Hollywood film history should include Big Tobacco

On 23 July 2016, Scott Simon, anchor of NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, asked film historian David Thompson if he thought R-rating future movies for smoking might "get in the way of filmmakers doing an honest job of telling a story." Thompson brought up Now, Voyager, a 1942 Warner Bros. film starring Bette Davis and Paul Henreid:

Thompson: I don't think today it would really get in the way of it. But, you know, it does make you think of possible situations where, let's say, you might be watching Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager... The famous scene where he lights two cigarettes, he gives her one, has one himself, where a little legend comes across the bottom of the screen, don't do this at home, or something like that.

What even David Thompson may not know is that both Davis and Henreid were on tobacco company's advertising payrolls around that time.

Bette Davis advertises Lucky Strike and 1938 film Jezebel

Lucky Strike ad also plugs Davis' 1938 Warner Bros. film, Jezebel

Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in Chesterfield ad 1940

By 1939, Davis was advertising Chesterfields and another Warner Bros. film

Paul Henreid also advertised Liggett & Myers' Chesterfield brand, on radio. Transcripts from the NBC radio show Chesterfield Supper Club linked the brand to Now, Voyager:

13 October 1948ANNCR: Last night, you heard one of these Chesterfield smokers, Paul Henreid, who is co-starring with Joan Bennett in the Eagle-Lion picture, Hollow Triumph, tell you in person about Chesterfields when he said: "You've seen me smoke a great many cigarettes on the screen. All of them are Chesterfields. I like them because Chesterfields are Milder [sic] . . . .It's my cigarette."

14 October 1948 | ANNCR: Do you remember [Paul Henreid] in Now, Voyager?…We were talking about that picture Tuesday…and I asked Paul about that trick he used in that movie…remember…lighting two cigarettes at one time?…The whole country was doing it…and  Paul Henreid said . . ."Well, Tom, when it comes to smoking the only thing more satisfying than lighting a Chesterfield is lighting two Chesterfields." Friends, once you try Chesterfields, I believe you'll feel the same way Paul Henreid does about them . .  .

Of course, the proposed R-rating would not affect existing films like Now, Voyager. Nor would health warnings interrupt any film. At the same time, it would be useful if movie audiences keep in mind that "an honest job of telling a story" has always been a challenge in Hollywood — especially in the era when major studios bartered top stars to tobacco companies in trade for national magazine, newspaper and radio advertising.

View Smokefree Movies' new Hollywood tobacco timeline.

References | Peer-reviewed article: Signed, sealed and delivered: 'Big Tobacco' in Hollywood, 1927-1951. Radio transcripts: Chesterfield Supper Club (1948).