Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When Presidents Smoke


And a word about famous cigarettes that vanish.

I gave Obama a pretty hard time during the campaign and the first half of his presidency, for sneaking off to furtively field-strip the odd Marlboro. So it seems only fair to take a moment and point out the illustrious forefathers that have paved the way for today’s presidential indiscretions.

The source here is an illustrative and very funny book of cigarette history called, straightforwardly enough, “The Cigarette Book: The History and Culture of Smoking,” by Chris Harrald and Fletcher Watkins.

In the preface, the authors write: “One day the last cigarette on earth will be smoked. One final puff will be sent heaven-bound, leaving a lingering, evanescent smoke-ring…. The ubiquity of the cigarette is astounding. But soon it will be no more.”

A few factoids about U.S. Presidents and smoking:

-- John Quincy Adams. Pipe. A prodigy, he took up smoking at the age of eight.

-- Zachary Taylor. Chewing tobacco. Claimed he could hit White House spittoons from a distance of 12 feet.

-- Rutherford B. Hayes. First killjoy to ban smoking in the White House.

-- William McKinley. “Frantic cigar smoker.” Was known to break open cigars and chew the tobacco.

-- Calvin Coolidge. 12-inch cigars. Mrs. Coolidge, with her secret cigarette habit, may have been the first smoking First Lady.

--Herbert Hoover. “Chain-smoker.”

-- Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Paraplegic chain-smoker.”

-- Harry Truman. Banned smoking at official White House events.

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rolled his own. Quit before the inauguration.

-- John F. Kennedy. “Cuban cigars.” Bought 1,200 of them the day before signing the Cuban embargo. Jackie was, it is said, good for up to three packs of Salems a day.

-- Lyndon B. Johnson. Ferocious cigarette smoker. A habit of 60 smokes a day is assumed to have caused the first of three heart attacks.

-- Gerald Ford. “Pipe. Eight bowls a day.”

-- Ronald Reagan. Did not smoke as president, but will be forever remembered for shilling Chesterfields in the 1940s: “My cigarette is the mild cigarette… that’s why Chesterfield is my favorite.”

In most of these presidential cases, the smokers in question were less than fully candid with the general public about their habits. But even more interesting, and rather chilling, are examples of revisionist censorship—making famous cigarettes in famous photographs mysteriously disappear, for the sake of cultural correctness.

The authors of “The Cigarette Book” start out with a swift punch to the midsection: “A recent poster featuring the famous album cover of Abbey Road (1969) removes the cigarette from Paul McCartney’s hand” (Italics mine, to reify the significance of the offense).

And readers of a certain age will recall (or recall hearing of) (or deny knowing anything about) a nude Burt Reynolds as a Playgirl magazine centerfold in 1972, with a cigarette dangling suggestively from his mouth. But when the image was reissued 35 years later, as part of an HD TV ad campaign, the cigarette, the authors tell us, “had been Photoshopped out of existence. Now it would probably be more acceptable to see his genitals than to see him smoking.” (Then again, maybe not.)

And in 1999, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Jackson Pollock stamp, using an iconic photograph from Life Magazine, showing the artist with a cigarette between his lips. “The Postal Service used the photo, but digitally removed the cigarette.” And perhaps added a little collagen to the lips, as well?

Finally, there is the case of chain-smoker Joseph Stalin, and the insane anti-smoker Adolf Hitler. Hitler had a cigarette removed from a famous photo of Stalin circulated at the time of the non-aggression pact. “Hitler felt it was bad for Germans to see such a ‘statesman’ (Hitler’s term) with a cigarette between his fingers.”

Photo credit: LBJ Library

2 comments:

Rod said...

Nice article. To me, it is a real issue that the ''health care'' president is a smoker.

sal said...

Why? Can't a president pass social welfare measures without being poor, or negotiate Chinese trade treaties without being Chinese?

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