Did married couples really sleep in separate beds back in the ’50s?

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Two single beds for married couples from the 1950s (13)

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For decades, it was considered inappropriate — even downright scandalous — for a TV show or movie to show a married couple sharing a bed (or even suggest that they might).

It didn’t matter if the man and woman shown were only reading a bit before going to sleep, because the very thought that two people might do something else in that space was enough to make censors clutch their pearls and get the vapors.

Here’s a look back at the debate, some casualties of the war against two-person beds on screen — and how magazine ads in the ’40s and ’50s often pictured separate beds in the main [master] bedroom.

Oscar-winners of the ’70s would perish by the code that ruled films years ago (1977)

Married couples sharing a bed? For years, movies & TV shows couldn’t show that on-screen

By Dorothy Collin – The Miami Herald (Miami, Florida) June 6, 1977

“Rocky” would have been knocked out. “The Sting” never would have stung. And the two “Godfathers” could only have been a gleam in a movie producer’s eyes back in the not-so-good old days — the days of the Code.

Two beds in the master bedroom from the 1940s (2)

The Code, or Hays Code, or Motion Picture Production Code, ruled the film industry for more than 30 years, coming in as a reaction to the excesses of the Jazz Age. and going out as a reaction to the turbulent wide-open ’60s.

It was against just about everything, adopting a snotty, righteous, holier-than-thou attitude toward the “mass audience.” And it would have outlawed every movie which has won an Oscar for best picture since 1971. Even “Rocky.”

Did married couples sleep in separate beds? A look at the “rules”

THE CODE is interesting reading, as I discovered when someone happened to show me one of the few complete reprints of it.

Let me share a few of its high points and see if you can figure out where your favorite movies of the last 10 years or so would have failed the Code.

Vintage 50s bedroom decor in yellow (4)

In the preamble, it said that movie producers “know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

In the section “Reasons Supporting Preamble,” it pointed out that movies have special moral obligations because their wide distribution makes it “difficult to produce films intended for only certain classes of people.”

THE EXHIBITORS’ theaters are built for the masses, for the cultivated and the rude, the mature and the immature, the self-respecting and the criminal. “Psychologically, the larger the audience, the lower the moral resistance to suggestion.”

Two beds in the master bedroom from the 1940s (1)

So much for confidence in the public’s judgment. Now on to the “General Principles” of the Code.

“No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil, or sin.”

Now, of the last six Oscar winners — “Rocky,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Godfather II,” “The Sting,” “The Godfather,” and “The French Connection” — not one would have gotten past the general principles.

You say “Rocky” is a heartwarming, uplifting film you can take the kids to? Ha. First of all, don’t forget Rocky is a juice collector. Not a very good one, certainly, but that is what he does whether we like it or not, and that means the audience is in sympathy with the side of crime.

And then Rocky lives with his once-shy girlfriend. And that certainly is not “a correct standard of life.”

Two single beds for married couples from the 1950s (6)

As for the rest of the best, maybe about five minutes of each would have passed the Code. Let’s look at “Particular Applications, Crimes Against the Law.”

Under murder, the Code warned that “the technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation. Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail. Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.” Whatever that means.

Under “Special Regulations on Crime in Motion Pictures,” which is sort of an enlargement of “Particular Applications, Crime Against the Law,” the Code said, “Details of crime must never be shown and care should be exercised at all times in discussing such details.

“Action suggestive of wholesale slaughter of human beings, either by criminals, in conflict with police, or as between warring factions of criminals, or in public disorder of any kind, will not be allowed.

“There must be no display, at any time of machine guns, submachine guns, or other weapons generally classified as illegal weapons in the hands of gangsters, or other criminals, and there are to be no off-stage sounds of the repercussions of these guns.”

1950s woman changing sheets on twin beds

After crime comes sex, of course. “The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld,” the Code said. “Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationships are the accepted or common thing.”

Scenes of passion “should not be introduced except where they are definitely essential to the plot. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, and suggestive postures and gestures are not to be shown.”

ALSO SEE: Sex is only for conception & other marital advice from 1861

Two beds in the master bedroom from the 1940s (5)


Why did married couples sleep in separate beds on TV? ‘Fourposter’ movie may upset ancient taboo in Hollywood (1952)

By Armand Archerd – The Charlotte Observer (North Carolina) February 24, 1952

A major battle star is shining on a Glitter-ville chest. Producer Stanley Kramer has won the “double bed on celluloid controversy” by completing his film, “Fourposter.”

His gallant stand in the midst of fallen predecessors who have succumbed to worldwide censorship which has dictated conflicting rules of behavior whenever boy and girl meet bed in a movie scene has won him the due amazement of his Hollywood cohorts.

He faced not only the frowns of movie censors, but also untold numbers of civic, county, state, national and international censorship groups, all of which have varying and conflicting notions of how far man, woman and bed may move in their natural tendencies.

In past trials, the easy solution was to make two beds sprout where only one is necessary. This, in the mohair and mahogany trade, is known as twin beds.

Two single beds for married couples from the 1950s (2)

However, there are times when this coward’s way out is utterly unfeasible. One of those times was this film. As the title states, the leading role is played by a bed.

The very unique part about this picture is that the cast consists of only one man and one woman (Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer) with not even a fleeting extra in the background. Thus, the issue came to the finest focal point in the history of movies.

The Kramer company didn’t want to offend any acute sensibilities of the viewers of this story of a marriage from wedding night to death, with the fourposter as the symbol of the foundation on which it is laid.

Mother with baby in a single bed

ALSO SEE: Remember these vintage gold-edged bedroom furniture sets from the ’60s?

However, they also did not want to accept any compromises which would make them change the title to “Two Twoposters.”

Their research revealed that America, by and large, condones the double bed. But, the reason many Hollywood producers play safe with twin beds, is because the British censors want it that way.

Lucille Ball’s twin beds in a movie

Not too long ago, the studio learned this lesson in “Her Husband’s Affairs.” The questionable scenes concerned Franchot Tone and Lucille Ball playing husband and wife, occupying twin beds which were placed side by side to look like one large bed.

Her Husband's Affairs - 1947 Lucille Ball movie

Two single beds for married couples from the 1950s (8)

British censors were horrified. They ruled the beds had to be at least 12 inches apart, and neither spouse could indulge in any form of joint occupancy of the other’s territory. They were allowed to kiss only if their bodies remained in their respective beds.

In order to make all things comply with all edicts, the studio had to reshoot many scenes at a cost of $30,000.

ALSO SEE: Vintage ’50s master bedroom decor: See 50+ examples of retro home style

No shared bed in 1947 movie Her Husband's Affairs with Lucille Ball

A similar situation came up when George Sanders and Ann Dvorak were portraying an 1870 Parisian husband and wife in “The Private Affairs of Bel Ami.”

Although nothing that bordered on the torrid was aimed at in their bedroom scene — a matter of their lying there, having a conversation about something else altogether — even this was considered too risque.

The producers argued that twin beds were unknown in 1870, and especially in Paris. Besides, they added, they set a bad example for future generations inasmuch as an American advisory group on family relations had found a high correlation between twin beds and divorce.

All arguments were in vain and rather than tamper with historical accuracy, a rarity in Hollywood, of course, the producers eliminated the scene from the final version of the film.

These experiences have multiplied over the years in various forms, and the only producers who have remained relatively free of this handicap are those who stick strictly to horse operas.

Two beds in the master bedroom from the 1940s (6)

Two single beds for married couples from the 1950s (3)

No one has yet raised the issue of a cowboy taking his horse to bed with him. Rather than change this film to “Horseposter,” and substitute a stallion or filly for either of the two players, this courageous filmmaker, aided by clever, clean-cut dialogue, stuck by his mainsprings.

If, when the film is released, some group should take exception to this film exception, and should they create a verbal flurry, the film’s producers will not be flustered.

Strangely, most films, books and plays which have raised eyebrows have also raised receipts. Could this all be a plot?

Two single beds for married couples from the 1950s (9)

ALSO SEE: 129 ways to get a husband: Truly terrible tips from the 1950s


Should married couples share a bed? A question from 1958

The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey) August 8, 1958

Chicago — A leading question placed before the nation’s doctors today is: Should married couples sleep in the same bed or in separate beds?

Dr.T.R. Pratt, retired Pismo Beach, Calif., physician, made the query in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Two beds in the master bedroom from the 1940s (3)

A Journal editor submitted the question to two unidentified medical specialists serving as consultants and printed the query and their replies as the lead item in the publication’s “Questions and Answers” section.

The first consultant started out by saying that the active health of an individual was dependent on how thoroughly his or her body cells received physiological rest in slumber.

“But because humans are peculiarly psychological beings as well, interplay of personality injects an element of choice or preference,” he added.

This preference, he went on, was something that could not be defined, categorized or legislated.

“The answer to the query, then,” he concluded, “lies in a mutual decision of the marriage partners as to whether single beds or a double bed provide a healthful balance of restful sleep and wakeful togetherness.”

MORE: 50+ sexist vintage ads so bad, you almost won’t believe they were real

Two single beds for married couples from the 1950s (10)

The second consultant suggested that in view of the nation’s population trend, the question should be rephrased to ask: “Should husbands and wives stop sleeping together?” He did not go on record one way or another.

An AP reporter referred the query to Dr. Nathan Kleitman, professor of physiology at the University of Chicago.

Kleitman, who has spent more than 30 years studying volunteer sleepers and the phenomena of sleep, said without hesitation:

“Physiologically, it is better for each to sleep alone in a double bed. Particularly in summer, when one doesn’t huddle in one spot to stay warm.”

But he added this was complicated by the psychological side. Some people feel more secure sleeping with someone.

“To some, the security outweighs the discomfort,” he said. “The decision always must be made on that basis.”

Two beds in the master bedroom from the 1940s (4)

ALSO SEE: Vintage ’50s master bedroom decor: See 50+ examples of retro home style

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. Adults never did in the 1950’s (I am 67.) Not my parents, nor my grands. That was nonsense for movies and tv.

  2. Even the Bible speaks about the marriage “BED” (singular not plural) signifying clean acts of sexual relations between married persons. Of course the sexual acts of a couple shouldn’t be shown, but a movie shot of a married couple just sharing one bed should never have been thought of as sinful or “scandalous”.

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