Rosalyn Shecter

Head of Maryland's censorship board during the 1960s fought to keep adult movie content away from children

November 28, 2009|By Jacques Kelly

Rosalyn Shecter, who headed Maryland's film censorship board during the contentious 1960s, died of heart disease Tuesday at the North Oaks retirement community. She was 95.

Born Rosalyn Margareten in New York City, she was granddaughter of the woman who founded the Horowitz-Margareten matzo and kosher foods business. She attended Hunter College and later studied sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

She met her future husband, Baltimore advertising executive Lois E. Shecter, in Miami Beach. They married in 1939.

Her husband bought several Baltimore theaters during this period, including the Charles, then called The Times because it showed newsreels on a continuous basis. She joined him in the operation of his other theaters - the Rex in Govans, the Roxy in East Baltimore and one he named for her, the Rosalyn, on Howard Street. It was torn down for an expansion of Maryland General Hospital many years ago.

Her husband handled advertising for Maryland Gov. J. Millard Tawes in his numerous political campaigns. Family members said that her husband sought the governor's help in securing her a place on the state's film censorship board.

Maryland required that movies had to be screened and licensed by the board of censors before they could be shown at public theaters. The board could reject films it deemed were "obscene, morally corrupt, or likely to incite crime." In 1961, Governor Tawes named her vice chairwoman of the board. She served two terms, being reappointed by Gov. Marvin Mandel in 1969. She then became Maryland's chief censor and often had to defend her views as films became more sexually explicit during the period.

"My father said that she, as a theater owner, would bring something to the table," said her son, Alan Shecter of Pikesville. "It turned out that her tenants, the operators of the theaters she owned, were not happy with her censorship activities. They all remained friendly, nevertheless."

Mrs. Shecter served alongside outspoken obscenity critic Mary Avara and another member, Margery Shriver. The three sat in a screening room in the basement of the State Office Building and previewed films. Those they took issue with could be indefinitely delayed or have scenes removed. Most exhibitors allowed the cuts to be made rather than risk a loss of revenue.

At one point, the three of them appeared on "The Tonight Show" as the guests of Johnny Carson to discuss the controversial 1967 film, "I am Curious (Yellow)."

"She served at a time when my uncle, Jack L. Levin, was president of the state's American Civil Liberties [Union] chapter, perhaps the world's most vigorous anti-censorship organization," said her son. "Their debates were frequent and colorful. Ultimately, she softened her views on the censorship of what she believed was pornography by limiting her efforts to keep it away from children."

Family members said that after one of her board's decisions was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, she played a minor role in negotiating what became the national movie rating system. In talks she gave to local organizations, Mrs. Shecter advocated a type of rating system that would keep children out of theaters showing films with adult-content material.

"I really don't belive in adult censorship," she told The Evening Sun in 1969. "I don't even like the word. But when it comes to my grandchildren and your children, that's different."

She enjoyed golf and collected art. "She once won a ... golf championship at Woodholme Country Club, thanks in great measure to having the maximum possible handicap and a bit of good luck," said her son.

Services were held Friday.

In addition to her son, survivors include another son, Mark Shecter of Washington, D.C.; a daughter, Alice Levin of Pikesville; a sister, Shirley Gross of Boca Raton, Fla.; five grandchildren; and10 great-grandchildren. Her husband of 53 years died in 1992.

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