Cigarettes were still glamarous in the fifties. Every movie star, from tough-talking gangsters to beautiful leading ladies happily puffed away on screen. It's no wonder that most kids couldn't wait to light up their first cigarette. Smoking was a rite of passage for us. I started smoking around age 11 or 12. I would snitch one from my father's pack or (germophobes please stop reading here) pick up a butt in the street that still had a few puffs left in it. What, you didn't have any disgusting habits?
Cigarettes were boldly advertised in the fifties...even doctors promoted them. There were ashtrays in every room of every house. Unlike today when smokers have to sneak into an alley for their fix, smoking was permitted everywhere: airplanes, office buildings, theaters, even hospital rooms; you were free to have a smoke pretty much anywhere. Of course a pack of cigarettes cost about a quarter back then, so two packs a day was no big financial burden. The last time I checked, to buy a carton of cigarettes you needed a co-signer for the loan.
Ad agencies were at their creative best when selling cigarettes. Some of the more memorable ads from the fifties:
The dancing Old Gold pack.
Dennis James was the spokesman
for this brand.
Use of celebrities in ads. You can't see it clearly in this small picture, but that's future President Ronald Reagan hawking Pell Mell cigarettes.
Baseless scientific claims were another favorite tactic. Here Arthur Godfrey trumpets "Scientific Evidence"on the effects of smoking Chesterfields.
One of the most successful and long-running ad campaigns was for Marlboro. The "Marlboro Man" became the new yardstick for manly good looks. Guys who smoked Marlboros could identify with the rugged cowboys of the old West. I dumped my old brand in a heartbeat to proudly join the swelling ranks of the Marlboro Men.
I know it's not a popular notion today, but I enjoyed smoking. There was nothing like a cigarette with my morning coffee or after a satisfying meal. If they could figure out a way to make cigarettes harmless, I'd run out and buy a carton of Marlboros in a minute. That is if I could get a co-signer for the loan.
(Originally published 10/16/08)
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