A new children’s book, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Edited by Santa Claus for the Benefit of Children of the 21st Century, has removed the line above from the famous poem, in a zealous attempt not to encourage children to smoke. Here is Roger Ebert on the printing of a US postal stamp featuring a picture of Bette Davis with a photograph digitally removed from her fingers:
Depriving Bette Davis of her cigarette reminds me of Soviet revisionism, when disgraced party officials disappeared from official photographs. Might as well strip away the toupees of Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart…
… Look, I hate smoking. It took my parents from me, my father with lung cancer, my mother with emphysema… When my mother was breathing oxygen through a tube, she’d take out the tube, turn off the oxygen, and light up. I avoid smokers. It isn’t allowed in our house. When I see someone smoking, it feels like I’m watching them bleed themselves, one drip at a time.
So we’ve got that established. On the other hand, I have never objected to smoking in the movies, especially when it is necessary to establish a period or a personality. I simply ask the movies to observe that, these days, you rarely see someone smoking except standing outside a building, on a battleground, in a cops’ hangout, in a crack house, in rehab, places like that. In an ordinary context, giving a character a cigarette is saying either (1) this is a moron, or (2) this person will die…
Two of the most wonderful props in film noir were cigarettes and hats. They added interest to a close up or a two-shot… These days men don’t smoke and don’t wear hats. When they lower their heads, their eyes aren’t shaded. Cinematographers have lost invaluable compositional tools. The coil of smoke rising around the face of a beautiful women added allure and mystery. Remember Marlene Dietrich. She was smoking when she said, “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”
…Movies can’t rewrite reality. The MPAA cautiously mentions smoking in their descriptions of movie ratings (even if it’s the Cheshire Cat and his hookah). If, by the time you’re old enough to sit through a movie, you haven’t heard that smoking is bad for you, you don’t need a movie rating, you need a foster home.