CBC Digital Archives

1967: N.S. censors afraid of Virginia Woolf

In the 1960s, police busted a gallery owner for an installation of nudes. More recently, when an artist filmed a cat being killed and eaten, the artist was locked up. Even if the country's definition of obscenity has transformed over time, for decades the debate has stayed the same: Is art censorship an act thwarting obscenity or an Orwellian control?

The film adaptation of Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, comes to Canadian cinemas in 1967. But the plot line shocks the Nova Scotia Board of Film Censors and they are afraid to show it. The film's portrayal of a foul-mouthed and sado-masochistic couple during an hysterical night of physical battles provoked a ban.

The province's three film censors -- a teacher, a store owner and a St. John Ambulance employee -- pulled the film, calling it "obscene and blasphemous." According to movie critic Marilyn MacDonald, the province's film industry hasn't seen this much controversy in about a decade.

• Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is tied with five others for the play that has won the most Tony Awards.

• Albee has also won three Pulitzer Prizes for drama.

• The play's name comes from a scene where the wife's drunken singing to her husband "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?" changes to "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?

• Even though it was thought the play's content was too obscene for film, the studio boss Jack Wagner insisted on retaining all the play's original elements.

• The film's stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were also married in real life.

Medium: Radio
Program: In Canada This Week
Broadcast Date: Feb. 4, 1967
Host: George Rich
Reporter: Marilyn MacDonald
Duration: 3:55
Photo: © 1978 Bob Willoughby

Last updated: January 23, 2012

Page consulted on March 28, 2012

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Topic - Front Row Centre: The Toronto Interna...

Glitz, glamour and a red carpet that gets longer every year. The Toronto International Film Fe...

Steve Nash's side projects

In 2009 NBA superstar Steve Nash discusses his off-court pursuits, including filmmaking and ch...

Writing the Rocket's story

Screenwriter Ken Scott talks about how he tackled the Richard story for a feature film.

Why aren't Canadian films successful?

Canadian film Foolproof gets the big-budget treatment - and still flops.

Mother's installation deemed child pornograph...

Police confiscate Halifax artist Lyla Rye's video with daughter.