Anyone who has ever watched a heated playoff game or an over-served Hollywood awards show on TV can admit that there is definitely an appropriate time and place for censorship to occur. It is useful for the decency police to be on patrol every once and awhile for things that could corrupt innocent eyes and ears.

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Warner Bros. (via IMDb)

But then there are certain times in history where the censors not only went too far, but seemed to go completely off the rails. The following six items fall in that category of “what the heck were the censors thinking?”

Half of Elvis Presley on “The Ed Sullivan Show”

In 1956, Elvis Presley had taken the teeny-boppers of post-war America by storm. The combination of his boyish Southern charm, pulsating take on rhythm & blues tunes, and a rigorous schedule of television appearances and tour dates all made 1956 a breakout year for the man they would one day call “The King of Rock and Roll.” One of the high points of that year was a spirited performance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Oct. 28 of that year that left his young female fans screaming for more.

But not everyone in America liked what they saw from this young hip-swinging man. Various conservative groups voiced their displeasure with what they interpreted as some overly suggestive dance moves. This led censors at CBS to make a decision that for Presley’s third and final Ed Sullivan Show appearance, he would only be filmed from the waist up. So on Jan. 6, 1957, Presley gave the crowd 100 percent of his effort, but audiences at home were only shown 50 percent or less of Presley himself, as cameramen kept their focus on close-up shots of the singer all night—even during his performance of a gospel song called “Peace in the Valley.”

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The performance was still loved by all; Presley even made it a point that night to voice support for Hungarian Freedom Fighters in their uprising against the Soviet Union. At the end of the show, Sullivan came out and gave a touching tribute to Presley, who he called a “real decent, fine boy.”

Normal Crime-Fighting Action in 1990s Spider-Man Cartoons

Saturday morning cartoons are one of the great American traditions, especially for those who grew up in the 1990s. And one can appreciate the desire of censors to keep this sacred time of superheroes and cereal a nice experience for kids of all ages. But when it came to the Spider-Man animated series that ran on Fox Kids from 1994-1998, censors made some truly head-scratching decisions about what they deemed too graphic to show.

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comicbookjesus.com

According to reports from the show’s creators, the Fox censors had outlawed some seemingly basic elements of crime-fighting, such as punching, bullets, and the breaking of glass. Viewers may not remember, but a repeat viewing will show that Spider-Man always grappled or web-slung his way out of tricky situations and that bad guys and good guys used some kind of lasers to shoot at one another.

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IMDb

Perhaps most perplexing was a note from FOX that Spider-Man should not be seen hurting pigeons as he hops from rooftop to rooftop because apparently, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man had it in for those grey feathered statue-defacers.

In the 1930s, a Cartoon Cow’s Udders Were Censored

There are no shortage of eyebrow-raising cartoons from the 1930s and ‘40s. While most cartoons were harmless, there were plenty of offensive cartoons that have been rightly committed to the vaults of history. But one bit of censorship from this early period seems laughably absurd—the censoring of a cartoon cow’s udders.

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According to a piece in Look Magazine, in 1930, a cartoon named Flossie Cow was free to roam her farm as any cow would: unencumbered by clothes with her udders out for all to see. But in 1932, Flossie Cow showed up with a polka-dot skirt to keep her back legs and udders covered.

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cartoonbrew.com

Apparently that was still a bit too suggestive so Flossie showed up in 1939 wearing a full-length dress and standing up straight— now a fully anthropomorphized lady cow. All this still begs the question: who exactly were the censors shielding Flossie’s true form from? Farmers? Younger…cows? The world may never know.

On “I Love Lucy,” Lucy Got Pregnant but No One Said the Word “Pregnant”

When comedy legend Lucille Ball filmed the pilot of I Love Lucy, she was five months pregnant, a fact that was hidden by loose-fitting clothes and careful camera placement. But when Ball became pregnant again as the show was in the midst of its second season it was decided that the pregnancy would be part of the plot of the show.

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There was a catch, though: the word “pregnant” was not to be spoken in the episode when Lucy told Ricky or any subsequent episodes. The word itself—with all its scientific and biological connotations—was deemed too graphic for an audience of Americans in the 1950s. Instead, the Ricardos were “having a baby” and “expecting.”

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Archive Photos / Getty Images (via hellogiggles.com)

All that executive worrying seemed to be for naught, though, as the birth of “Little Ricky” was one of the most popular episodes in the early history of television, with thousands of letters being sent in support of the pregnancy plot line.

A Line in the Movie “Frankenstein” About Playing God was Censored for Being Blasphemous

The movie Frankenstein is known for many iconic scenes and its themes about fear and monstrosity. But arguably, the clearest theme is a focus on the danger of discovery and unchecked science: a warning against playing God and trying to usurp the Creator.

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With such a pro-Almighty message, it, then, is surprising that one of Dr. Frankenstein’s most damning utterances and clearest vocalizations of this theme was deemed too blasphemous for moviegoers to hear. His line “Now I know what it’s like to be God!” was ordered to be removed from the film prior to distribution.

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dialbforblog.com

It’s certainly not surprising that censors had a long list of issues with Frankenstein—you know, the movie about the monster made with old body parts that comes to life and wreaks havoc on all around him—but the fact that censors cut a line that was so central to the mad science-skepticism theme of the film is a bit remarkable.

The Very Silly Marx Brothers’ Movie “Monkey Business” was Banned in Ireland Because Authorities Thought It Might Inspire Anarchy

The Marx Brothers were a brilliant bumbling symphony of absurdity that entertained America from vaudeville stages and on the silver screen for decades. They were best known for their films in the 1930s that brought down the house with joke-filled banter and poetic bouts of physical comedy.

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IMDb

The 1931 film Monkey Business is a pitch-perfect example of their brand of humor. The plot (a term to be used loosely in most of their films) is that the brothers stow away on an ocean liner and engage in all matter of hijinks once the ship is out to sea. One bit of dialogue from the film is a window into the quick and silly wit of Groucho Marx:

Groucho: (to Captain) I wanna register a complaint.

Captain: Why, what’s the matter?

Groucho: Matter enough. D’you know who sneaked into my stateroom at three o’clock this morning?

Captain: Who did that?

Groucho: Nobody. And that’s my complaint. (pause) I’m young. I want gaiety, laughter, ha-cha-cha. I wanna dance! (sings) I wanna dance ’til the cows come home!

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With comedic repartees like this, it is shocking to learn that the film was banned in Ireland for the fear it would “provoke the Irish to anarchy.” Though at the time, the move was perhaps not so surprising, as the very conservative officials in Ireland had imposed drastic censorship edits on previous Marx Bros films.

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filmforum.org

Nevertheless, the outlandish concern that a couple of comedians could inspire a wave of lawlessness across an entire country might just earn the Monkey Business ban a special place in the pantheon of inoffensive censorships.