baby is a healthy girl, and after resting in bed for ten days, Mary is able to get up and take care of her family.
A. E. Christie
William Post Jr.
A written prologue opens the film with the following dedication: "To the women of America. If through this presentation motherhood will be made a happier experience and if more healthy children are brought into the world-then it will have fulfilled its purpose. We are deeply grateful to the American Committee on Maternal Welfare for their vision in making this drama of life possible." The film did not have a national release and was banned from exhibition in many states. According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the picture was not cerificated by the PCA and was rejected for exhibition in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, among other states. A letter in the file also notes that the Roman Catholic Legency of Decency of New York deemed the picture "unsuited for entertainment and inappropriate for general theatrical exhibition." The Legion of Decency also applauded the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Education, Frank Graves, who upheld the film's rejection by the Motion Picture Division of the Education Department. The picture was again rejected for exhibition in New York in 1941, but was finally approved in March 1942.
Despite the ban, the picture was shown at various theaters throughout the U.S., frequently over the strenuous objections of local censor boards and citizens groups. Contemporary news items reveal that the film was financed by Mead, Johnson & Co., makers of Mellen baby foods, who did not intend to profit from the film, and initially planned to distribute it only to physicians. According to articles in Motion Picture Daily, A. E. Christie was asked to produce the picture in December 1936 on a budget of about $50,000. Life ran a feature on the film in its April 11, 1938 issue. Within the feature, two pages of photographs of the scene from the film in which an actual birth takes place, were included. When the Life issue was published, a number of cities, including New York, Albany and Chicago, banned its sale and had the unsold issues removed from newsstand shelves. In mid-April 1938, Life editor Roy E. Larsen was arrested by Samuel J. Foley, District Attorney of the Bronx, for violation of Section 1141 of the Penal Code, which regulates the distribution of "obscene" material. The arrest was made by pre-arrangement between Larsen and Foley under the proviso that Larsen would be put on trial as soon as possible. In late Apr, Larsen was acquitted of obscenity charges by a unanimous decision of Justices Nathan Perlman, Bernard Kozicke and James E. MacDonald of the Bronx Court of Special Sessions. Two weeks later, The New Yorker ran a parody of the Life article entitled "The Birth of an Adult," written by E. B. White, with cartoons by Rea Irvin.
Other news items note that while various cities were fighting the exhibition of the picture, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt announced that the film would be shown at the White House, but suddenly dropped the plans a few hours later. When news about the cancelled screening appeared in the press, Mrs. Roosevelt defended the film and said that it should be shown. The reason she gave for the White House cancellation was that the president could never sit through a film as long as The Birth of a Baby. According to a Hollywood Reporter article on April 12, 1938, the film "caused a number of producers to announce pictures of a similar nature...[it was] barred in several states, but has done good business where its showing has been permitted." An article in Los Angeles Times noted that when the film was re-issued in July 1947 it was very successful and was shown six times a day at selected theaters. The article noted, however, that the subject matter caused problems with the audience: "forty a day keel over sometimes...four at one performance and six at another."