Big Tobacco worked Hollywood from 1927 onward
The tobacco industry embraced Hollywood in 1927, the year the first "talking picture" was released. Between then and 1951, at least 195 Hollywood stars joined cigarette ad campaigns, including two out of three top box office stars from the late 1930s through the 1940s.
The major studios, which held stars under iron-clad contracts, brokered cigarette ad deals, insisted on plugs for themselves and their latest films, and directly benefited from the millions of dollars in tobacco advertising in newspapers, magazines, and nationwide radio campaigns.
Stars shifted their advertised allegiances as different tobacco campaigns rolled through Hollywood: American Tobacco (Lucky Strike), Lorillard (Old Gold), RJ Reynolds (Camel), Liggett & Myers (Chesterfield), and Brown & Wiliamson (Raleigh).
studios included Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, MGM,
Columbia, RKO, United Artists, and Universal, all but
one still in business today (details).
In 1937-8 alone, tobacco companies agreed to pay stars at least $3.2 million (2008 dollars) for their advertising services. The tobacco companies spent more to advertise Hollywood than Hollywood spent to advertise itself. This pattern of intense cross-promotion changed only when tobacco companies began shifting their advertising dollars to the new medium of television and the "Studio System" of talent contracts ended in the early 1950s. Tobacco collaboration with Hollywood surfaced again in the 1970s, after cigarette commercials on TV were banned.
A sampler of cigarette cross-promotions from Hollywood's "Golden Age"
Claudette Colbert served three cigarette companies
while at Paramount. This Lucky Strike ad plugs
1937 film, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
agreements with American Tobacco)
$10,000 in ad fees would be worth more than
At MGM in 1930s, Joan Crawford pushed Old Gold and Lucky Strike; at Warner Bros. in 1940s, Raleigh and Chesterfield.
Chesterfield promoted 1947 Paramount picture with Gary Cooper. Cooper also promoted Lucky Strike. By age 60, he was dead of lung cancer. The director of the film featured in this ad, Cecil B. DeMille, appeared in 1930s Old Gold ad.
"My smoke is Chesterfield in my new picture..." said top box office draw Betty Grable. Cigarette companies gave studios national advertising - and got a brand boost when the studios' stars smoked on screen.
Bette Davis in 1939's Dark Victory
a year after being signed to Lucky Strike
at Warner Bros. (Ad
In famous Now, Voyager
Paul Henreid lit two cigarettes and handed
one to Bette Davis. In radio
, Liggett & Myers suggested they
were Chesterfields. In a 1932 film, George
Brent lit two cigarettes and handed one to
Davis; Brent, like Davis, signed with Lucky
Ads that identified stars with brands on and off the set got around a 1931 studio ban (since lapsed) on product placement. Still, tobacco brands did make it on screen - like American Tobacco's Bull Durham in The Maltese Falcon
(Warner Bros., 1941) and Lucky Strike in The Clock