It will come as little surprise that it is no easy matter to document the early history of spanking in high school productions of The Taming of the Shrew. At the time of writing, the earliest known photograph is this execrable reproduction of a newspaper report of an April 1950 production at Abilene South High School, Texas, in which Frank Gatlin spanked Judy Jarrett:
The article is worth reproducing in its entirety, because of the lines it gives us to read between. It refers casually to ‘the spanking scene from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew‘, suggesting that this is nothing out of the ordinary, just a routine part of the play. In effect, it’s assumed that every production of The Taming of the Shrew will contain ‘the spanking scene’, and though that may not really have been the case, it at least allows the inference that a lot of them did, including those put on by high schools.
At this time, there was no necessary aversion to spanking scenes in high school plays: by the dawn of 1950, there were at least thirty-one plays specifically written for school performance in which a female character, most often a teenage girl, is spanked onstage, from Sweet Sixteen (1932)…
to Taming the Brat (1949):
1950 saw the addition of Spring Journey to the repertory, and Men are Like Streetcars was just around the corner. The Taming of the Shrew, with spanking, was simply a more ‘classical’ alternative option.
But even so, spanking scenes weren’t photographed and published nearly as often as they were in the 1950s. It’s telling that the only picture I can show you of Taming the Brat comes from a production of 1958. In fact, I know of only 42 spanking photographs from school plays of the 1940s (and none at all from the 1930s or earlier), though with any luck more will be discovered in time. Ten of those 42 were all from one play, A Mind of Her Own (1943), in which the spanking scene obviously caught a lot of imaginations, but many others went completely undocumented. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there are no known school Shrew spanking pictures from before 1950, but equally we shouldn’t imagine that school Kates only started getting spanked halfway through the 20th century simply because that’s when we start to see the evidence.
And that evidence remains patchy even then, partly because the play could be just as well represented by shots like this one from Moline High School, Illinois, in 1953:
The next known spanking photograph is from 1956, when Jack Jerome spanked Judy Wilson at Greely High School, Colorado:
1957 saw a production at Van High School, Texas, with Ronald Tankersley and Carolyn Hamman:
But it wasn’t till the Sixties that school Shrew spanking started to be better represented in the high school yearbooks. Very much better, in fact, to judge by this superb 1962 rehearsal shot from New Trier High School, Illinois, in which Pete Coffield is spanking Charli Loewenherz:
Also in 1962, at Thomas Jefferson High School:
1963 saw this spanking on May 25 at Madison High School, Portland, Oregon, with Chuck Green and Emily Jane Manning:
In 1964, the year of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, Peggy Slocum got a Bardic birthday spanking from Jerry Johnson at Central Union High School in El Centro, California. Here’s a rehearsal shot:
And on the other side of America, at Page High School, Greensboro, North Carolina, Starr Lawson spanked Chris Connelly, a picture that’s striking because he’s in period costume and she isn’t:
So as we reach the mid-point of the 1960s, there’s a real sense of momentum building up – which we shall see continued in the second part of this series.