I'm not precisely sure when this photo of Carole Lombard was taken, but I'd estimate it was when she was 25 years old (late 1933 or early '34). Let's move her up to today at the same age, which would have meant she'd have been born in 1984 -- and forget whether or not she would be a celebrity; we're examining her as a person. Based upon current societal mores and scientific information, do you think the 2009 Lombard would be a smoker?
Didn't think so, either.
But three-quarters of a century ago, plenty of people smoked, and few thought anything of it. Smoking was an accepted part of our society, although not many people with respiratory ailments partook of the habit. Otherwise, there was a veneer of sophistication, even glamour, about the practice. So it's no wonder Lombard and other actors would pose for publicity stills accompanied by a cigarette.
Smoking was even a way for celebrities to supplement their income. As recently as the 1950s, active major league ballplayers would appear in tobacco ads. (Those firms were regular ballpark advertisers, too -- look at any photo of the Polo Grounds, where baseball's New York Giants played, in the fifties, and you'll see a huge ad for Chesterfield in center field.)
Lombard endorsed several brands of cigarettes over the years:
It's not known how much Carole got to hawk Old Golds in 1934 -- but thanks to a document uncovered last year, we do know what she was paid for endorsing Lucky Strike cigarettes in 1937.
It was $10,000, which by 2008 standards was nearly $150,000.
Here's what American Tobacco, Lucky Strike's parent company, paid Hollywood stars to endorse Luckies in 1937-38:
$10,000 (2008 equivalent $146,583) -- Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy
$6,000 (2008 equivalent $87,950) -- Fred MacMurray
$3,000 (2008 equivalent $43,975) -- Henry Fonda, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson
$2,500 (2008 equivalent $36,646) -- Bob Hope
$2,000 (2008 equivalent $29,317) -- Ray Milland
$1,750 (2008 equivalent $25,652) -- Gertrude Lawrence
$1,500 (2008 equivalent $21,988) -- Gloria Swanson
Source: Tobacco Control 2008
I'm not sure Lawrence belongs here, as she was primarily a stage actress; however, it does show Lucky Strike wasn't ignoring the Broadway crowd.
American Tobacco's executive, George Washington Hill, was a legendary figure in advertising, inventing a number of aggressive campaigns, particularly for his flagship Lucky Strike brand. It was his company that coined the slogan "reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet" in the 1920s, persuading thousands upon thousands of American women to take up smoking as a form of weight control. Lucky Strike also advertised on many radio series over the years.
Endorsing or being sponsored by a product didn't necessarily mean the star actually used the stuff. (Jack Benny, whose popular radio program was sponsored by Jell-O for many years before Lucky Strike took over those duties, reportedly was no fan of the gelatin.) So we don't know whether Lombard, or other stars, actually smoked Luckies -- but from photographs, it was apparent they smoked some sort of cigarette, several decades before the Surgeon General cast tobacco in an entirely different light.
Fate prevented us from finding out the ultimate effect of cigarettes on Carole Lombard. She might have developed a raspy voice, as Bette Davis did, or, like Myrna Loy, it might not have had any appreciable effect. And never mind Lombard's voice -- how might it have affected her health in later years?
Finally, we know that Lombard was filmdom's highest-paid actress in 1937, making about $450,000. Adjusting that to 2008 standards, that would be about $7 million -- a good amount today, and similar to what the highest-paid actresses currently get for a single picture (although compared to actors, actresses in 1937 were far more bankable than they are in today's movie market).
For more on Hollywood stars and smoking, go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7632963.stm.