Archive for 17th August 2009

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

by Vernon Parker history@brooklyneagle.net, published online 08-11-2009

There was a time before the flapper age of the roaring ’20s that no woman other than an “out-and-out hussy” would dare smoke a cigarette or cigar. No doubt a few very daring gals might have tried a puff in total privacy just to see what it was like. And there was the Mammy Yokum type down in the hill country that puffed on a corn cob pipe and no thought was given to condemning her for it. Then came the 1920s when “flappers” not only puffed cigarettes but drank in speakeasies.In the August 11, 1907 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, columnist Julius Chambers may have stepped on some toes, both male and female, with his comments on smoking in those days.

The following is verbatim what Julius had to say about smoking in 1907:

“As a smoker of long standing and confirmed habits, I am ready to admit that much of the criticism against smoking in public is justified. I do not single out the pale-cheeked boy, who inhales his cigarette smoke and then blows it out through his nostrils. He is a disgusting spectacle, anywhere. But I refer to the men of apparent respectability who carry lighted cigars into crowded subway cars, or, because they want to appear English, burn tobacco in old pipes on the open cars. A rotten pipe is the filthiest thing in the world.

“To smoke a cigar in the street, when walking with a lady, is an act of utter disrespect. The fact that Englishmen carry briarwood pipes between their teeth, in daylight, when walking with ladies, does not mitigate the offense. A true gentleman would no more think of smoking on the street with his wife, or any other lady, than he would of picking his teeth at a dinner table.

“Understand me, I believe that in the privacy of a man’s own house, he should smoke in any room except his wife’s bedroom. Of course, if the wife owns the house, or he otherwise be a pensioner upon her bounty, the conditions may be altered. He may find it more convenient to smoke in the cellar, billiard-room or stable. A wife is entitled to opinions — unless, as often happens, the husband has given the domicile to his spouse.

“In such cases, it isn’t the part of wisdom or common sense for the wife to constantly remind her companion of the fact.

“Just a word on the other side. Will somebody only tell me why women crowd the last four seats in the open cars, mercifully reserved for smokers, when, oftener than otherwise, plenty of room exists at the front of the cars? Again and again do all smokers suffer from this unnecessary deprivation? When a man has worked all day in an office, the enjoyment of a cigar on his homeward way is much appreciated. “Do the women think of this? Or, do they care? Candor compels me to say that I believe a negative reply to the latter query states the truth!

“Mankind endures many hardships for the solace that tobacco gives, but there isn’t any reason why women should be annoyed by smokers, any more than that a man should be compelled to grease his nose with tallow or rub rice powder upon his cheeks. A decent consideration of the members of the two sexes, one for the other, would simplify social problems very much. There isn’t any reason why a wife should be called into a room to see her husband smoke. With as much propriety might the wife insist that her husband be present every time shampooer “blondines” her hair or a dermatologist pulls stray hairs from her chin.

“And yet, the wife of a Philadelphia friend of mine left him because he ‘always went to his library after dinner to smoke.’ One cannot tell how to please some women.”

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Screen smoking better than toilet humor

Greenwich Time

Posted: 08/07/2009 04:52:20 PM EDT

As an admirer and victim of the Turner Classic Movies station that features late night vintage movies sans commercial interventions, I enjoy observing behavioral patterns that now seem archaic.

Take smoking. Old films are clouded with smoke, cigarettes, pipes, cigars. Vamps and villains, heroes and heretics, gangsters and ghouls, geezers and kids — smoking ruled. We took it for granted then. Today, the producers would be carted off to jail.

People whistled a lot, to express relief, like expressing “Whew!” Apaches and troopers whistled from the dark bushes as encoded attack signals. The nonchalant person trilling a tune while passing the cemetery. The explosive “Wow” whistle of the wolf spying a zaftig lady. A singing star, breaking into whistled arpeggios to enhance his vocal offering to Jeanette MacDonald.

Today, you rarely if ever hear anyone whistling. Went out with smoking, it seems. No more, “Hand me a cigarette, you big lug you.” Or the dying soldier’s, “Gotta fag, mate?”

As a one-time pipe-smoker, I envied the guys with their pipes. Donald Crisp or Edward G. Robinson could light a briar with one match and immediately start puffing without pause on the pipe. This baffled me, for as any real-life pipe aficionado knows, the most-experienced of the lot will use up at least a few boxes of matches to keep the thing going and may even pause occasionally to ream out the clogged stem. Not Sherlock Holmes or Walter Pidgeon. I always wondered what was mixed into the tobacco to keep the pipe puffing happily along.

Compared with today’s hyper-violent films, what passed for mayhem in the oldies was pretty tame stuff. I don’t recall any showing the gratuitous body-carving, torture, graphic dissection of body parts, blood-spewing scenes that have become standard film fare.

And as far as graphic displays in toilet action, there’s no comparison. I’m not enough of a screen buff to know when the transition occurred but in most of the occasional current films I waste my eyes on, it seems there’s a mandate to include scenes involving bodily functions. Vomiting is endemic in these flicks.

I’ll take whistling and smoking any day.

Bernie Yudain is a former managing editor of Greenwich Time. His e-mail address is bernardct6@aol.com.

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Meerschaum Hippo Pipe